Matt's Board Game Back Room

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TIMELY TOPICS - Tension in games - Ratchet it up, please!

-matt s.
United States
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I love tension in games. I'm sure you know what I mean, those games where the tension builds and you can feel your adrenaline start to rise. You get that little bit of shakiness as you are about to pull off what you hope is a big move, but afraid of how the other person might counter.

The other night I got to play some good, tense games with my friend Cary. It's amazing how something as simple as a game with just cards, bits and a handful of rules can have such an affect on you. Your blood starts flowing and you get an almost euphoric feeling. Like I'm feeling right now after playing several tough games.

Tension is probably the biggest draw for me in a game - the tensest games are the ones I seen to remember and enjoy the most. Every move you make seems crucial. You can't let your guard down one bit or it will be the end of the game for you. You are engaged and focused on the game throughout.

What kind of elements seem to make a game tense for me? I'd say its a handful of things:
* The ability to plan ahead and make a clever move that surprises your opponent.
* The ability to quickly turn the tables then have it turned right back on you again.
* Racing to meet certain conditions in a set period of time (not just 'time' itself, but in the depletion of cards or resources)
* Multiple possible paths to victory.
* Auctions where every auction has value in it, either for what's in the auction or for the need to prevent someone ELSE from getting what's in it (or at least making them pay the price).
* Brinkmanship - taking a chance and putting yourself out on a limb in the hopes of achieving a goal before others can stop you (hopefully)
* Tight two-player games (this isn't crucial for me, but I love head-to-head competition and find it the most interesting in games) Don't get me wrong, multi-player games can also be tense and terrific at those higher numbers, but 2-player to me is where it's really at.

So, what specifically got me so amped up in these games we played? Well, let me tell you...

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