Defect or Feature? Divisive elements in popular games
Ivan Myers Jr
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Baton Rouge
Louisiana
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"That's not a bug, that's a feature!" This geeklist exists to highlight and discuss divisive elements in your favorite (and not so favorite) board games.

So, what's a "defect" in the context of this geeklist? A defect is any element of a game that you feel is broken, unbalanced or creates negative play experiences. Conversely, another player might consider that element a "feature," meaning working exactly as intended and providing positive play experiences. I want to discuss such elements and figure out why players feel so differently about these game mechanics.

How do we know a mechanic is divisive? For me this comes from experience and personal involvement with the BGG community: reviews, geeklist comments, strategy forum posts etc. If there's a recurring argument about a specific mechanic in a game I ask myself "why is this mechanic experienced so differently?"

I'm adding a few from games I'm familiar with. Feel free to add your own.
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1. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.02 Overall Rank:17]
Ivan Myers Jr
United States
Baton Rouge
Louisiana
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Feeding your family

Agricola is a worker placement game where at the end of each round the players must provide food for their workers, which represent "family members." If the player cannot provide enough food they receive -3 victory points for each food not provided, in the form of beggar cards. In a game where scores can be in the teens, receiving a beggar card is a very harsh punishment.

Defect? Getting a beggar card can decide the game, so there's a strong incentive to make sure you have enough food at the end of each round. This can create an element of pressure or tension that some players aren't fond of.

Feature? The beggar cards force players into thinking long term. You have to plan ahead, "How am I going to feed my family this round AND increase my points over my opponents?" They also play into the core interaction of worker placement, adding an element of risk and consequence: "do I take that wood and risk my opponent denying me fishing or play it safe..." etc.

My Stance: FEATURE. For me it creates a more engaging and interactive game: I'm always paying attention to other player's farms/needs, where the first player token is, what's left to become available, etc. This makes Agricola a very tense, strategic and cutthroat game for me.

Lessons? Tension through punishment mechanics must be handled with care: while it increases engagement for some it creates stress in others. Some folks just want to sit back, chill and build a farm.
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2. Board Game: Eclipse [Average Rating:7.98 Overall Rank:31]
Ivan Myers Jr
United States
Baton Rouge
Louisiana
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Plasma Missiles

Eclipse is a 4X, economic-conquest game. To keep it simple, Plasma Missiles are an extremely powerful weapon because they ignore one of the ship building constraints (power) and fire before all other weapons, though they only fire once per combat.

Defect? In large numbers plasma missiles tend to dominate the game's combat system. If only one is available in the game's randomly alloted research system the player who gets it gains a significant combat advantage. Since in the base game there is no direct counter, inexperienced players can get creamed fairly easily, not having a chance to even roll the dice. This can create a negative play experience (happened to me my first game).

Feature? Plasma missiles are meant to be a tipping point for the game's arm race, and they succeed at that. However, they aren't unbeatable. Often times one must only withstand the initial barrage to force an immediate retreat from the opponent. This is important because retreating opponents can't draw VP tiles. And because of the limited time of the game (9 rounds only) there might not be enough time to build an unbeatable fleet and then cross the galaxy with it.

My Stance: FEATURE, though it wasn't always that way. It took a few games before I saw the ways to counter and/or play around the existence of plasma missiles. But those first few games were rough, so I can see why it could turn some off.

Lessons? Perception/1st-impressions mean alot when it comes to game balance. A game must seem fair at beginner, intermediate and expert levels of play or you risk losing players to perceived imbalances. This is hard to do because a designer, being experts at their own game, might not be able to see the beginner or intermediate level balance issues, "this isn't broken if you know what you're doing." You can't rely on players to "figure it out."
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3. Board Game: Runewars [Average Rating:7.68 Overall Rank:147]
Ivan Myers Jr
United States
Baton Rouge
Louisiana
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Heroes

Runewars is a 4 player epic conquest game. Besides controlling a faction's military and economy each player can also recruit unique heroes to their cause. These heroes travel around the map once every 4 rounds completing quests for equipment and, most importantly, dragon runes. Controlling dragon runes is the victory condition of the game and completing quests is one of the ways to claim them.

Defect? The questing phase slows the game down, especially when each player has 2 or more heroes. Not only that, but in the base game the heroes don't really interact with the conquest portion of the game, functioning like a mini-game of sorts.

Feature? Heroes add a ton of flavor/theme to the game, and they serve a gameplay function in being a way to introduce dragon runes into the game.

My Stance: DEFECT, one of my favorite games but I LOATHE the hero questing phase because it takes too long to resolve and there isn't a lot of interesting interaction. By our 2nd or 3rd game everybody ignored the story on the quest cards. The whole hero phase became routine. I don't know that the hero phase adds enough to the game to warrant the extra rules and play time. This may be addressed in the expansion, which I don't own.

