Game Breakers Part II >> Flawed Rule Designs
Jay Little
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After writing my previous GeekList titled Game Breakers I >> Rules That Wreck a Game, I've spent some time examining my collection, as well as games I've gotten rid of over the years. Aside from peculiar or imbalanced events, cards or circumstances that crop up during a game, some games have a more fundamental flaw - a core mechanic or rule which throws the game out of balance from the start.

For some games, this can be quickly modified or overcome through house rules. For others, it's a systemic problem that requires far too much effort to "fix" ... And regardless, it is fairly surprising that these mechanics would pass serious, objective play testers without raising a few red flags.

Here are some guidelines I've tried to apply while setting up this list:
1) This list is focused on games which have flaws in their metagame, setup or execution. As an integral part of the game, this type of flaw will crop up during nearly every session.
2) I'm not talking about strategies or maneuvers which can immediately imbalance a game in favor of the first person to accomplish said strategy.
3) I'm not talking about imbalanced, questionable or chaotic cards or events that may or may not take place during a game (that's covered in the previous Geeklist)


What other games feature fundamentally flawed rule designs?
Are these legitimate flaws, or merely quirks?
Are there even more serious offenders than these?



Please check out all the lists in my Game Breakers series:

Game Breakers Part I >> Rules That Wreck a Game
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listi...
Game Breakers Part II >> Flawed Rule Designs
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listi...
Game Breakers Part III >> Poor Product Planning
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist.php3?action=view&listi...

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1. Board Game: Tenjo [Average Rating:5.02 Overall Rank:14850]
Jay Little
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The Problem: Random Action Allowance

Tenjo's promise - excellent bits, compelling theme and interesting mechanics - are all dashed by the overly harsh mechanic of rolling 1d10 at the beginning of your turn to see how many actions you have. It's so wildly chaotic that you could conceivably have 1 or 2 actions per turn while your opponents have 9 or 10. And the game is unforgiving enough that there isn't enough time for it to truly average out.

Far better mechanics could have smoothed this out, and there are numerous ways this could have happend: Rolling 2d6 for a more predictable curve of actions, alloting "action cards" you designate each turn (a la Carolus Magnus), bidding VPs/money for actions or turn order, being able to purchase extra actions if you're below a certain threshold, having each person roll and "drafting" the results based on game position, etc.
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2. Board Game: Quest for the Dragonlords [Average Rating:5.57 Overall Rank:12173]
Jay Little
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The Problem: Imbalanced Starting Powers

I know errata has been made and rules changed, but the first edition of Quest for the Dragon Lords is a perfect example of horribly imbalanced character powers - the Elves simply dominated the game. They had a 'first strike' like ability allowing them to attack in combat first instead of simultaneously, providing a nearly insurmountable advantage, especially early in the game where troops are preciously few.

Games like Cosmic Encounter don't apply here, since there are numerable powers and in game balances/quirks and effects (like flares and edicts) to counter any one power's edge. While Talisman has some bad random draws, events and cards, the Prophetess and Monk are good examples of terribly imbalanced starting character powers.
 
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3. Board Game: Wizard Kings [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:1747]
Jay Little
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The Problem: Combat Rules Which Reward Turtling

It's hard for me to knock Wizard Kings, which is easily one of my favorite "lite" wargames, but as much as I love the terrain effects, variable troops, fog of war block system and other mechanics, I cannot understand why the defender fires first during each phase of combat.

This gives the defender an enormous advantage. In WK, each space can only hold 6 units, and there are limits to how many units can cross a particular hex edge to enter into a new space. This makes it far more difficult for attacking forces to bring numbers to bear than in other games.

As such, a defender happy with 'turtling' (that is, simply staying passive and forcing the action to come to him) on a prime location can easily support 6 units in a space, and then inflict significant damage in combat, further hampering an attacker's efforts to break their ranks.

As written, it seems to foster the approach of rushing out quickly and aggressively right away, then turtling immediately after gaining an advantage to grind the game down and force attrition. While perhaps a valid military tactic, it makes for poor gameplay.

Luckily, this is easily fixed for my tastes -- when we play, attacker and defender fight simultaneously each phase.
 
