A Gnome's Ponderings

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When attitude is part of the game balance

Lowell Kempf
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I have noticed that there are some games where the style of play can become a critical part of whether or not a game actually works. I don’t know if that is a flaw or not, to be honest. However, I have noticed that some games can fall flat if the players don’t understand the unspoken way that the game should be played.

I hate to use the phrase “way it should be played” since different groups have different needs and styles of play. I have seen some groups play Elfenland as a congenial negotiation game and other games play it as a hate-fest and everyone had fun in both cases. Most of the time, I like to limit that a game “should be played” by the rules and without cheating.

However, there are some games where I have seen play style break a game down. In almost all of those cases, it was an example of people avoiding confrontation and being nice to each other. Some games can still be competitive and interesting when people do that. Other games, though, fall apart.

Architekton by Michael Schacht is a game that turned out to be like that. It’s a tile laying game where being forced to place one of your little wooden houses in a mismatched spot will cost you a point chip. If someone runs out of point chips, the game ends immediately and the other guy wins.

When I got the game, I played it with gaming buddies and the games were vicious little struggles with both of us doing everything we could to make sure the other guy lost every point we could squeeze out of them. Good clean fun. We didn’t think it was the greatest game ever but we had fun hammering away at each other.

Then, a married friend of mine complained how boring it was and how it didn’t come with enough point chips. I was absolutely befuddled about that until I realized that he and his wife must have been doing nothing at all to interfere with each other! If they were going to be doing that, than the game would have the tension of over cooked noodles!

That ruled out me ever giving them a war game for Christmas I am lucky that the woman I will be marrying thrives on competition and gets irritated if I go easy on her.

Obviously, there are some whole genres of games that are not going to work if you are going to do your best not to do anything to even indirectly attack other players. War Games, for instance, are right out. I mean, if you play Advanced Squad Leader that way, World War II is going to end early with folk dancing and picnics.

However, a number of euro-style family games can at least kind of work if the players focus on their own goals and don’t try to hurt each other. Carcassonne doesn’t require you to make aggressive moves to play. If you end up with no attack cards in the layout, Dominion is a peaceful affair.

Still, there are some seemingly peaceful games, like Architekton that surprisingly fall apart when people are sweet and gentle and kind.

One of the most extreme examples I have come across is the seemingly innocent Cape Horn. Apart from a name that can cause snickers and hopeful looks in the locker room, it’s just a game about racing around South America on sailing ships. You don’t get cannons to fire at each other and you can’t ram other ships so how nasty can it be?

Plenty nasty. It is a tile laying game that is not like any other tile laying game I’ve ever seen. The board is a grid and the tiles are wind markers. Your piece can never be on an empty space. It always has to be on a wind marker. And wind markers tell you exactly how far you will go on your next move and what direction you will have to take. There’s some flexibility but you end up completely telegraphing your move.

What does that mean? It means that it is other players’ Aldi-given duty to mess with your path as much as possible devil

Okay, you have to make sure that you race your ship along as well. It’s not all about hurting the other guy. However, since the game is literally making a path of tiles to follow, if no one mucks with anyone else’s path, the game quickly and easily tends to turn into a runaway leader situation.

When Cape Horn is played with teeth, it is a tense, fun game. When played meek, it’s boring.

As I commented before, different groups are going to have different mind sets and expectations. A lot of games, particular Euro-family games, can be fun and enjoyable without taking a no-prisoners, winner-take-all, let-the-bodies-hit-the-floor attitude. Heck, cooperatives have become their own sub-genre.

However, there are some games where going hammer and thong at each other is intrinsic to the balance of the game.
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Subscribe sub options Thu Nov 17, 2011 3:55 pm
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