Lessons? Theme matters a lot for some and little to others and everything in-between. However, I don't think we should give bad mechanics a pass because they are thematic. Conversely, great mechanics should also mesh well with the thematic scope of the game they are in.
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4. Board Game: Kingdom Builder [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:450]
Corey Hopkins
United States
Converse
Indiana
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One Card

In Kingdom Builder, the goal is to gain the most points by the end of the game by fulfilling the conditions of three randomly drawn cards. On your turn, you put down three settlements in the terrain of the card you have, with the stipulation that any settlement placed must touch a previously-placed settlement, if possible.

Defect? "One card? That means there's no choices!" People who dislike the rule claim that this makes the game too luck dependent, since you might get stuck in that big forest in the middle of the board if you keep drawing forest cards.

Feature? "Well, why did you put your first settlements in the big forest in the middle of the board with no clear path to tiles and/or scoring opportunities?" Yes, if you absolutely need to draw a canyon for your strategy to work, then luck will decide whether your strategy works. Which is why you don't build your whole strategy around getting a canyon card!

My take Obviously I come down on feature. This is one of my favorite games, and having a "hand" of cards would ruin it. One card keeps the turns quick and the game moving along. It also gives you plenty of choices, provided you're not being foolish. And if you get screwed even though you played "perfectly"? The game takes about a half an hour, play again. This game perfectly teaches a couple of my favorite gaming lessons: play the hand (card) you're dealt, and don't make plans that can't be adapted.
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5. Board Game: San Juan [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:229]
Pieter
Netherlands
Maastricht
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The Guild Hall

San Juan is the card game version of Puerto Rico. During the game players place cards in front of them. The cards represent buildings which do various things for the players, and which are worth points at the end of the game. There are production buildings which allow players to get new cards in hand, and there are purple buildings which give players special abilities. One particular purple building, the Guild Hall, gives a player 2 extra points for each production building that he has. This can be an enormous chunk of points, as a player who knows at the start of the game that he has the Guild Hall in hand, can just concentrate on quickly creating the cheapest production buildings, and easily score an extra 14-20 points from the Guild Hall alone.

Defect? There are more buildings, equally expensive as the Guild Hall, that provide extra points at the game's end, but you can expect to get 7-8 points from them, and they are limited to a maximum of 10 extra points. The Guild Hall is so much stronger than those that it can decide the game, if a player starts the game with it or at least gets it early enough.

Feature? San Juan is pretty much a multi-player solitaire game. If someone builds his strategy around the Guild Hall, there is no defense against it. Fortunately, the game is pretty short, and in only about 10-20% of the games someone starts with the Guild Hall in hand.

My Stance: DEFECT. It is clear that the designers tweaked the value of the Guild Hall to the "typical" game, in which a player will construct about 4 production buildings. They did not seem to realize that with the knowledge of having a Guild Hall in hand, a player may rush to build just the Guild Hall and a cartload of cheap production buildings, and end the game with a large amount of points before any of the other players can get a strategy going. It is not hard to fix the Guild Hall, though: just let it give 2 points for each different type of production building that a player has. This will limit its maximum value to 10 points.

Lessons? During playtesting the designers should consider strategies that diverge from the typical ones. A good computer simulation can help in discovering those.
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6. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:50]
Eric Walkingshaw
United States
Corvallis
Oregon
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Iconography

Card abilities are described using a visual notation rather than text. The visual notation uses spatial partitioning and a set of icons to indicate what powers (if any) a card conveys during each phase of a round.

Defect? The visual notation creates a barrier to entry for new players. A player unfamiliar with the iconography may spend quite some time referring to a player aid in order to decipher the abilities of each of their cards. If a player gets many new cards at once, this can be overwhelming and slow the game down substantially.

Feature? The visual notation is very logical and consistent. Most icons are composed of smaller parts that are used in a consistent way across several different icons, so in fact there are a relatively small number of icon components to learn. The use of spatial partitioning makes it possible to tell at a glance what cards are relevant during a particular phase in the round.

My stance: FEATURE. While the learning barrier is real and can sour some new players on the game, I love that the game is optimized for repeated play. The biggest advantage of the visual notation is for keeping track of abilities after playing cards to your tableau. At the start of each phase, just scan the corresponding row in your tableau to find the relevant abilities. This is a huge win vs. textual descriptions.

Lessons? A hybrid system might convey the same advantages while reducing the initial learning barrier. Although this would come at the cost of more visually cluttered cards, which might negatively impact play in other ways. I wonder if it's possible to better convey the long-term advantages of such a visual notation to new players early on, in order to get them to "buy in" and invest that initial effort willingly? Ideally this would be done in the game itself, rather than just in the rules.
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7. Board Game: A Study in Emerald [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:599]
Tiago Perretto
Brazil
Curitiba
Parana
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Winning/losing condition

In A Study in Emerald players are divided into two teams: the Loyalists and the Restorationists. Both sides share similarities and differences in the way they score points, even the end game can happen differently due to the side a player is. However, when the game is done and is time to assess the winner, the rule for both sides is the same: the team for which the player with the least amount of points belongs is eliminated - the winner is the player with the most points in the non-eliminated team.

