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Subject: A fascinating social experiment – but is it a good game? rss

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Evan Derrick
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Full disclosure: this review is based on a single 4-player game. I reserve my right to base my review on a single play of the game, just as you may reserve yours to disregard the review because of it.

TOMORROW embraces a dark and unique theme: the world is overpopulated and in order for the human race to survive, a LOT of people need to die (just not your own people, if you can help it). Each player takes control of a different power (Russia, China, Arab Caliphate, etc.), and since the powers are asymmetrical, your choice may require a completely different play style (for example, don’t make too many waves if you’re Russian since you only have three meeples, compared to China’s 20. Russians are worth more points if they’re alive at the end, but they can also be wiped out VERY quickly). Players wage biological warfare against one another, invade minor powers, and even launch nukes, all in an attempt to depopulate the world enough for it to survive by the end of nine turns. If the world survives, then whoever has acquired the most points is the winner. If the world has NOT been depopulated enough, then too bad, you’ve ruined Mother Earth, welcome to the apocalypse, your children have no future. It’s a semi-cooperative game where either one person wins or everyone loses.

I won’t go into all the rules nitty gritty, other than to say there are various ways to acquire and lose Political Capital (victory points, for the layman); a random event occurs each turn that can either impact a single player or impact all players; the game involves a lot of begging and bribing and backstabbing; there is a certain element of luck present what with die rolls and random card draws (you might find it frustrating to watch your flagship disease sputter and die due to poor rolls, only to see your opponents much less virulent bio attack run rampant across the board); and you probably shouldn’t play if you either 1) don’t find the prospect of launching viruses with colorful names like Maleficum’s Whisper Flu at your buddies entertaining or 2) have anything approaching a thin skin.


Zygomycosis, anyone?

THE GOOD
The game’s graphic design is very elegant. The board is highly readable, and seeing the colorful meeples (and, if you’re lucky, the special wooden tank and mushroom clouds that were Kickstarter goodies) on the simple and stark board is very visually appealing. Congrats to Heiko and Sigrid on the design – it’s a small work of art.

Additionally, the game design itself is both ambitious and impressive. It’s refreshing to see such a unique and provocative theme when Zombies, Space Conquest, and Trading in the Mediterranean make up 90% of the output these days (ok, so I exaggerate a leetle). Not only is the theme strong, it is VERY well represented in the game’s mechanics. The game designs I have the most respect for are the ones that tightly integrate theme and mechanics. It’s nearly impossible to imagine TOMORROW with any other theme, and that’s a good thing. Players definitely feel rage at watching their former ally obliterate their last meeple with a particularly nasty disease, and it is all too easy for two powers to engage in mutually assured nuclear destruction if they get pissed enough. If world depopulation ever became a horrifying reality, it’s not hard to believe that it would go down like TOMORROW. So, bravo to Dirk for designing such a unique, strong game.


Truly a striking game visually.

THE BAD
But here’s the kicker, and why I ultimately feel the game has serious playability issues. As a semi-cooperative game in which either one person wins or everyone loses, it may often result in a deeply frustrating experience because players are incentivized to force a loss. That is the crux of this review and if you disagree with that statement, then feel free to move on, nothing to see here.

In order to elaborate on my point, I need to explain a key rule here. While nukes result in three negative points each time you launch one (you are, after all, turning the earth into a radioactive wasteland, which isn’t exactly helping the future of humanity), they also result in negative points for the receiver AND they reverse the death marker by three spaces. If enough nukes are launched, the death marker will be moved BACKWARDS far enough to make winning the game impossible. And while different powers have different numbers of nukes (Russia and the US having the most), everyone’s got them.

In my game, Player A felt unfairly attacked on the first turn and retaliated immediately with a nuke. Player B did not enjoy being nuked and in turn wiped out the rest of the Player A’s population. Player A, feeling understandably defeated now that his country was barren after only a few turns, decided to rain down nuclear fire across the board. Player B, being the recipient of that fire, responded in turn. Player C kept wringing his hands and begging Players A & B to “think of the children,” but they were too far gone at that point. In the end, Armageddon won the day.

Now, that sounds pretty entertaining, doesn’t it? And as a social experiment, it was fascinating to watch play out. Two nations put aside the common good and engaged in nuclear one-up-man-ship, slagging the earth into a radioactive wasteland. It’s kind of chilling to imagine that, given enough crazy leaders with access to Big Red Buttons, the end of the world could play out just like that.