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4. Board Game: Time Control [Average Rating:2.20 Overall Rank:15123]
Jay Little
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The Problem: Poorly Structured Simultaneous Play

I love some simultaneous card games, especially Fightball, Blink and Wheedle. But simultaneous mechanics are tricky to master, as shown by the abysmal Time Control.

Unlike a "race" mechanic where everyone was trying to reach a mutual or individual goal quickest, Time Control creates a situation where whoever blinks and goes first during simultaneous play opens himself up to attack by all the other players. In essence, no one would conceivably want to go first and make themselves a target. Obviously, this locks the game down to an impasse.
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5. Board Game: British Square [Average Rating:4.65 Overall Rank:14083]
Jay Little
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Eden Prairie
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The Problem: Symmetrical/Mirrored Gameplay

This can occur with abstract games with surprsing regularity. There are many games which suffer from being "solveable" -- meaning that the game can be broken down mathematically to prove there is always a best possible move. Sometimes, this can be coupled with symmetry of play.

For British Square, a game I loved dearly growing up, it means that your opponent can simply mimic or mirror your move each time, invariably forcing a stalemate. I didn't think this could possibly be the case with my beloved British Square, until one of my friends proved his point by deliberately creating stalemates in 10 consecutive games.

I know several games have a rule to quell this urge, or to prevent stalemates caused by reverting the board back to a previous state (as in Go), but it's hard to simply prevent someone from making symmetrical decisions.
 
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6. Board Game: Serenissima (first edition) [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:1101]
Jay Little
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The Problem: Asymmetrical Player Scaling

It's very difficult to find games that scale well for 3 or sometimes 5 players. Games with boards that adapt to the number of players (like Samurai or Air Baron) hold up very well - but games with set, structured maps and predetermined starting locations suffer terribly.

I love Serenissima - as a 4 player game. Otherwise, with only 3 players, you invariably seem to suffer one of two problems:
A) One player is hemmed in between two others, and must contend with two neighbors while the others have only to contend with the middleman.
B) Two players are close to each other while the third has free reign to expand into uncontested areas.

Tilset's Gnome Tribes seriously suffers from this, since one player will always be squeezed, while the other two expand unchecked.

That sort of asymmetrical scaling and starting positions keep these games from seeing more play, as you can only play them with a set number of people for optimum balance (in the case of Serenissima and Gnome Tribes, I love them as 4 player games, and simply won't play them with less)
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7. Board Game: Rogue Trooper [Average Rating:6.06 Overall Rank:5803]
Brian Schlichting
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Elk River
Minnesota
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The Problem: Poorly Designed Victory Conditions

It is difficult to enjoy a game when the final goal you are trying to achieve is impossible to reach without giving all of your opponents the option to jump in and steal the win.

In this game, 4 points of damage had to done to the traitor in order win the game. It does not matter who does the damage or when, so basically the person who does the 4th point of damage to the traitor wins the game. The problem is, there are VERY few card combinations that allow you to do more than one point of damage. So, everyone works together to knock the traitor down to 2 points, but if you do the 3rd point of damage, you have just given all of your opponents the opportunity to jump in and do the last point of damage and take the win before you get another turn. Instead, the players spend the next hour or so wandering around the board, swapping cards, trying to get the perfect combination to do 2 points of damage without being interrupted, and playing other cards to saboage the opponent's attempts to do the same. Boring.

Games Workshop boardgames got me into this hobby back in the 80's. Few companies even today have designed games with such rich themes and complex gameplay. I have quit playing nearly all of them due to one or two perceived fundamental flaws that our group inevitably found. Every group doesn't have the same experiences, but generally, if a game is breakable, our group will break it.
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8. Board Game: Axis & Allies [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:1038]
steven richard
United States
seattle
Washington
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When our group played Axis & Allies:Revised for the first time, we decided to play the "minor victory" rules in order to keep this notoriously long game within our strict time budget. My team was Allies. In the first turn, Germany took Leningrad and Japan took Calcutta. Game over.

Needless to say, we then opted to go for the "major victory".

16 hrs. later, the Allies conceded an uncertain defeat in order to get some rest.
 
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9. Board Game: Supremacy [Average Rating:5.59 Overall Rank:13111]
The War Chief
United States
Parkville
Maryland
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The Economic System is completely BROKEN. It's too easy to crash the market, making materials dirt cheap for the following player. Supremacy's Economic system has turned what could be a classic into a complete train wreck of a game.
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10. Board Game: Conquest of the Empire [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:3074]
Sean Swart
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Moscow
Ohio
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Please feel free to remove this if it doesn't fix your list.

