Most Useful Negative Comments (2004)
Tom "Snicker Daddy" Pancoast
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My goal for this list is to highlight some of the best and most useful bits of negativity about several games from 2004 that I have some personal experience with. Feel free to add games that you have experience with, but please don't just use it as an excuse to bash games you don't like.

When I hear good things about a game repeatedly, it's time to do a little research. By the time this happens, I have already heard lots of good things about a game, or I wouldn't be interested. I can check out the reviews and session reports for more positive opinion, and even some of the bad, but for the real dirt, I go to the ratings and go straight to the back of the line. In order to find out if a game is worth my money, or even my time, I need to hear what other people don't like. I need something I can compare against my growing and changing list of dislikes.

There are good "bad comments", and unfortunately, others that are not so useful. When I read that Ticket to Ride is "a major screw your neighbor game", I have to think that this guy had a very unique game experience. I'm sure that is a completely legitimate comment from that guy's perspective, but it isn't likely to help someone else learn if they will like the game.

With one possible exception, I love all these games, but I want people to use this to help put their fears to rest, or to avoid a game they are not likely to enjoy. In light of that, I looked for the comments that best represented the recurring objections about each game.
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1. Board Game: Goa [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:107]
Tom "Snicker Daddy" Pancoast
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James Stuart (anonystu)
In the end, there is a great heavyweight game buried within a tough-to-explain, mechanically complex game that makes the game much more complex than it actually is: race to expedition level 3, and draw cards for the rest of the game.


The first part of this mirrors my first impression of the game. The rules sounded very complex and the victory point conditions were all over the place. Everything fell pretty well into place while playing the game, and it was much easier than the rules made it seem. I strongly recommend printing out a quick reference sheet before the first play.

The strength of the "exhibition track" strategy has turned some people away from the game, but the designer has chimed in and pointed out a difference (mistake?) in the english rules that might mitigate the strength of this one strategy. I don't know, but it sounds promising, and this game is still on my wish list.

Quote:
Peter Donnelly (SkookumPete)
Sold my copy. It seems to be more about mastering the system than about competition with other players. One thing that gripes me, as in Wildlife, is the awarding of VPs for things that you need to do anyway. I'd rather be working toward a clear goal than maximizing VPs by tinkering with the balance of various mechanisms.


This is a pretty good description of the game from a negative point of view. Goa does have alot of mechanics tossed together in the same game, and the idea of "mastering the system" will appeal to some and turn away others.
 
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2. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:124] [Average Rating:7.46 Unranked]
Tom "Snicker Daddy" Pancoast
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(Aeothen)
Too light for my tastes. There's virtually no player interaction that wasn't governed by luck. Components are up to Days of Wonder's usual high standard, however.


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Michael Webb (CortexBomb)
Not a bad game, medium to light weight to be sure. I think the opening strategy is unquestionably dictated by one's opening tickets though, and there is little room for defensive play, which made this strangely feel like a solitaire game in that any time a player thwarted another, except in extremely rare circumstances, it was circumstantial. Certainly some room for good play: drawing cards to prevent changing the face up pile, and getting a huge hand and then creating a huge run of 6 links, and it seems the choice between short and long tickets, and long runs vs. quantity of tickets is well done (though this has been up for rigorous debate amongst people here who care a lot more about this game than I do). Zero tension though, pick up a card, pick up a card, lay out several cards, accidentally screw someone along the way. The game just feels bland, and I find myself reluctant to sit down to it again, which means even the 5 I give it now might be overly generous. (Note that Elfengold has many of the good things about TtR while adding many more gamer friendly aspects such as auctions and opportunities to screw with your opponents. I suggest it by a wide margin over this lighter implementation of a 'route planning' game)


These comments are both true, and there's not much more to say. Its up to you to decide if that's what you want, or not. This is a great gateway game, but it is light, and has significant luck.
 