So, amazing social experience? Check.

However, as a playing experience, it left everyone frustrated and cold. A pure co-op differs in that everyone wins or loses together. Games like LORD OF THE RINGS and GHOST STORIES do not incentivize players to essentially “throw” the game. Sure, you might get a dick in PANDEMIC who refuses to help out, but that’s a personal problem, not a design flaw. In TOMORROW, the game allows nuclear warfare and gives players the ability to reverse the progress track if they wish. For Players A & B, in their estimation it was better to force a total loss (or a tie, as it could arguably be termed) rather than help out and ensure another player’s sole victory. The game incentivized them to push for a loss and gave them the tools to do so. Player C argued extensively after the game that they should have tried for “second place” rather than “give up,” but Players A & B maintained that it was more satisfying to achieve total loss than to hand the victory to someone else. Very frustrating for everyone except Player D (who had a grand time watching everyone else descend into a hellish holocaust), and it’s hard not to imagine games playing out this way often.

You can make the argument that “you’re not supposed to play that way” or that you should just avoid the kinds of players who might push for a loss, but I am deeply suspect of ANY game (with, perhaps, the exception of very simple party games) in which there is an implied acceptable play style and that gamers must play within the “spirit of the game.” In fact, having combed through the forums a bit, I see that the designer intended “rogue nations” to be a part of the fabric of the game. There’s even a “give another player all your points” variant that the developer suggests might alleviate the “mad man” gambit we saw (although it seems like a weak stopgap). So, I applaud all involved for embracing the cooperative foundation of the game and fully understand why that decision was made. As a thematic choice, it works beautifully. But as a design choice, I think it is fundamentally flawed and often results in an unsatisfying experience.

I found TOMORROW ambitious and impressive and very problematic. But I truly would rather see more games of its pedigree in the future than well-designed cube pushers that feel like they were designed in a spreadsheet and lack any hint of a soul.




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Nicholas Vitek
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I actually find the issue you have with the game one of the game's highlights.

If A handy been attacked by B, it is a good possibility that B may have won. Just because you can attack someone, doesn't mean you should. It's about weighing the table and trying to decide how far you can push it without escalating hostilities.

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Jimmy Okolica
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First off, I completely agree with Player A & B. I'd rather everybody lose than get second place. However, have you ever played Archipelago? It is another semi-cooperative game with only one winner. The reason it works (and there are arguments on if it does) is two-fold. First, secret objective makes it unclear who's winning for a large part of the game. Second, in order to stop the game from winning (i.e., everyone losing), players need to give up resources each turn. Players that feel like they're losing refuse to give up any resources which means those who think they're winning have to give up more. If they don't, no problem, everyone loses. So, the mutually assured destruction of Archipelago creates a catch-up mechanism. Is there anything comparable in Tomorrow?

This is one game that I continue to watch with interest, partially because of its repulsive theme and partially because it looks like it has the potential to be one of the more interesting games of 2013.

If you play it again, I'd suggest pointing out the issues with early nukes and with knocking a player so far back that he feels like he has nothing to lose. For games like this to work, everyone needs to feel like they've got a shot until it's too late to blow up the world.

just my two cents. I look forward to more reviews.
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Stephen Eckman
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I also though that the semi-cooperative play would serve as a catch-up mechanism. The player in the lead pushes hard for the victory condition while the other players focus on building up points.
The biggest problem is the tendency for players who are losing to use nukes. If those nukes didn't reverse the track (and in fact advanced it due to population loss) I think it might work better. I would like to try it that way.
I admit that I have only played the game once though, and I think this is a game that you don't really understand until your second playthrough.
 
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Kārlis Jēriņš
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Butterfly0038 wrote:
First off, I completely agree with Player A & B. I'd rather everybody lose than get second place.


Then you're one of the people who should never play this game.

Games with one winner vs. all losers should come with the rule that if the game ends with everyone losing, everyone who didn't intentionally throw the game must punch each other in the face. And, of course, some clear and unambiguous definition of "intentionally throw the game".
 
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Jimmy Okolica
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TheNameWasTaken wrote:
Butterfly0038 wrote:
First off, I completely agree with Player A & B. I'd rather everybody lose than get second place.