Defect? Right from the gate this rules causes pauses and pondering. What? Even if I played better than anyone else I might still lose because other player in my team did the worst job? It is indeed not something very common in games. This can even open opportunities for hate-play - somone doesn't like what other player in his team did to him, so he, on purpose, refuses to score points, tanking the whole team.

Feature? This is basically the whole game. A Study in Emerald has a plethora of game end triggers, but one side will fight with all it has if it knows - or fears - that the last player is on their side. The game end rules makes the team a team - not an easy thing when considering a competitive-only-one-will-win type of game, and not like Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, The Resistance, Shadow Hunters, and others. The game requires that all the player navigate around and with the end game rule.

My Stance: Feature. Though is a rule that can cause trouble, it makes the game. I always said when someone vents the usual complaint "played best, lost due to other", that, while this might indeed happen, several times, you only think you played the best, but controlling cities, killing or hiding Royalty, taking scoring agents, cards and so on, is only part of the "playing best". The other part is trying as hard as you can that your teammates are also scoring, constantly.

I know that that second Infernal Machine could earn you more points later, but it might be worth not fight for it if you think someone on your team is taking it. The same for a city - it might even be best to put some cubes there, not to take it, but to prevent someone else from taking from your companion. Likewise, it might be worth to lose a city to a "friend", for at least he/she will gain points, and you can try to take another one. Also, several times, when playing "alone", players forget that the tracks - War and Revolution - are usually key in the game end. It costs actions to bring it up or down, and this is always a "team" action, not "me" action, so you don't want to be the only one doing, but still doing and clamoring for others to do also.

The game is a balance between the "me" actions and the "team" actions, and while the "me" actions are more clear to be done, usually is the "team" actions that win the game.

Lessons: Sometimes, doing not the best thing for you right now, might be the best thing for you in the end. Not many games make this so much in your face as A Study in Emerald.
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8. Board Game: Archipelago [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:285]
Clinton Sattler
United States
Knoxville
Tennessee
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Semi-Coop games

Archipelago is a thematic semi-cooperative hybrid about colonizing islands and creating an economic base to expand your fiefdom. The game end is triggered by any player achieving any hidden objectives in play. However, the native population may rise up if not kept in check by gainful employment, which results in a shared loss for all players (unless you are the dreaded betrayer)!

Defect? The shared-loss end condition is a love it or hate it affair. The common complaint seems to be that players who are out of the running for a victory can scuttle the game and ensure nobody wins.

Feature? The same feature can be argued as a thematic catch-up mechanic. Players that are disproportionately in the lead should shoulder a higher cost to ensure the colony doesn't go end over tea-kettle. If we expand to fast, fail to provide infrastructure (i.e. churches), or ignore crises that cripple the colony, the native population will rise up and oust their colonial overlords. What better way to keep imbalances in check in a game centered around exploitation?

My Stance: For me, the semi-cooperative nature of Archipelago is a decided plus. The mechanic creates an interesting dynamic centered around arguing and negotiating who has the most to gain during critical crises. It can be staggering how a good negotiator can convince the group they are not winning when these crises arrive, and convince some other poor sucker to pay the cost to continue the game. Isn't this how the real world really works, anyway?

There is also an added bonus of creating a shared incentive space in the game for the players. Temporary alliances will be necessary to avert disaster. This is especially appreciated in two-player games, as there are few games that can foster this level of temporary alliance at such low player counts.

Lessons? Admittedly, these types of games are not for everybody. Those who are looking for polished optimization will not enjoy how the group-think of a semi-coop game can defeat their best laid plans. Those that demand players adhere to strict logic, may be disappointed. However, those that prefer their games a little rough around the edges, or are looking for a new kind of two player interaction should give Archipelago some serious consideration.
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9. Board Game: Caverna: The Cave Farmers [Average Rating:8.12 Overall Rank:15]
Dave K
United States
Austin
Texas
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No Randomized Setup

A young and very popular member of the Rosenberg resource management games, Caverna is a game that is very heavily based on Agricola, which was itself a highly successful and somewhat controversial game. In Caverna, one of the primarily elements of the game are special "rooms" which you can add to your dwelling which give you different abilities. All rooms are used in every game, meaning that there is no possibility that a given room will not be present if played according to the normal rules (unless you play the novice variant, in which case it's always the same rooms still, albeit a subset of the full amount).

Defect?

Every room always being present makes the game less exciting, as there is little stopping players from attempting the same strategies in the game repeatedly. Set paths through the rooms can be somewhat proven to be consistently effective and so players have less incentive to branch out into trying new things.

Feature?

