My Criteria For A Great Game
Frank Hamrick
United States
Rocky Mount
North Carolina
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What makes a game great? The following defines ten criteria that (for me) elevates a game from OK to good to great. Moods, playing time, player composition, and new games that flame and die, sometime over-ride the criteria, but for the most part the biases that make a game great are listed below. In addition - I have illustrated my list with a game that I think illustrates each bias. Most of the games listed are among my favorites, but their final position on my "great" list is in relation to how many of these criteria the game achieves, and the degree to which the game rises in each area. Check out my "FRANK'S FAVES" Geeklist to see my top 10 list (and 15 more that come close) when measured by all 10 biases.
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1. Board Game: Power Grid [Average Rating:7.92 Overall Rank:28]
Frank Hamrick
United States
Rocky Mount
North Carolina
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1) TURN ANGST
Sometimes I like to simply relax and play a laid-back game. But when I'm in the mood for a great game, I first look for one that keeps me on the edge of my seat with high tension. I like that sweaty palms feeling when playing - that feeling of being right on the edge of winning big or falling off the edge with each play. I want the game to especially feel this way as the end game is approached. Power Grid is one that does this for me.
 
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2. Board Game: A Game of Thrones (first edition) [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:312]
Frank Hamrick
United States
Rocky Mount
North Carolina
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2) AGGRESSION
I love territorial expansion games, and games that provide me with opportunities to "harm your neighbor". While I am not always a fan of vicious aggression, my gaming heritage traces back to Avalon Hill wargames. So, I do enjoy taking a swipe at my opponent now and then, and the threat that he may retaliate in kind! Games that are purely benign or basically solitaire don't generally make my "great" list. A Game of Thrones is one such game that gives me that chance to infringe on my neighbor's plans, to my devious delight!
 
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3. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:125] [Average Rating:7.46 Unranked]
Frank Hamrick
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Rocky Mount
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3) SIMPLE MECHANICS
I prefer a game that takes less than 10 minutes to explain, without diminishing strategy and depth. Most often I'm teaching my family and friends to play a new game. When the mechanics take too long, and are a bit convoluted, I generally lose them no matter how great the game (Camelot Legends makes their eyes cross). Thus, Ticket to Ride gets a lot more play than A Game of Thrones! Further, I am fascinated by a game that is simple in design but deep in strategy. Chess - for example - has this amazing characteristic: a few minutes to learn; a life-time to master. Most German games don't fit this paradigm (they may be easy to learn, but are not difficult to master), but many can be described as simple to learn, but challenging to play.
 
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4. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:70]
Frank Hamrick
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Rocky Mount
North Carolina
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4) STRATEGIC AND/OR TACTICAL DEPTH
Give me a game that requires thinking, planning, outwitting, and outmaneuvering my opponents, and I'm a happy man! I prefer games in which each turn requires readjustment and subtle maneuvering. E&T fits the bill here. It is a great game of planning as well as reacting to a changing board.

 
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5. Board Game: The Bridges of Shangri-La [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:1167]
Frank Hamrick
United States
Rocky Mount
North Carolina
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5) MULTIPLE CHOICES and AGONIZING DECISIONS
I love a game that presents myriads of choices - provided I'm not playing with a paralyzing analyzer! This bias is a close sibling to Turn Angst. Multiple choices add to the angst and heighten my enjoyment of a game. This is why I enjoy The Bridges of Shangri-La - though many call it dry - and Capitol. Both make me agonize over what I should do at every turn in the game.
 
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6. Board Game: Capitol [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:1378]
Frank Hamrick
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Rocky Mount
North Carolina
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6) MINIMAL LUCK
Games that (at a minimum) give me the illusion that I control my destiny by the choices I make, far exceed those that are almost purely determined by the roll of the dice or the cards I draw (Monopoly, Sorry). However, I do enjoy a modicum of luck when it presents a greater challenge to strategy and requires reactionary tactics. Capitol is such a game. There is a minimum of luck in the cards you draw (but we play a varient that minimizes that to some degree) - just enough IMO to keep the game exciting and nerve-wracking. Other games where luck actually adds to the tension include Attika, Ticket to Ride.
 
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7. Board Game: Memoir '44 [Average Rating:7.54 Overall Rank:117] [Average Rating:7.54 Unranked]
Frank Hamrick
United States
Rocky Mount
North Carolina
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7) GREAT BITS
I enjoy the look of miniatures (Memoir '44, Heroscape), the feel of wooden bits or resin ships (Pirate's Cove) & Pyramids (Amun-Re), the look of gold coins (Butterscotch coins in Ohne Furcht und Adel), the sound of ivory or resin tiles (Quandary, Dominoes), gorgeous maps & boards (Mystery of the Abbey, A Game of Thrones), and the lush feel of matted cards (Boomtown). One look at the wooden bridges sprawled across The Bridges of Shangri-La, and I had to buy the game whether it was good or not! That's why I want Reef Encounter as well! While bits don't make a game great, they sure help make a good game even better.
 
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8. Board Game: Attika [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:565]
Frank Hamrick
United States
Rocky Mount
North Carolina
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8) SHORT PLAYING TIME
(I prefer a game that plays in 45 mins or less, but if the game is great I'll still play it regularly if it checks in in under 2 1/2 hours. And - the older I get the shorter my gaming time and the shorter my concentration level! While I occasionally enjoy a marathon, for the most part I want the game to have depth, but be over in an hour or less. Ah, Attika is great for this. Depth of decisions, good tension, and short playing time! Hits the spot for me.
 
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9. Board Game: Wallenstein (first edition) [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:342]
Frank Hamrick
United States
Rocky Mount
North Carolina
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9) RICH THEME (and often with a MAP)
My Avalon Hill background gave me a thirst for maps, simulations, and historical theme. Thus, I am not generally excited about abstracts or games with thinly pasted on themes. But I do enjoy games like Wallenstein, Liberte, Mare Nostrum, Memoire '44, and Battle Cry if for no other reason than I get to play on a map an conquer territory! Even if it's a fantasy map as in War of the Ring and A Game of Thrones, it gets my attention.
 
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10. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:279] [Average Rating:7.23 Unranked]
Frank Hamrick
United States
Rocky Mount
North Carolina
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10) JUST PLAIN FUN
This may be the bottom line. In some ways, you can throw out all of the above and simply say, any game you love to play is a great game!! Most of my top 10-15 fit this category (see my "Frank's Faves" geeklist.) This is why Settlers is near the top of my list of favorites. It's just plain fun.
 
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