Then you're one of the people who should never play this game.

Games with one winner vs. all losers should come with the rule that if the game ends with everyone losing, everyone who didn't intentionally throw the game must punch each other in the face. And, of course, some clear and unambiguous definition of "intentionally throw the game".


When I play I play to win. Second place is another way of saying first loser. Any game that states there is a way for one person to win the game means that players should work towards that. Now, playing to win may mean working together and putting off knocking other people out until it's too late for them to do anything about it, but knocking other people out to win is what this game is about. If you want a group "let's all save the world" game, play Pandemic.

If I am playing a game like this and someone knocks me out of contention early, I believe it is in the design of the game that I should make sure everyone else loses too. Next time, maybe that person will play better.
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Jimmy Okolica
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steckman wrote:
I also though that the semi-cooperative play would serve as a catch-up mechanism. The player in the lead pushes hard for the victory condition while the other players focus on building up points.


But that only makes sense if the other players feel like they're in contention. Part of a semi-coop game is that once I feel like I'm no longer in contention, I'm going to blow up the world. Therefore, if you're ahead, in order to have a chance at winning, you have to make sure I think I'm still in contention to win (or so powerless that I can't stop you). That is what makes these games different from either pure coops or pure competitive games.
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Dan King (The Game Boy Geek)
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I have the game but yet to get it to the table. It sounds like he gave up way too early to destroy the game. With the amount of points per surviving pawn and the amount of pawns starting in each country, mixed with their abilities, mixed with hidden points from strategy cards, it should be tough to feel like you're not going to win during the beginning or even until past mid game. If he becomes a loose canon like it could happen in real life, the others who still want to save humanity should make a pact to not allow the nukes to emotionally get them to do the same and to stay focused on the bios to get the death marker down.

 
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Stephen Eckman
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TheNameWasTaken wrote:
Butterfly0038 wrote:
First off, I completely agree with Player A & B. I'd rather everybody lose than get second place.


Then you're one of the people who should never play this game.

Games with one winner vs. all losers should come with the rule that if the game ends with everyone losing, everyone who didn't intentionally throw the game must punch each other in the face. And, of course, some clear and unambiguous definition of "intentionally throw the game".

I don't think it is so simple. A simplified recap of my only game:
Everyone is naturally picking on me (China) with biologicals because China and my neighbor India are a target-rich environment. After losing half of my population, I tell the USA: if you play another biological that kills some of my citizens, I'm going to nuke Canada. USA dings some of my populace, and I wipe Canada off the map. Biologicals continue to reign down on China from other players. Good thing I have that extra neutral nuke ... let the world burn! What else am I supposed to do? Just let everyone destroy all of my populace? I have to make a stand at some point and show everyone I'm not bluffing. I definitely went "nuclear" and caused everyone to lose, but I feel that the other nations backed me into a corner on that one. But they could also make the case that I was "intentionally throwing the game."
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Dan King (The Game Boy Geek)
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China only has two nukes, so if no one retaliated with nukes, it shouldn't have ruined the game and you should have still been able to get the death marker to the end and save humanity. Remember China only gets 1 point per surviving person, so even if they wipe out half of China's population (losing 10 points and having 10 left), that's roughly the equivalent of wiping out only two of the U.S.A's pawns (having 3 left).

Therefore as it seemed like you were doomed but the game is mathematically balanced to make sure that you weren't at that point. It may have appeared that way to you though.

 
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dkingnu wrote:
China only has two nukes, so if no one retaliated with nukes, it shouldn't have ruined the game and you should have still been able to get the death marker to the end and save humanity. Remember China only gets 1 point per surviving person, so even if they wipe out half of China's population (losing 10 points and having 10 left), that's roughly the equivalent of wiping out only two of the U.S.A's pawns (having 3 left).

Therefore as it seemed like you were doomed but the game is mathematically balanced to make sure that you weren't at that point. It may have appeared that way to you though.


I also had the neutral nuke, and I ended up launching all of them before the end of the game. That made the difference on the death marker track.
Also, China losing half of their population is ok. But losing half pretty early in the game and still being everyone's target is a problem.
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Evan Derrick
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One thing I forgot to note. There is NO scaling mechanism based on player count (i.e., you don't have to kill as many population pawns in a 4 player game). In a 6 player game, it would be more difficult for a single rogue nation to ruin the day. 2? Maybe not so much. But in a 4 player game, if either USA or Russia want to force a loss, the other players would be very hard pressed to stop them.