You can develop consistent strategies for the game. If you see your opponents going for certain rooms, you may know what they are trying to do. Thus if you are an experienced player, you can block them from what they want, so randomization is not necessary.

My Stance

Somewhat neutral, but I think I'd personally go on the side of defect. I can understand why people don't mind it if their group repeatedly can get the game to the table. I find the lack of any variation in the rooms less interesting and I don't think the "players can selectively deny rooms" argument resolves my complaints. I can't argue with the astounding success of the game - it has sold extremely well for an expensive title, and brought in a lot of new fans with the less-punishing food supply system (as compared to Agricola), but my preferred game remains good old 'Gric.

Lessons?

It's very nice when a game works both with all the buildings/rooms/whatevers always available but has optional officially blessed rules (or at least suggestions) for removing some, as that gives the players the choice to play the game more to their tastes. (Orléans is a nice example of that.) Yes, people have made a lot of variants for Caverna that remove some tiles, but it's hard to know if this will break the game balance or not.


(Edited a bit to fix up some wonky sentences.)
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10. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:72] [Average Rating:7.67 Unranked]
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Victory cards

You win Dominion by having the most Victory Points at the end of the game*. In most cases, those VP come in the form of cards that you purchase into your deck, and which have little to no function during gameplay. The choice of when to "green" your deck is often one of the most important decisions in the game, since the purchase of these cards is likely to slow down your otherwise efficient economic engine.

Defect? A lot of people don't like the idea that you have to deliberately take on rubbish in order to win the game. Many other deckbuilders have looked at ways to avoid this, either by putting victory points on cards that also do something or by keeping the points out of the deck - and even Dominion has cards which do both of these (which may then prompt the question of why it doesn't do that for all of them).

Feature? The converse argument is that this is one of the mechanics at the core of Dominion. It should be a significant decision as to whether you try to keep building your economy or take a hit to help win the game, whereas in some deckbuilders it's generally an obvious choice to buy the most expensive card available since it will be extremely powerful and worth a lot of points. It also helps define some of the broad play strategies - building a deck that can reliably buy a Province every turn, versus one that tries to buy all the green cards in one go.

My stance? Absolutely for it. Gumming the works of your economic engine in order to get victory points is key to the tempo of Dominion, and it provides many of the game's most interesting decisions. It's even broadly thematic (which, as many will be quick to point out, usually isn't this game's strong point) - having more land that you're in charge of makes it harder to manage your resources, hence making it harder to acquire more unless you've built your economy well.

Lessons? Understand the tempo of a game - one of the most popular models, especially for economic games, is a slow start due to lack of resources, followed by an accelerating build-up as the engine gets into gear, followed by a slow-down as that engine gets turned into points. It's not the only model, but it's definitely a common one. It can often be good for the game to force those in the lead to slow themselves down, rather than having to deal with runaway leaders with many "take that" effects. Still, some people just want to be able to have the best, most powerful, most valuable thing without needing to worry about the careful balancing act involved in such a mechanic.

* Although it's more accurate to say that you win by making sure the game ends when you have the most Victory Points.
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11. Board Game: Stone Age [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:79]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Starvation Strategy

In Stone Age, pay each of your workers 1 food at the end of each turn. If you don't have enough food and can't or don't want to pay other resources, you may take a 10-VP penalty.

Defect? The Starvation Strategy entails ignoring food, growing your worker count unsustainably and taking the 10-VP penalty every time but winning the VP race by having more workers early in a, er, worker-placement game. The first time the 'aha' moment arrives tends to result in consternation from the non-starving players, because it seems wrong to starve your workers without killing them. This is usually followed by a soured experience if the starving player wins or come close. Conspiracy theories abound that maybe the designer didn't intend this and should have made the penalty stiffer (these theorists are probably Agricola fans who took the Beggar Card one too many times).

Feature? Ignoring the thematic implications, it's a perfectly valid strategy that is powerful if the player manages to snap up the 1-7 building and the hut/worker-multiplier bonus cards, but is just as easily stopped if the other players aren't asleep at the wheel when they're first player. Personally, I think it expands the strategy space in the 4er game (where it is much more viable), and helps the strategic options scale with the number of players, which is absolutely genius... spoiler alert on my stance!

My Stance: FEATURE. It's easy to stop, especially if the other players are all cognizant, and it doesn't win more than usual.

Lessons? Theme matters. If this wasn't framed as a 'starvation', but instead as... I dunno, cultural humiliation because you're a prehistoric North Korea having to import food from the prehistoric USA, then there probably wouldn't be such an outcry. But then again, you make a baby in Agricola with 1 worker while you need 2 workers in Stone Age, and nobody has a problem with the former (I guess because it doesn't concern VPs), so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
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12. Board Game: Brass: Lancashire [Average Rating:8.01 Overall Rank:35]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Canal Phase Wipeout

In Brass, you earn points by building progressively more advanced industries (Level 1 through Level 4). You can either work through your buildings or Develop them to throw them away without Building them, which consumes more resources. Halfway through the game, this Canal Phase ends, and Level-1 and Level-2 industries are scored, then wiped from the board, representing obsolescence. If you got Level-2-4 industries down before the wipeout though, they'll score twice (during the wipeout and again at the end of the game).