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3. Board Game: Maharaja: The Game of Palace Building in India [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:506]
Tom "Snicker Daddy" Pancoast
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Chris Brua (cbrua)
Ack! All the dry, stale boringness of El Grande without the modicum of excitement EG has of having a different limited set of actions to choose from each turn. Maharaja is completly static: only 9 actions to choose from, and they are the same every turn. Fine in a 2-player abstract game, but I totally boring in a multiplayer strategy game. Plus the chaos of switching roles and "next up" scoring city easily deflates any real strategy you might try to develop. Definitely not my kind of game -- it's going straight to the Marketplace after I finish typing this!


I actually had a little trouble finding negative comments. There are only five comments from people who didn't like the game (rated less than 5), and this one summarizes them all well enough.

Quote:
Morgan Dontanville (sisteray)
I couldn't decide whether I liked or disliked this game as I was playing it. Overall I think that it is a brilliant design, but I feel that it has a couple major problems. First, is who this can be played with. This is too much of a gamers game for most people, and conversely can easily create analysis paralysis for hard core gamers and yet be so random that it frustrates the players that need control. Basically, it boils down to being a great game for "Gut Players". So how often is this ever going to get played. The mechanics, while mindbogglingly innovative, are ... well ... mindboggling. If you over think this it burns the brain, but it just isn't worth overthinking because everything changes by the end of the round, so there is a push your luck element to the game where you must decide between safe choices and big money makers. Tons of screwage to be had. Plus there may be the same problem that Alhambra has which is a rich get richer issue. Once you get on a roll moneywise, it is hard to blow your lead. (Take it from me I usually blow my lead 2/3rds of the way through a game).


I had to get this comment from a 6.5 rating, but it is an excellent moderately negative description of the game.

My take is that Kramer and Kiesling wanted to make a more chaotic, less Analysis Paralysis prone action point game (not AP free, though). Whether this sounds good or bad is up to you.
 
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4. Board Game: Saint Petersburg [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:229]
Tom "Snicker Daddy" Pancoast
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This game is an exception on this list. I'm finding it increasingly hard to love, so I'm kind of breaking my own rule, but it is not my intention to put the game down. Part of the problem seems to be that I'm just not very good at this game. I'm not sure if I honestly don't like the game, or if I'm just being a big loser baby.

Quote:
Chris Roberts (Chris R)
It seems the winner is determined by who gets good first picks in the early turns. If you don't get the right cards early and a leader breaks away then they've already won. And you can spend the whole game knowing this because its all in the math.


There are certainly some more interesting comments (sisterray & Fawkes), but Chris summed up most objections shortly and sweetly.

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Akke Monasso (Akke)
First impressions are wonderful. After multiple plays it turns out that only one strategy pays off.


I had to include this one because it expresses my own experience. I tried it for the first time at Origins, and with other newbies, I loved it. Terri's initial reaction to the game was disinterest, and I had to talk her into the game. She picked up on the Aristocrat strategy much faster than I did, and has been kicking my butt ever since.
 
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5. Board Game: San Juan [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:228]
Tom "Snicker Daddy" Pancoast
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Alex Sorbello (lexen)
Not even close to the original. it seems like a watered down version and thus I do not like it. Maybe if this would have come out before PR I would be liking it more. Like st-petersburg better.


I don't subscribe to the idea that San Juan's similarity to Puerto Rico in any way invalidates it as a game in it's own right, but this is a common objection. Personally I own San Juan, and only play Puerto Rico when friends bring it over, so if this was reversed, maybe I would agree with him.

Quote:
Mark Jackson (gamemark)
Some interesting card interactions, but it feels like I'm just treading water while the game plays me.


I can definitely see his point. When I play, I tend to grab the prospector at first until I draw a card that helps shape my strategy for the rest of the game. From there my actions are sometimes fairly set, but this is not always the case.

Quote:
Joshua Miller (Glamorous Mucus)
The primary innovation of Puerto Rico, the role selection system, is less exciting and less important here. San Juan is much more about hand management: getting a good influx of cards, choosing which cards to build and in what order, and knowing which cards to give up and which ones to save. Some cards work well for almost anyone and others require other synergistic cards or specific strategies in order to be effective. There's a bit of a learning curve in figuring out what works and what doesn't, but overall the game is more forgiving and less intimidating for beginners than Puerto Rico. The central mechanism of cards-as-buildings-or-cash works well, although it creates the need for an awful lot of drawing, discarding, and shuffling.