I see a number of comments that such and such player gave up too soon because they didn't understand their actual position, they just THOUGHT they were losing. That may be a valid point. However, in this day and age of 3674 new games coming out of Essen every year, there is little to no reason to revisit a game a second time if you didn't enjoy the first play. Would you rather give game X a second play if it made you miserable the first time, or would you rather try out new game Y which you might love? Always the second choice.

So a game, often, has only one shot to prove itself, and TOMORROW's "push for a loss" design will ensure that many players will never return for a second helping. Perhaps after four games players would understand the scoring mechanisms well enough to not go postal if they're attacked early on, but new players won't have that luxury, and the game readily gives them the ability to ruin everyone's day if they think they're losing.
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Stephen Eckman
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derrickec wrote:
One thing I forgot to note. There is NO scaling mechanism based on player count (i.e., you don't have to kill as many population pawns in a 4 player game). In a 6 player game, it would be more difficult for a single rogue nation to ruin the day. 2? Maybe not so much. But in a 4 player game, if either USA or Russia want to force a loss, the other players would be very hard pressed to stop them.

I see a number of comments that such and such player gave up too soon because they didn't understand their actual position, they just THOUGHT they were losing. That may be a valid point. However, in this day and age of 3674 new games coming out of Essen every year, there is little to no reason to revisit a game a second time if you didn't enjoy the first play. Would you rather give game X a second play if it made you miserable the first time, or would you rather try out new game Y which you might love? Always the second choice.

So a game, often, has only one shot to prove itself, and TOMORROW's "push for a loss" design will ensure that many players will never return for a second helping. Perhaps after four games players would understand the scoring mechanisms well enough to not go postal if they're attacked early on, but new players won't have that luxury, and the game readily gives them the ability to ruin everyone's day if they think they're losing.

Agreed. I had enough fun playing the game the first time to give it another shot, but I wouldn't blame someone for not picking it up again. It does say something that I am already thinking about tweaking the rules after a single play.
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Dan King (The Game Boy Geek)
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Evan,
I agree that there are so many games out these days that if play a game once and you clearly don't like it, then why play it again.But if you have a feeling that it might have been the way it was played or the group you played with, then I would try it again.

This happened to me recently this year with Nothing Personal.The first time we played it, we did so with the wrong group (people that don't like negotiation) and we played it in a way that it wasn't really designed be played (with very little to no negotiation). It fell flat and I could have just never played it again. But we tried it with a different group and in the spirit of how the game was designed to be played. There was negotiation everywhere and the game went over huge. So huge that we played it multiple times since then and that it is now in my top 3 games in my entire collection.

I tell you that too tell you this. If during our first play we had someone there who had played before, they would have guided us and showed us how s unique game like this is best enjoyed. If you had someone there with you guys that had some experience they probably could have talked China off the ledge. In the future now you'll know this.

Unique games like this have an experience curve that will help you enjoy it and open the flood gates after at least one person playing had an idea of how things might turn out if things happen a certain way.

Any way I have a feeling this game is similar to Nothing Personal that regard where it does take the right group with someone with stone experience to really open the flood gates and have the experience be an amazing one.

Lastly it's true it doesn't scale differently do it is harder to reach the death marker with 4 players vs 6 but that would be thematically true if only4 countries were trying to save humanity as well. So with 4 even more care needs to be taken and piece keepers active to keep the nukes away from normal game play and used more as a scare tactic and negotiation and only drop if there is no other choice.
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Dirk Knemeyer
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Thank you for the thoughtful take.

I designed "Tomorrow" explicitly to be an "experience game". That is, I know the way the game plays is such that a certain type of gamer will enjoy it and find it replayable, while many more gamers will not necessarily want to play with it again. That was sort of the point, trying to get people to have a social experiment and experience. Although, I do want to stress we went to great pains to allow the game to be replayable for those who it does vibe with: we weren't trying to present something only capable of being a one-time experience.