Defect? Level-1 and 2 industries are nearly useless, with the race being on to Develop into Level 3 while building as little of the lower-level buildings as possible. This runs contrary to the general intuition to get more things on the board and expand your network early.

Feature? This is obviously a 'teaching moment' on the realities of the setting, along with other cosmetic rules (BIRKENHEAD!!) that exist solely to remain faithful to the historical period + confuse new players. Develop your industries! Build at own peril! The Canal Phase makes way for the Age of Rail! Too bad if you're a new player having to lose a few games before you figure this out though.

My Stance: DEFECT. I feel Brass would have a much wider strategic space if it weren't for these thematic concession/simulation rules (a suspicion supported by the variant France map, which made Level-1 Shipyards viable), that it'd be a much more interesting game if rushing low-tech buildings was on par with developing into higher-tech. And really, the theme isn't the most stirring one to be warranting these constraints. I haven't played Age of Industry but I think that might be the bizarro Brass (theme-agnostic, mechanics-forward) that doesn't have a Canal-Phase wipeout? If so, that'd be a concession that the game is better if you don't destroy what you built for no reason halfway through the game.

Lessons?: If you're going to make a thematic game, make one with nice thematic rules for an interesting setting. If you're going to make an innovative game, don't put in weird thematic rules especially if they detract from the strategy space while adding nothing much to a dull setting.
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13. Board Game: Chaos in the Old World: The Horned Rat Expansion [Average Rating:8.02 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.02 Unranked]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Morrslieb Cards

Once upon a time, life in the Old World was good and harmonious. Khorne was killin', Nurgle was poopin', Tzeentch was messin', and Slaanesh was just being a perv.

Then the expansion, which was more of an 'alt-game', dropped, providing cards that entirely replace those in the base game and provide a different, alternative experience.

Defect? One of the two ways to win (the dial) became near-impossible, one of the most powerful playable Gods in the game got nerfed, and the cards provided a whole new flavor that included changing the roles of the Gods and causing several complicated rules questions.

Feature? That victory path was boring anyway, that God got nerfed between Base and Expansion but is on par with the other Gods in expansion anyway, and yeah the cards are different, live and adapt. You say complicated rules questions, I say exploitable loophole as another avenue to beat you; you'd better be ready for all my tricks!

My Stance: FEATURE. I think the expansion didn't get a fair shake from base-game adherents. It's a different, wilder style that caters to a different audience, not a strictly-worse game. But most importantly, I love the ability to switch back and forth between two excellent games in their own right.

Lessons?: Treat expansions or 'sequels' with an open mind, especially if they're intended to be an alternative version of the game. In this case, the base game was so perfect that to iterate upon it would be to graft on an entirely new branch.
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14. Board Game: Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game – Exodus Expansion [Average Rating:8.09 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.09 Unranked]
David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Cylon Fleet Board (CFB)

The cylons kept coming back, and each time we escaped by jumping a step ahead of them. But 2 years since that fateful day, they started coming back... a lot faster and in greater numbers! (albeit in a much more predictable fashion)

Defect? Some think that BSG was always a show/game about the hard truths of what we do to ourselves when we face the end from an external invader, not a space combat game. They think the Cylon Fleet Board tainted the spirit of the original game by emphasizing what's going on outside Galactica, not what's inside.

Feature? It gives revealed cylons an extra option in their mundane lives, it guarantees some fireworks will happen outside Galactica, and it's just cool to see the cylon fleet slowly building up and rallying for the frightening showdown.

My Stance: This poll shows a slight preference for Feature. This might be because I don't get to play without the Cylon Fleet Board enough, but for me it is a DEFECT right now. I love that you know neither when nor where the cylon fleet will jump in when not using the Board. The most recent expansion did improve both versions to the point where I'm amenable to playing either.

Lessons? Instead of participating in circulatory discussions about which expansion module is best, thank the Fantasy Flight Gods that they released two versions to play, and both are equally good, and don't be afraid to mix it up and try the other version from time to time!
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15. Board Game: Cosmic Encounter [Average Rating:7.58 Overall Rank:101]
K
United States
Oakland
California
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Shared Victories

Cosmic Encounter allows multiple players to win the game at the same time (not tie). This is known as a shared victory. It is even possible for more players to win the game than to lose the game.

Defect? The game does not have any built-in incentive to go for a solo victory if there are other players who could join you for the win. Some players find themselves unable to enjoy a win that is shared and feel like a game that ends with multiple winners ended with a fizzle.