Conquest of the Empire is a beutiful game with a huge flawed combat system. The catapult advantage is near broken and the combat system itself is bland and flawed. You simple pick a target roll a die and if the number is high enough remove target, then the other player does the same. Catapults give a +1 advantage and the game boggs down with the caesar with the most catapults wins. Also being able to trade captured generals will lead to some extremely long games. Really it needs a complete overhaul of the combat system. Here is what we have done in our games.

1. Generals that are captured are removed from the game.

2. Combat is simultaneous.Each combat unit add a number of dice which is rolled together, after both players roll, hits are removed. The players chose the hit for thier own forces. Defenders roll first. Then attacker, after units are removed by hits the attacker may retreat, if he choses to continue the attack the defender may retreat, if the defender stands another round of combat takes place.

Each infantry rolls 1 die.
Each cavalry rolls 1 die
Each ship rolls 2 dice.

Example: general invade enemy territory with 4 inf. and faces general with 3 inf. Defender roll 3 dice and the attacker 4. All dice are rolled and 1's hit. (Use different color dice for different to hit numbers.)

I know it sounds bland but wait till the Combat advantages kick it.

There are two different advantages:Combat and Defence.

Defence advantage +1 if defending in a city region
Defence advantage +1 if defending a fortified city region.

If you have Cav. and enemy doesn't +1 combat advantage
If Legion is led by Caesar +1 combat advantage
Each catapult +1 combat advantage

Combat advantages and how they work. Unlike the original game my combat advantage work differently.

All defence advantage give player +1 on all thier dice! So Defending a fortified city, all defenders will hit on a 1, 2 or 3.

Catapults reduce defence bonus by 1 per catapult. So in the above example 2 catapults would negate the fortified city defence. Catapults also give +1 combat advantage, more on that in a moment.

Cavalry have a special ability, other than giving a combat bonus if enemy has no Cavalry. The ability is in retreat. When a enemy retreats if you have more Cavalry than the retreating enemy you may make a pursuit. For each cavalry in excess to the enemy roll a die. Each 1 or 2 rolled the retreating player loses a unit of his choice.

Combat advantages. for each advantage you have, your to hit on 1 die is raised. Example Player a has a +2 advantage so 2 of his dice may be raised by 1 or 1 of his dice may be raised by 2.

Combat advantages and Catapults. Catapults while giving a combat advantage, never give the advantage to themselves or other Catapults.
Example Player A has a legion with a Caesar, 2 catapults and 1 infantry. So he rolls a total of 3 dice, one for the infantry and 1 each for the two catapults. Since the Catapults can't give themselves a advantage, he could give one die +3 or, because of the Caesar, 1 die +1, and one die +2.

Note: the above rules fixes the catapult problem but still keeps them worth the cost in the basic game. The advantage of Cavalry is not in strenght now, but in their abilities to confer a bonus and in retreat. So the cost is still in line with the model. The defensive bonus is very powerful and forces players to invest in catapults to lay seige to thier enemies. Note, I haven't limited the players in what to buy, but rewards the player that buys a balanced force.

Sean
 
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11. Board Game: Arne [Average Rating:3.67 Overall Rank:15235]
Chris Shaffer
United States
San Francisco
CA
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Me: This could be good, but unfortunately it isn't. It's virtually all luck and no skill. Another player can "crash" you, and if you don't draw one of the five "lock" cards, your game is over.

Someone else: If you draw a card in your colour, you can play it before you to score at end-game. That encourages the other players to play their whack cards on you. Cards you draw in other people's colours are useful only as discards. So here's a game where less than half the cards you draw are actually playable by yourself, and anything that you do play sets you up to be whacked. It gets a 2 instead of a 1 because at least it's of a length (10 mins) that fits with it's mindless nature.

Another person: Uno-like, but you can't play most of the cards you get, and those you can play get stolen, so why bother.

A clincher: The pain! The pain! There is more decision making in Fluxx
 
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12. Board Game: U.S. Patent No. 1 [Average Rating:5.24 Overall Rank:14646]
adam kouzmanoff
United States
champaign
United States
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I played an 8 HOUR game of this with 5 other people. once most people have the proper parts to apply for a patent, the other players just beat him/her into submission. I have no idea what could be done to slove this, it was just 6 people attacking each other at/around the patent office for 7 of the 8 hours.

