In my last blog, I noted that there are some games where the game balance breaks down if players are not willing to be aggressive enough. While many games allow for a great deal of flexibility in play style, some games simply don’t work if players play sufficiently counter to its nature.
And I’m not simply saying players intentionally playing to lose. If you never bought a card in Dominion (which is an option), the game would drag on forever but that would be because you were intentionally sabotaging the system. In some games, you can be striving to win but in a way that simply doesn’t work well with the mechanics of the game.
In my previous post, I used Cape Horn as an example. If players are not aggressive and try to impede each other’s progress, then the game quickly becomes a boring exercise in placing tiles. If you try to make each other’s lives miserable, it becomes a tense, fun game.
However, as has been pointed out to me, this problem doesn’t have to be about players not being aggressive enough. This is not a case where playing as mean and nasty is the automatic default way to play every game on the shelf.
Sometimes, when players focus so heavily on attacking each other, that is what causes the game to break down. That’s particularly the case if attacking each other isn’t the point of the game, just a sub-option.
The first example that came to mind for me was Dragon Delta. It was a game that I had been interested in for years, a game about placing stones and boards in order to create bridges across a lake. A simple, easy to grok concept that sounded fun. Eventually, I found a used copy and got it on the table.
And we all had a miserable time. We spend more time ripping up each other’s bridges or using dragon cards to block plays than actually building up any kind of infrastructure. After two hours, we were all sick of the game and capitulated to someone getting across just to get the experience over.
Now, maybe Dragon Delta is just a bad game. Or perhaps, which another kind of group mentality, it might actually be a fun game. However, for our aggressive play style, it was a game that fell apart. Maybe we would have come to enjoy it over repeat plays but none of us ever want to play it again.
Another game that proved even worse for us was Alexandros, a game about dividing up and claiming territory in a very dry and Euro-manner. Where the game fell apart for us was that scoring points was an action and we never seemed to find a point in the game where choosing the score could net the active player more points than anyone else. So, no one ever chose to score, particularly since scoring was something that we could calculate out.
(Oddly enough, Masons by the same designer did not have that problem, since you had to play cards to score on specific board elements and no one knew what cards other players had.)
Mind you, I also play most of my games with people who don’t care for cooperative games very much. Despite being a bunch of Euro and abstract lovers, we really just want to beat each other up, albeit in a calculated and dry manner. We are snooty in our brutality.
I originally come from an role playing game background so I know that games can be surprisingly delicate creatures. Some RPGs, particularly some of the more narratively driven games like Dogs in the Vineyard for example, can fall apart of players intentionally play against the system. While it can be fun to figure out how a game can be broken, it does basically defeat the purpose of playing games. (Then again, intentionally breaking a game is a whole other subject)
Perhaps, in the end, the only conclusion that I can come to from this particular bout of rambling is that different people need to play different games.