This is not a very negative comment, and it would not look out of place next to a higher rating, but it is a good and fairly objective description of the game.
 
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6. Board Game: Wings of War: Famous Aces [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:785] [Average Rating:6.87 Unranked]
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M. Barnes (crackedlcd81)
WoW is such a great concept, but it's really marred by a poor release strategy and a ridiculous retail price. I'll not criticize that (too much) here, but the game itself is fun, simple, and somewhat unique. The movement system is very well done but unfortunately many battles turn into seemingly endless manuevers with little action. A little added complexity probably wouldn't have hurt as it would have given the game a little more meat. How about a large card representing a zeppelin?


Quote:
Jeremy Avery (familygaming)
Played 1 time. You mean that's it? I expected more from this game somehow. I found it to be a little dull, and worse, in a 4 player game, one plane got shot down (mine), and the other players sontinued to play for over 30 minutes! One of the reasons I like 'German' games is no player elimination, so a thumbs down on that. But the game is overpriced, has a horrible box-insert design to hold components, and includes a pile of stuff you can't even use until you buy the expansion. Disappointing. [orig]


This game is priced a bit high for what you get. Otherwise, the game is a very simple, clever and elegant aerial "war game", and as such, there is player elimination. If that's what you want, there should no surprises here, so I don't have much to add.
 
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7. Board Game: Runebound (First Edition) [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:2941]
Tom "Snicker Daddy" Pancoast
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(Aristophanes)
Very disappointing. All the theme is there as well as great artwork, decent storyline and lots of flexibility, but it still boils down to huge amounts of die rolling...or watching someone else roll dice. The sheer lack of player interactivity is a problem. This game could have been sooooo much more.


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Mark Bozzuto (Bozzutoman)
In spite of the beautiful components and a few interesting game mechanics, gameplay is a frustrating morass of random movement, unbalanced encounters within a color-level, miss-priced items for sale at cities, and worst of all... even with only three players, there is an irritating downtime.


This game is definitely a die fest. The play time and downtime between turns can be long, and the primary player interaction is getting something before they do. There is not alot of strategy, luck is likely to be a deciding factor, and there are balance issues, but ultimately, this game is what it is. It is a light fantasy adventure game with a moderately long playing time. If that appeals to you, you will probably enjoy it. If you are looking for a fantasy game that is a player brawl, or thoughtful, meaty, and balanced, you will probably need to keep looking.
 
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8. Board Game: Betrayal at House on the Hill [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:422]
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Robert K (St. Elvis)
I've played this only once, but it struck me at the time that this is a poster child for bad game design and development. Depending on the randomly-selected scenario, rules can be ambiguous or incomplete, even with regard to issues as important as victory conditions. The first half of the game, during which the house is explored, involves no strategic or tactical decision-making that I could see. The second half of the game has some strategic interest, but it's mostly an exercise in roll-and-move, and players can be eliminated through bad luck, reducing them to spectators. Maybe it's fun for some at a "let's pretend" level, but the role-playing element of the game didn't appeal to me, personally. Oh, and one of the tiles is misprinted. I usually resist the urge to rate a game that I've only played once, but I can't see my opinion of this one changing with more experience.


Quote:
Tom T (yttire)
This game does a pretty good job of evoking a horror exploration through a haunted house. However, there are very few choices to make, even in the haunting phase. The haunting part was the best part- and I have played multiple times, but it goes by fast and is not that balanced. The first part of the game basically consists of your observing things happen to your character- it matters little where you go, and there are no things you can do early.. might as well randomly roll to see your stats before the haunting and save a lot of time.


I am not sure this entry will be helpful if you are interested in this game. These objections are completely right. In most games, it would add up to a horrible experience, but for me and many others, this game works in spite of the problems. Our games have been unbalanced, and luck driven, but the horror theme works very well. It is like a story with a cheesy twist ending.
 
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9. Board Game: Camelot Legends [Average Rating:6.13 Overall Rank:3232]
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Brian Modreski (StormKnight)
Look - nice. Concept (sending characters to various locations to complete quests) - good. Adding up tons of little numbers, and constantly having to re-add them due to dull but complicated special abilities - tedius.


