In Defense Of Landmines

Ha, no, not the dangerous kind.

I guess I ought to have included a subtitle: “And other unwinnable games,” or something.

For the uninitiated, Landmines (or, properly styled, Light Landmines) is a relatively rudimentary game of territory negation. Alliances are formed quickly and dissolved even faster as frustrations mount and the dexterous separate themselves from the clumsy. As the game goes on the flat surface world is steadily consumed, empty aluminum cylinder by empty aluminum cylinder.

You see, as much as Landmines is a fundamental exploration of political savvy, spatial awareness, and warzone planning, it’s ultimately just a drinking game, one that takes a while to get exciting, and one without a discernable winner.

The basic structure of the game is:

  1. Spin a quarter.
  2. Drink however much you poured into a cup.
  3. Pick up the still spinning quarter with the hand you drank with.
  4. If you are unable to pick up the quarter before it stops spinning, you go again.

The caveats:

  1. When you’re halfway done with a can, you can pull the tab off and use it to throw at the spinning quarter, cup or person of an opponent. These are called “grenades.”
  2. When you’ve finished a can, you can use it as a “Landmine” and stop a quarter’s spin by placing (read: slamming) it down over the quarter. The can stays there. This is how territory is eaten up and the strategy comes in.
  3. If you spin and it hits a can but you’re still able to pick it up before it ceases to spin, you get to send a drink.

So why play? Why compete without the possibility of definitively ending up on top?

The easy answer is “Well, it’s a drinking game, so, you know, the point is to get drunk.” And sure, that’s the end game. But what about the game itself? Wouldn’t you rather spend your liver’s half-life doing something you can actually lord over someone?

You could be putting balls in cups! Or flipping the cups! Or both! Regardless, there’s head-to-head competition to be had.

Good points all. There’s certainly something to be said for having direct results to point to rather than simply continuing to exhaust resources until everyone is out of table space and/or beer. This lack of resolution or chance for pure victory, as well as how difficult is for some people to spin a quarter, really turns people off. Apparently I didn’t even like it the first few times I played. Apparently.

And yet, Landmines, once it gets going in earnest can be captivating for an entire night.

Outside of Baseball (again, the drinking version), there’s really no other game that I can get as caught up in. It’s a war of attrition. And, substances aside, the game itself is addicting. Which brings me to another technically unwinnable endeavor, freemium smart phone and tablet games like Soda, Candy and whatever else Crush and 2048.

Especially in the case of the latter, there’s no end in sight. The competition exists solely in each move and some vague notion of getting a new high score; there’s no identifiable ceiling. And, the longer you’re able to play, the longer it takes to achieve the next new multiple. In Landmines, you’re technically playing against other people, and they can have an effect on your play, but your game still exists in an almost entirely self-reliant realm that takes a while to materialize.

You wait your turn, you spin, you drink, and you start waiting for your next turn. In 2048, you move, plan your next move, try to guess which spaces will still be available with each move as you build by multiples of 2 up as high as possible. Necessary tactical planning from moment-to-moment eclipses the potentially frustrating impossibility of actually winning the game; you’re playing to win each individual battle, instead of the war at large.

It’s a hard sell. After all, even though it’s a proven recipe for a successful, self-actualizing night, convincing someone to enter into a process that may or may not lead to a satisfying conclusion is a tough thing to do. Sure, it may allow you to get a little better or a little more competent every turn or time you play, but you don’t get immediate sexy results. People apparently like immediate, sexy results.

See, without a winner, or even an immediate splash of action, the game’s process takes on a greater significance; the play-by-play becomes the end, rather than a means to it. Which, I think besides slamming cans on the hopes and dreams of others, is the appeal. TC mark 

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