Feature? Shared wins are a unique feature that allow players the chance to end the game and avoid degenerate stalemate situations. There are plenty of opportunities for clever and strategic players to position themselves for a solo victory if they desire, and the games where everyone doggy piles one poor defender for a lopsided win match the general "unfair" theme of the game perfectly.

My Stance: FEATURE. A win is a win, and shared victories allow Cosmic Encounter games to end at just the right time. Without shared victories this game would be marred by repetitive late-game battles and combat-powers would reign supreme, limiting the design space for unique aliens and playstyles. Shared victories even alleviate lame-duck (players who can't win) and kingmaking situations that other FFA games suffer from.

Lessons? Shared victories are not a random accident or flaw, but a well-intentioned aspect of the game's overall design. Leave pre-conceived notions of what a "real win" looks like at home with the earthly games. Shared victories are one of the glues that hold this great game together and make it work. The fact that shared wins are a thing just makes a well earned solo wins feel that much sweeter.
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16. Board Game: Flash Duel: Second Edition [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:1942]
K
United States
Oakland
California
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Time-Out!

Flash Duel: Second Edition is a quick dueling game where the rules present you with a couple of different ways to hit your opponent (and win the round), and then also tell you how to determine the winner in a time-out situation. What surprises new players is that hitting your opponent is actually rare, and reaching "timeout" with neither player getting hit is the default situation, so playing to be in a position to win at timeout is more important than trying to hit your opponent.

Defect? If you want to actually hit your opponent and play an aggressive game, you will be disappointed playing against an expert, who will exploit you for moving forward, starve you of good options, and prove time and time again that patience and precision wins the day.

Feature? There is still a lot of game to play, and the back and forth "footsie" dance as players jockey for superior position may betray the beginner's expectations, but can be seen as uniquely charming and gives the game a sort of emergent depth

My Stance: FEATURE, though I think either opinion is valid. The jockeying for position and fighting over control of the last move is fun, nuanced, and there is quite a bit of room to improve at it and I enjoyed the learning curve of figuring out how the various character abilities should best be used to that end.

Lessons? Sometimes "designs gone wrong" or "bugs" that have unintended consequences on gameplay can accidentally create a great game anyway

* Interestingly, the designer and original playtesters did not seem aware of what high-level play in the game would look like and so my guess is that the designer would consider this a DEFECT -- he is in the process of improving the rules to better match his vision.
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17. Board Game: Palastgeflüster [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:1226]
Julian Clarke
Australia
Canberra
ACT
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Rarely does a player win a hand, normally someone loses

Palastgefluster is a game where one starts with 6 cards in hand & must place them onto the table once per turn, without playing a duplicate. Playing a duplicate means losing. It is much harder to get a full 6 different cards down than to cause someone else to play illegally.

Defect? Often you are simply playing to avoid having a turn, as being unnoticed can have distinct advantage for not losing. It is easier to let someone else make a mistake.

Feature? There is a lot of maneuvering to be done to back other players into a corner & force them to play, while not overcommitting yourself & having no legal play left.

My Stance: FEATURE. Sure, it results in more shared wins than other games, but it does still offer meaningful options to avoid that dreaded illegal play.

Lessons? Play cards as sparingly as possible, keep/return as many in hand as you can for as long as you can, & try to dispose of cards that force you to follow on.

Note: I have discovered that many people award 2 points for a successful hand to reward the much higher difficulty. I'd be happy with this variant if the group chooses it.
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18. Board Game: Warhammer [Average Rating:6.66 Overall Rank:1338]
f s
Germany
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Micro-management

In this game, you are a general. You also are every hero, every unit leader, every artillerist. You keep track of individual casualties, you check combat alignment for every single one of up to several hundred miniatures. You manage every individual magic users spells. Etc.
Then you roll - for every mini! - whether you hit. Then you roll whether that hit did damage. Then you roll whether the armour absorbed the damage. Then you roll whether the mini in question is saved by pure luck. For every combat. Every round.

Defect? It takes forever. It is not nearly as precise as some players would like it to be. In the end, it is a question of fairness whether you push your mini that last fraction of an inch or not. It takes very very long to memorize all the stuff in the army lists and to manage it accordingly. This also needs to gamey list optimizing with rather unpleasant results. Building a fun army and play that? Casual gaming? No way against someone who really is into all that. Everything has a bunch of special rules to remember.

Feature? It is complex. Discovering all the possible match-ups and min-maxing possiblities is a herculean task.

My Stance: DEFECT. DEFECT. DEFECT!!! This game is the poster child for the concept of complexity through complicatedness. The game's development just keeps on piling special rules and more special rules for other extra stuff onto a system that is already a mess. Of course, you still have loopholes. And of course balance is off all the time, so tournament organizers make up their own rules on what is allowed.

Lessons? Play better games. Really. This is one of the worst offenders in wargaming out there. When designing a game, go for overall effect and keep micro-managament to a minimum. Repeating stupifying procedures over and over is no fun. Especially not if the game is decided by list writing and min-maxing anyway...