That being said, I think the deluge of good games that we get these days can perhaps lead us to shift our thinking on what a game should provide. The groups I play with, we tend to play a different game every time. We pick the games we play carefully and like most of them, so the shifting is not a product of disliking what we're playing. To the contrary: there are so many interesting things out there, it is fun to try different stuff. This is doubly true as a designer, as each game I play expands my literacy. If the game created a good experience, whether or not it creates another really doesn't matter a whole lot for us.

Traditionally, people want a game to still be good after "20 or 30 plays" or else they consider that a bad value. I think that is nuts, a byproduct of an era where games took forever to learn and play, and/or the lean years when many games were broken or not clever. Do we think a movie is shit if we don't watch it 20 or 30 times? Book? Sporting event? TV series? Yet we hold games to this different standard: they cost less money than - in the case of Tomorrow - the same six people going out to see a movie, yet if a group won't play it 20 times that is bad (I picked Tomorrow as the example because it is contextually convenient, in no way defensive or referring back to your comments).

For me, a good game is one that surprises me or makes me think or otherwise is doing something smart and thoughtful at a level beyond simply introducing a new mechanic. Whether I want to play it again or not simply differentiates it from a game I like and have good feelings toward (don't necessarily need to play it again) or one that I really, really want to play again (which makes it one of my favourites). As a designer, my focus is on creating the former while of course hoping that more games than less also achieve the latter as well.

Like you I would like to see harder, richer themes tackled in smart ways and am appreciative you think I've succeeded with that here. Thanks.
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Kolby Reddish
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Thank you for this great review! I am very compelled by this game, but sincei normally play with 4 max, I don't think itd fit well. Great review, Thanks.
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derrickec wrote:
In my game, Player A felt unfairly attacked on the first turn and retaliated immediately with a nuke. Player B did not enjoy being nuked and in turn wiped out the rest of the Player A’s population. Player A, feeling understandably defeated now that his country was barren after only a few turns, decided to rain down nuclear fire across the board. Player B, being the recipient of that fire, responded in turn. Player C kept wringing his hands and begging Players A & B to “think of the children,” but they were too far gone at that point. In the end, Armageddon won the day.


LOL that is awesome! I can totally see myself being Player C and laughing while A and B nuke each other. With great power comes great responsibility; don't play with irresponsible folks!

On the other hand, I'm not liking the components and design on the cards (can I have a pictorial representation of Zy...sis?). Love the map design though.

So your Bad is my Good and your Good is my Bad. Thanks for writing a thoughtful balanced review that lets me make my own decision.
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Apparently, reading the review there was apparently no socialization, negotiation or anything else between the 4 players at all. I mean while YES you can nuke the whole world, there are also counters to it. Had I been players C or D I would have been saying "Listen, I'll help support whichever of you two decides to call a halt to the aggression first" rather than just wringing my hands, or laughing as the world burned. It just sounds like it isn't the type of game for your group, just like Diplomacy, Dune/Rex, or Game of Thrones most likely would not be either. The game is all about diplomacy and negotiation, and playing well enough so you don't tick off someone too much. It's less about the mechanics and more about the meta going on at the table that comes from the game.

I mean the first turn where player A felt unfairly targeted was there even any debate or discussion on who should be targeted, why and give them a chance to direct it to someone else?
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steckman wrote:
I don't think it is so simple. A simplified recap of my only game:
Everyone is naturally picking on me (China) with biologicals because China and my neighbor India are a target-rich environment. After losing half of my population, I tell the USA: if you play another biological that kills some of my citizens, I'm going to nuke Canada. USA dings some of my populace, and I wipe Canada off the map. Biologicals continue to reign down on China from other players. Good thing I have that extra neutral nuke ... let the world burn! What else am I supposed to do? Just let everyone destroy all of my populace? I have to make a stand at some point and show everyone I'm not bluffing. I definitely went "nuclear" and caused everyone to lose, but I feel that the other nations backed me into a corner on that one. But they could also make the case that I was "intentionally throwing the game."


Sums up my experience with the game too.

Too few meaningful decisions, combined with the sort of "take that" interaction that means it's almost inevitable that one player will be backed into a corner. Made worse by the fact that lucky disease draws or dice rolls can skew the numbers too. By the halfway stage of our game, I had half the dead people in my pile compared to any other player, while my own population was under constant attack from biologicals. When the EU kept putting me in a poor position in turn order, when the US undertook repeated cyber warfare attacks to deprive me of my starting power (China's the only one that can lose it's special power, BTW), and when someone dropped the game's first nuke on Beijing, what possible reason was there for me to shrug off the constant attacks and co-operate with them in ending the crisis?

