Straight Talk on Strategy Gaming

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"Wow, that sucked!" -- On the writing of negative reviews

Nate Straight

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I figured something out.

I think I know why nobody writes or likes negative reviews around here.

Last night, Cat and I tried out Phoenicia which I had taken from my mom's collection [she buys a lot of games on Tanga, hence why she had this otherwise not very desirable game].

WOW. I really think this might just be the worst game I have ever played. I gave it a generous 2 for a rating. I don't think there was a single interesting decision to be had in the game.

It's an "economic" game with no economics. There aren't any trade-offs, because you simply don't have enough options for spending your money [literally; you need workers in order to make production engine choices, but only get them from something like 3 cards in the entire game; the only other thing to buy with money are the auctioned development cards, of which--with 2 players--a grand total of 2 are available every turn, which will be bid up such that one player gets one and the other player gets the other]. There is almost literally no opportunity cost because there is almost no opportunity in the game; you have one thing to spend money on, and you spend it.

Compare to The Scepter of Zavandor which a) Allows you to purchase outright the equivalent of Phoenicia's "workers", giving you an actual trade-off between bidding on cards and building up your engine; and b) Throws in the entirely separate skill track sub-game, which gives you a third main option for the use of your money, leading to a much richer opportunity cost analysis. Both are nearly identically the same system [pulled from Outpost, as I understand], but the difference in the games [I still think Zavandor might as well be in the BGG top 100 or even top 10 given what the general BGG populace likes] is really quite remarkable. The games are so very very different.

Now, I'd love to go and write a glowing negative review of Phoenicia, but I won't.

Why? Simply because I have no desire to play the game ever again, and thus no "leg to stand on".

When you watch a movie, for instance, you've by definition experienced everything you were supposed to in the film. Now, one person may have better knowledge of the genre and be able to better articulate where the film deviated from the expected plot direction or character styling, and another person may have better knowledge in general and be able to latch on to interesting tensions and philosophical questions in the story line of the film... but in the end you've both experienced "the same thing" [actually, GAH, this is a rather strong proclamation I've just made that I'm not sure I could--or would even want to--rigorously defend, but problems of empiricism aside, you get the point].

People don't seem to have the same "one and done" approach to board gaming [and this is probably a good thing, mind you]. If I went and posted a negative review after our one play with just 2 players, I'd get slammed from fans of the game for "not giving it a fair try" and "not experiencing the full complexities of the game on your first play" and "needing to try the multi-player game at X sweet spot" etc. Similarly, there are unresolved questions I might want to ask about the differences I outlined above between this game and Zavandor. Is Phoenicia really as inflexible and uninteresting as I experienced it to be on my first play? I'll never know because I likely won't ever play again.

It takes a strangely sadomasochistic person to play a game they didn't enjoy and don't expect to ever enjoy over and over again just so they can have "enough" experience with the game to write a bad review.

Why would I want to do that when I could be playing a better game? Answer: I wouldn't, and I won't. And so I won't likely ever write a negative review of a game that is truly bad, like Phoenicia, because I like to write informed reviews.

Instead, I'll keep ranting about mediocre games that I play more often.

C'est la vie
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