This is really true for a lot of other mini wargames and also for other games to some extent. Micro-management is no good in a macro level game.
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19. Board Game: A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition) [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:84]
Mattias R
Sweden
Stockholm
Unspecified
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The Greyjoy-Lannister imbalance is a feature, not a bug
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20. Board Game: Commands & Colors: Ancients [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:98]
Kyle Smith
United States
Herndon
Virginia
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Command Cards

This is probably the biggest complaint I hear about any of the Commands & Colors games really. The intense frustration people have when they desperate need to command someone on the left, and just keep drawing right and center cards.

Defect? Depending on the iteration of Commands & Colors, this effect can be completely demoralizing. I think the worst offender of the C&C games I've played is Memoir 44 which provides none of the passive benefits of smart troop placement that other C&C games have. Mechanics like battle back, or support, which allow you to neglect a section of the battlefield for a few turns before your troops turn into ground beef.

Feature? The flip side of this is that the cards are supposed to simulate imperfect command. No actual commander gets to meticulously command all the troops on his side, and then allows the opposing commander to do the same. It also does a fantastic job of constraining your available choices, which keeps the game moving at a brisk pace. Not to mention, I personally love the hand management aspect this adds to the game.

My Stance: FEATURE, most of the time. I absolutely think it's a defect in Memoir 44, because the deck is poorly construction, and there are no mechanics to mitigate bad draws. However, once features like battle back, evasion and support crop up in Ancients, along with Ancients much better deck composition and better designed special cards, it's definitely a feature. Just a feature that perhaps didn't land quite right in it's first few iterations.

Lessons? It's ok to limit player choices with a deck of cards. Just make sure you include enough flexibility in those choices to make it seem fair.
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21. Board Game: Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game [Average Rating:7.75 Overall Rank:64] [Average Rating:7.75 Unranked]
TJ
United States
Burbank
California
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Personal Secret Objectives

Dead of Winter is a "meta-cooperative" game where the players are working collectively to complete a main objective, but every player is also randomly assigned a secret personal objective. An individual player only wins if the main objective is completed (or failed if they get the betrayer role and some exile roles), as well as complete their personal objective. There is no concept of a partial victory in the rules.

Defect? There is a thematic disconnect as to why you lose for not completing a personal objective, when usually those are of less importance than surviving a zombie apocalypse. Personal objectives vary in difficulty, and depending on the scenario it may be impossible for a player to complete their personal objective and win. Some people may game the system by purposely trying to get themselves exiled to get a new objective card and potentially still win. Sore losers may purposely tank the game, even if they're not the betrayer.

Feature? The secret objective adds a level of mystery and distrust to the game, making it harder to find a possible betrayer. Players often are forced to act selfishly rather than for the good of the group in order to meet their objective. The mechanics fit the morally gray setting that the game is based in.

My Stance: FEATURE. It can be frustrating to lose when the group as a whole wins, but it's necessary that not completing your personal objective counts as a loss in order to make players motivated to complete it.

Lessons? A better balance in personal objective difficulty may have reduced the frequency of players pre-maturely giving up because they know they won't meet their personal objective, and keep them in the game. There could have also been a better thematic connection as to why a player loses for not (or only partially) fulfilling some personal tick a character has. But overall, I think this was a good mechanic.
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22. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.06 Overall Rank:16]
Albert Jones
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left-right binding

Puerto Rico is a variable phase order game where each player chooses one of the available actions, until only three are left. One of the interesting, and then somewhat original, mechanic is that everyone completes the action; the 'chooser' getting a small bonus. What the player to your left chooses as an action makes a rather profound affect on what you are able to do on your turn to pick. They can make it easier for you in many ways if they are not paying attention to what you are doing and only playing multi-player solitaire.

Defect? There are two typical negatives:
a) one player, who thinks they are strong, tries to control the action choices of the weak player, lessening the fun for everyone
b) the weak player plays predictably, and the player to their left can take the most advantage of this to help themselves to the win.

Feature? After taking some time, and patience, to help the new player get the game (around 2 games), the added tension of trying to maximize your own choices, while minimizes the help you give your opponent to the left adds another level of tension and interaction to the game.
(Or get two new players and space them out.)

My Stance: FEATURE. For me it creates a more engaging and interactive game: I'm always paying attention to other player's action choices, their strategy needs, what's becoming available soon, etc. This makes Puerto Rico a very tense, strategic and cutthroat game for me.