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Michael Van Biesbrouck (mlvanbie)
It isn't a bad game, but it would be better if it were simpler. In a three player game there will be a dozen cards out with tiny text giving everything a special power. (Cards will have one orientation per player, too.) Some of the powers are in constant use, others are once only (and hence easier to forget). The skill icons are often hard to tell apart due to fine detail and colour reuse. The skill icons have little to do with some of the skills and the card text uses the power names. (Similar issue with heraldry.) It would have been a lot better if most cards had no power and there was a simple bonus for using several people from the same allegiance, saving special powers for women, kings and maybe non-allied people. The High King card was rather powerful when somone got it early. Why are all the non-allied characters bastards? (Bar sinister.)


This is another game where most objections are about the game being what it is. This game plays like a collectable/customizable card game without being either collectable or customizable. What's left? The complex card interplay. If you like CCGs, but don't like the collectable or the customizable aspect, this game might be perfect for you for you, and I think it's brilliant. If you have a problem with games where each card is complex and unique, or you hate having to keep track of several card effects and scores at once, you might be a redneck, uh, I mean not want this game.
 
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10. Board Game: Dos Rios [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:2034]
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Bill Weis (billweis)
(6 on production alone). I thought game play was dry and game was overly long with 4. Lots of down time. No real ability to build upon previous play. End was Kingmaking situation. Not to my liking.


Quote:
Clark D. Rodeffer (CDRodeffer)
Unusual tactical economics game with a minor war game element. It's not an every weekend kind of game for me, but it's good occasionally. Down time can become a problem if people spend too much time analyzing their possibilities, because there's not much to do on other players' turns besides occasionally collect money.


Quote:
Jon Power (EYE of NiGHT)
Simple game and fun, but too easy to be negative to the other players. Diverting the river is a good mechanism though.


I don't buy the claims that this game has no strategy, because it is possible to bend the game to your will by establishing long term control over parts of a river. Even so, this is difficult to achieve, and the tactical aspects still reign supreme. Unlike some other highly tactical games, you still have a ton of choices to make, and as such it suffers from Analysis Paralysis. I would say that if you have an affinity for action point games, you should look closely at this one. Depending on your preferences, this game might be worth getting for the unique river mechanism alone.

It is also interesting that according to the current ratings, nobody absolutely loves or hates this game (no 10's, only one 3, and no 1's or 2's), but the number of ratings are light.
 
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11. Board Game: Attika [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:563]
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Iain K (citizen k)
Having played a half dozen times, I have found Attika to be a pleasant game. But it leaves me with the feeling, "what's the point". It seems like an abstract strategy game, but it's a weak one, with few options and a dependence on the luck of the draw. It's a building game, but lacks flavor or an atmosphere. It supports multiplayer use, but with little interaction beyond the occasional blocking move. Sadly, it just didn't "catch" me and so was traded.


Quote:
Christoph Heinzl (taahaag)
Played thrice. It's hard to keep an eye on what the other players already have built. The tile-drawing adds an enormous amount of luck. Seems to work better with only two players. Still I don't think I will play this one again.


Quote:
Alex Sorbello (lexen)
Not much replay value. One two ways of winning of wich only one is working.


These objections are valid, but the effect they will have on your enjoyment of the game is tough to call. It is abstract, but perhaps only slightly more than the typical German game. I personally feel that the blocking provides a considerable amount of player interaction, and making sure that I can block efficiently when needed is a big part of my strategy. Regardless, depending on your play style, the point about interaction is well taken. I also don't think the luck of the game is out of control, but it is, perhaps, higher than other games of similar weight and luck can win the game. Finally, in a two player game, the shrine connection is largely just a way to threaten and manipulate your opponent. With more players, it is a more likely way to win as someone might be distracted or be forced into an action that leaves the door open for you. That leads some to think there is a king making problem.

With a fairly high standard deviation, Attika's fans and detractors are fairly polarized. It is probably a good game to try, and try several times, to see if it will "catch" you.
 
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