What is particularly bizarre IMO was that so many pf the actions ARE effective spoilers. Nukes? Use them and there's a high risk that the game is thrown. Espionage? Use it to disrupt too many biologicals and there's a high risk that the game is thrown. Military? Use it and you're not bringing down the population level, so there's a risk there too. The only way to drop population is biologicals, but if you draw the wrong diseases, or can't roll low to save your life, you're not going to win. At which point, that nuclear option might as well be employed if the other players have been picking on you.

In terms of punching people in the face, I reserve the right to do exactly that if anyone tries to make me play it again.
 
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dknemeyer wrote:
Traditionally, people want a game to still be good after "20 or 30 plays" or else they consider that a bad value. I think that is nuts, a byproduct of an era where games took forever to learn and play, and/or the lean years when many games were broken or not clever. Do we think a movie is shit if we don't watch it 20 or 30 times? Book? Sporting event? TV series? Yet we hold games to this different standard: they cost less money than - in the case of Tomorrow - the same six people going out to see a movie, yet if a group won't play it 20 times that is bad (I picked Tomorrow as the example because it is contextually convenient, in no way defensive or referring back to your comments).


I have to disagree with your comment here, most games are now running into the £40-50 bracket, which is a consequence of manufacturing/shipping/import duty etc. etc. So of course there is a reasonable expectation to "get your moneys worth". In your example regarding going to see a movie, those people would be paying individually rather than in the case of a boardgame one person paying all the cost!. I don't expect to play any game I buy 20-30 times but I do expect to get it on the table more than once and for that experience to be as good or better with repeated plays.

Boardgames are not an art-form to be bought and admired on a shelf or hung on a wall its about the social experience with friends or new people and having fun. Playing games and finding yourself drawn into its intricate story or gameplay as you try to achieve the goals laid out is where we get our enjoyment. Above all else you want to play a game and feel you have had fun and look forward to playing it again to improve or just enjoy the experience.

I appreciate good game design and can only admire those who have the imagination to come up with the vast array of games we see coming through today. Its a great skill to make and design a good game, one I do not posses, but I appreciate the efforts of others.

Sorry to hijack this thread slightly, but I felt it worth adding a counterpoint to your comments.
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Richard Dewsbery
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With very, very few exceptions, I agree with Paul.

And I'm not sure which games would belong on my list of exceptions. Alchemists is such an interesting experience to play, I'm really glad I did (even if it was three hours of near-total bewilderment on my part). But I have zero desire to play it again. Fortunately, I hadn't purchased the game, but if I had, I'd still be happy. I've only played War of the Ring (First Edition) once, and that's a keeper too.

But most games I want to play 4 or 5 times to begin to feel like I got my money's worth. Otherwise I could have just played something else on my shelves and kept my wallet closed. They have to "earn" their purchase price by being games that I want to play. And the current craze of buying new game after new game after new game might suit all those KS publishers, but it does nothing for me or my bank balance. Chances are, I'd *much* rather play a good game I know well - so that I can know it even better - than something for the first time, not least because the experience is likely to be more fun for me. And I say that as someone who learns new games and rules extremely easily.
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Jon Connor
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TheNameWasTaken wrote:
[q="Butterfly0038"]everyone who didn't intentionally throw the game must punch each other in the face.


lolz

A good game for the bar?

As a consumer I would like to let game designers know what I expect. 20 plays? AT LEAST THAT! ..and many more. I don't know where some people are getting their hoard of cash to purchase many games/year at $50 - $200 a pop, but that isn't me (and might I suggest investing that capital instead, if you have it).

I expect a good game to last 100s of plays and still be highly enjoyable. For me, some examples include: Dominion, 7 Wonders, Innovation.

Like the majority of people in North America I have very limited resources to work with, so buying a game to play once or only a few times is unrealistic unless priced at.. say $5 (this one is $50 SECOND-HAND in my country). That being said, I am intrigued by the theme and game-style. If someone else in my group owned this game and we could find 4+ total people who enjoy thinking games vs. light euros (sadly this is not likely), I would enjoy trying this out. If this game is well designed, it could still be thoroughly enjoyable after many plays.
 
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