 
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13. Board Game: Magic: The Gathering [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:157] [Average Rating:7.45 Unranked]
Douglas Buel
United States
Hollywood
Florida
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Magic: The Gathering is a vast, vast game. With the hundreds and hundreds of new cards that are printed each year come a geometrically greater number of interactions between them. Magic is playtested, but from time to time, a broken game mechanic or broken interaction will slip through.
There are numerous examples. Many cards have been banned or have received errata over the years. The most recent two examples would probably have to be the game mechanic called Affinity, and the card called Skullclamp.
Affinity is a game mechanic that makes certain cards cheaper to play depending upon what other sorts of cards you already have in play. Specifically, certain cards had Affinity for Artifacts. This meant that those cards were cheaper to play if you already had artifacts (a type of card that represents machines, golems, weapons and so forth) in play.
In Magic, cards are primarily paid for by using a type of card called a land. There are other ways to pay for cards, but lands are the fundamental generators of the game's resource (mana) that is used to pay for the right to play a given card.
In the set that featured Affinity for Artifacts, the game creators thought it would be fun if there were some lands that were also artifacts. These lands would be especially useful if you played cards that had Affinity for Artifacts. Allegedly, the artifact lands would be balanced by a corresponding drawback -- since they were artifacts, that made them easier to destroy. (These lands would be vulnerable to cards that destroy lands and to cards that destroy artifacts, you see.)
The problem comes in because the game creators also wanted to "push" the artifact theme of this set. The creators didn't print the usual number of cards that could easily destroy all artifacts. In other words, because artifacts were supposed to be the fun new focus, cards that could handily deal with large numbers of artifacts were reduced.
This effectively nullified the drawback of the artifact lands.
Since each artifact land not only produced the usual resource that a land produces, but also contributed toward the Affinity for Artifacts game mechanic, artifact lands were twice as good as normal lands when you played a deck based on Affinity for Artifacts. And everyone who plays Magic already knew from the past that doubly good lands are gamebreaking.
The result was that the "Affinity Deck" dominated and unbalanced the game.
The artifact lands were eventually banned in the Standard Magic format.
Skullclamp was a particular recent unblancing card. The Skullclamp was a device that added slightly to the power level of one of your own creatures, decreased that creature's toughness (basically, the number that tells you how hard it is to kill that creature), and that let you draw two cards if that creature was killed. The Skullclamp could be put on a new creature if desired.
The problem comes in in that in Magic, cards are everything. Drawing more cards is the fundamental way to have a basic advantange over the opponent. The "draw two cards" mechanic of the Skullclamp was so overwhelming, it became worthwhile to build a deck that would deliberately kill its own Skullclamped creatures. These decks would draw tons of cards and crush the opponent under "card advantage."
Skullclamp was eventually banned in multiple formats.
There are other examples, but that's sufficient for now.

Don't get me wrong; Magic is a great game. Being such a vast game, it has had its moments of broken mechanics.
 
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14. Board Game: Bounty [Average Rating:5.25 Overall Rank:13638]
Eric Franklin
United States
Milton
Washington
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The Problem: The Multiple Ships Rules

Basically, if you've got money and are at Home, you can buy an extra ship. There's a problem with this, however - there aren't enough extra ships to go around, first of all. This leads to a situation where the first player to get back to port with money gains a HUGE advantage - a second ship.

Second of all, there's how the combat system works - see, Pirates beat Merchants, and a Pirate Hunter beats Pirates (I don't remember the exact term for the Pirate Hunter - this game is gathering dust on my shelf and I don't feel like finding it).

The easiest way to win is to sail around until you have a Pirate. Once you have a Pirate, sail your other ship around until you have a Pirate Hunter. It's possible that you'll not get these, but with enough patience (and it shouldn't honestly take that long), you'll have both.

Plant that Pirate outside of Home Port and raid incoming enemies mercilessly. Then, when one of them goes to get the Royal Navy for help, just sail your Pirate Hunter in to encounter your pirate. Confiscate the cargo and sail home, secure in the knowledge that you have enough cash to win the game and no-one can take it from you.
 
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