Lessons? The learning curve of a game can cause some players inpatience in allowing others to 'cath-up' and/or cause some players to try to tell others how to play 'properly'. Some games try to balance this with 'catch up' mechanics or other balancing mechanics.
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23. Board Game: Star Wars: The Card Game [Average Rating:7.30 Overall Rank:447]
Kārlis Jēriņš
Latvia
Riga
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Objective set deckbuilding system

There are many card games where you customize your deck before playing - Magic: The Gathering and Android: Netrunner come to mind as the most popular examples. In these games, customizing your deck means picking every single card you want for your deck. Sure, there are limitations (enforced either by rules or by practicality - for instance, most games limit you to no more than 3 or so copies of a card, and a Magic deck would likely not be very good if it only had ten lands in it), but generally anything goes. Not so in Star Wars LCG - here cards come in packs of 6, and if you want any card of that pack, you must take the entire pack. Deck construction, then, comes down to picking 10 (or more if you want, but 10 is generally considered the best) such packs, putting them together and you're done.

Defect? There are plenty of people decrying this aspect of the game as a failure. The main argument used is that it forces you to play with substandard cards and prevents people from building decks they truly want to play. A phrase I've seen somewhere regarding the draft play of Android: Netrunner comes to mind - "even if we're all standing knee-deep in shit, we're still standing knee-deep in shit" - to point to why this is bad.

Feature? There are also reasons to consider this part a feature.
For one thing, it's a balancing tool. The core set of the game contained a Luke Skywalker card. Later expansions have released and there are two more versions, at least one of which is generally better than the original. If deck construction was on an individual card basis, that expansion would immediately have invalidated the old version of Luke completely and nobody would play it any more. But now, since cards come in packs of six, you must compare the whole packs - and it may well be that for the deck you want to build, the cards in the original Luke's set are a better fit, so you use those instead.
For another, having cards come in sets and the contents of those sets being public knowledge means that every card you play reveals a part of your deck to the opponent. This game has some cards than can really decide the game on their own if not properly anticipated. And sometimes, playing a card might look like a good idea, but doing that would let your opponent know that you do have that game-changing card in your deck. And that will likely affect your opponent's plays (which, of course, you can take advantage of).

My stance? FEATURE all the way. I love the way this system reveals ever more and more of my opponent's deck to me without my having to rely on meta knowledge. Plus, assembling a deck one card at a time is really quite a bother. This system is way quicker and, in my opinion, better.
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24. Board Game: Small World [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:185] [Average Rating:7.32 Unranked]
Georg D.
Germany
Höxter
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hidden victory points

Vinci, the predecessor of Small World (SW), had open victory points. That could result in a big gang up on the leader and many people didn't like it. So when the game was totally reworked the designers/publishers decided to make the victory points hidden.

Defect? What are you doing when you can attack one of two different players. For your personal position you can't see any difference. With open victory points you could attack the one with more points - now you have no such guidelines. In addition I heard about groups where the game dragged on because every player tried to remember the scores of all players all the time.


Feature? As said above this way you reduce the chance that everyone gangs up on the leader which could lead to bad feelings.

My stance? DEFECT! Yes, it is not a good feeling if everyone gangs up on you. But if you are the leader they have good rational reasons for it and as soon as s.o. else is better than you they all concentrate on him. That is part of the game. What really sucks is if everyone gangs up on you because s.o. convinced all others that you are the one with the most points. That happens to me in a situation where I'm still convinced that I was 4th or 5th pointwise. And that is really no fun if your last chance to fetch up is destroyed this way. This changed the game from a strategy game to a negotation game. You don't have to be the best player you just have to convince everyone that you are the worst. (unless you consider this convincing being part of a good player.) Especially difficult is it because you can't say anything about the scores just by having a look on the board. It can happen that a player looks good on the board but got the least points the X rounds before. Than he still has less chances to win than a player who looks worse on the board but scored great the rounds before.
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25. Board Game: Glory to Rome [Average Rating:7.49 Overall Rank:150]
Chris
United Kingdom
Birmingham
England
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CLOCKWISE TURN ORDER

A very generic part of so many games, and seldom even considered part of the game in itself. Players pick a game and sit down at the table, either knowing, or not knowing, how important it is to not sit to the left of Steve. Turn order can have a profound effect on the game without it being an explicit part of the written rules.

Defect? It's game non-design. You can be heavily affected by where you sit at the table. That can never be a good thing inside the game.

Feature? Constant clarity over when you will next get a turn, and how many turns will occur between that point provides a sane way to plan your actions. What else are you supposed to do? Hack an annoying auction into every round??

My Stance: DEFECT! Steve is ALWAYS aggressive in any game so I know I have to defend against him specifically whenever I sit on his right. In my example of Glory To Rome, the game is nuts, every card is overpowered, with ridiculous, awesome combos firing all the time, it's mental! Yet... I always go after Steve. In most instances, the designer didn't plan that nuance in the game, it was just presumed that that was how the flow would move. Clockwise turn order is so easy to design, people don't even think of it as a part of the game, but it's ugly clunky design. Making an alternative isn't always easy, but if you can design a simple, effective and interesting way to place turn order manipulation at the heart of the game, it's going to be a better game by default!
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