Buzzkills (or, I've got your Royal Favor right here)
jim b
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With guidance from the geek, I've been playing/buying a lot of new boardgames over the last couple of years. Overall, it's been a blast with some worthy titles and gaming sessions.

But: some of the really well-rated games have some great ideas, coupled with some terrible mechanisms that simply kill the game for me.

There's geek lists about great/innovative mechanisms - my intent is that this one is about TERRIBLE mechanisms that kill an [otherwise] promising game.

(This is my first geek list; I perhaps should start with a less controversial subject, but here goes.)

My first items have some consistent annoyances that bother me in particular. I don't mind victory tracks or other simple linear trackers that capture *something* simply - and even the space race (in twilight struggle) or issues/momentum tracks (in 1960) will do. But if you make it a 2+D matrix, and start tweaking positions in that, imho the fun and theme just go out the window.

[edit: changed header]

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1. Board Game: Caylus [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:45]
jim b
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Here's my prime example.

The road is interesting, the provost is fun, the worker actions are cool. I can deal with building the castle.

Ok, so I'm already fading on the castle - but *wtf* is with the Royal Favors???? A MxN matrix for your thematic pleasure? Do people really find that compelling? It's like having a tweaky little abacus program smeared across the playing field - it just kills this game, imho.

(Here's a counterexample. While I'm still trying to figure out if Agricola is too "mechanistic" - a criticism that I think could apply to Caylus or Agricola - at least it doesn't go out-of-band like that for a key game mechanic. Like it or not, everything seems integrated in Agricola, into one theme/mechanic/system.)
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2. Board Game: Goa [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:107]
jim b
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Another example of the same phenomenon.

The auction table is gorgeous. The auction mechanics are cool. The theme is interesting. The tiles and linen are top-notch. There's more than half a great game right there - very cool!

But - the development table? It's godawful. Another little MxN matrix that feels like we have a casio computer farting in the middle of the table. Buzzkill.

(Here's another counterexample: Modern Art. Very fun auction mechanics, the theme works, the economy/pricing are well integrated- and we don't need a damn side-table to track artist initiative, motivation, endowments etc.)


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3. Board Game: The Princes of Florence [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:116]
jim b
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This one, I traded away quick - it was that bad. If I get some of the mechanics wrong, it's because I don't have it in front of me anymore - my apologies.

I really don't get why people like it, it's so flat.

In particular - who cares about the "works" ? It's just a matter of getting some combo of profession, landscape, freedom. Gin rummy is more interesting, and easier to setup.

The landscape map is interesting, but in practice adds nothing to the game - it looks like you'll have some interesting "tetris-like" problems in fitting stuff in, but the game ends before that even matters. It's just eye-candy.

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4. Board Game: Pandemic [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:73]
jim b
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Ok, this is a little different than the previous ones.

To isolate it to a mechanic - you have to hide your cards, but you have to cooperate to find cures - it just doesn't work. It's either a multi-player puzzle (we show everything and everything is known), or a group flirt (we don't show everything, but we hint throughout).

Either option is broken - an almost great game that just really doesn't work, imho.

(Another counterexample: Arkham. Arkham has enough character depth & theme that the players really do "own" their characters, develop them, and independently contribute to a team. But in Pandemic, the characters are too shallow for that, leading to a facile multi-player co-op - it's just a group effort on a crossword puzzle.)

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5. Board Game: Glory to Rome [Average Rating:7.49 Overall Rank:149]
jim b
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First I should say that this may be my favorite game for small groups - it's just great fun. Still, there's a couple of really key gripes I have about this one:

- the ergonomics (NOT the art/design!) are just awful. stacking cards under previous cards and under the player card just doesn't work - what were they thinking? imho the player map needs to be redesigned so that new cards - especially stuff like new clients and new stockpiled materials - can just stack on top of what's already there. lifting the card and tiling everything underneath is just plain ass-backwards.

- this is a much smaller point, but I wish this game could do without the foundation cards. there should be some way to incorporate the existing materials and etc to provide foundations. (I do appreciate that the foundations provide a good end-game clock, but I still think it's messy.)

We love this game, but frequently have to go "out" to play - a bar, the hospital (don't ask), etc- and we usually are forced to bring Race for the Galaxy along instead, simply because we don't have the real-estate available to play this game. It's almost there, this needs to be fixed.


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6. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.03 Overall Rank:17]
jim b
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The buzzkill on Agricola is the main board itself; the action handling/space doesn't really fit the theme.

Above, my original buzzkill example was Caylus's royal-favors track. I cited Agricola as a counterexample, where a player's development was represented well within the theme (the farm itself).

With Agricola, I think the buzzkill is the main board.

Compared with the thematic integrity of developing your farm on your player-mat (house, family, pastures, fields, etc), the main action board in Agricola seems really dry and mechanistic.

Imho, Agricola has a great and thematic mechanism for integrating player development, but a poor/unthematic mechanism for representing available actions.

jimb wrote:
In Caylus, actions are thematically integrated into the abstraction of the road, player buildings and workers, distance from town/castle, etc - all cleverly driven by the movements of the Bailiff and Provost ... a [good way] of representing the action mechanic. [..] In Agricola, [we have] lots of gorgeous linen containing nothing but unrelated action spaces (text) [..] it doesn't look/feel like anything related to farming.

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