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Subject: Game design - turnoff elements rss

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Laurentiu Cristofor
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This post is about game elements that turn my interest off. Subjective opinions you might say? Absolutely! And if you don't like these, I have others! Don't hesitate to add your own list.

1. Cards

To be clear, I am referring to a specific use of cards here - the custom decks that represent the main mechanism of a game and in which most cards provide special powers and cannot be described as easily as you could describe a standard deck (i.e.: "this deck consists of 4 suits of 13 cards, ranked in a specific way - for example, 2-10, J, Q, K, A").

These decks raise the challenge that experienced players will have a significant advantage in knowing the deck's cards, whereas new players will have little idea on what to expect. Hence these decks introduce a learning curve that I feel is only worth overcoming if the game provides some special experience.

But in many games, card decks seem to be added simply because they are simpler to design than another mechanism that produces meaningful player experiences. They're probably cheaper to produce too.

These days, if I see that a game uses cards, I'm looking carefully to see if that use is interesting in itself or if there is something else significant in the game. If not, I'll move on.

2. Variable game goals

In itself, this may not destroy a game for me, but combined with other unpleasant aspects, it can help sink it down. A variation on this approach is having different game turn goals that give bonus rewards at the end of the turn.

I don't like this approach because it feels like a cheap way of making a game seem more varied by changing the rules with every play. I'd rather have the variation in my games come from game interactions and/or from the initial game resource allocation/availability. If I want different rules, then I will just play different games.

3. Gratuitous point salads

I'm not referring here to the ability of getting points in many ways, but to the ability of getting points in many ways effortlessly.

I'll start by saying that there's one significant redeeming feature with such games: you can play them with children. The ability to earn points whatever they do will keep kids happy until the conclusion of the game. So I can understand the popularity of some such games.

But the problem with these games for players that want to make plans and see them come to fruition is that point salads are another way to make it hard to accurately calculate the best plays in advance. With many ways of gaining points, finding the optimal sequence of actions is hard to determine. And those point salads in which it is easy to gain points make it even harder to do that, because you cannot eliminate plays that don't pay off.

If you play such game enough, you may discover a strategy that will work better on the average and, combined with some tactical play, you may end up ahead more often than not. But I'm just not satisfied with this kind of experience.

4. Minis (edit: as the main selling point)

Looks like there is an entire generation of games launched on kickstarter these days, whose main selling point are the detailed miniature sets included. To be sure of the commercial outcome, the designers of these games often also provide generous card decks and variable game goals; maybe a bit of VP salad too. How can people refuse such offers? I guess they can't.

What are the things that you don't like in games?
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J C Lawrence
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A while back I wrote a not dissimilar geeklist: Flags to avoid, or a list of excused flaws It would be a bit different if I wrote it now.
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Fabian
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Sounds like you hated Terra Mystica and extrapolated from that.

My second guess is Blood Rage

Something I don't like... hmm...

I also dislike Terra Mystica
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James Arias
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I dislike player elimination unless they give you something interesting to do afterwards, like being the Plague in Siege: The Castle-Crashing Card Game of Medieval Mayhem.

I don't have the time I used to, so I won't even try games that require >4 hours to complete (and will never play TI ... 8 hours?!).

I shy away from scenario/campaign based games, as they usually have complexity from scenario-specific rules, limit replay ability IMO, and require a regular group (which I lack) plus often book-keeping between plays. If I was younger I'd probably have a different opinion.

I love minis, but they don't have to be "RPG/paint-worthy" level of detail/quality (e.g. Fortress America and Invasion from Outer Space: The Martian Game are fine). Definitely prefer them to standees, counters, joystick pawns, etc.

I detest CCG's but don't mind other games based on cards (like The Valkyrie Incident or Fluxx) or games that use cards as a mechanism (e.g. for Loot in a dungeon crawler, mission / special plays in dudes on a map, etc.).

I love modern games with all the high quality boards, minis, counters, cards, custom dice, fancy artwork... it all looks way better than what we had in the 80s, and if used properly create a richer and more immersive experience. But some of my favorite games mechanics-wise are also from the 80s...so agree a lot of the new games look awesome but aren't always "good" games.
 
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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Zlarp wrote:
Sounds like you hated Terra Mystica and extrapolated from that.

My second guess is Blood Rage

Something I don't like... hmm...

I also dislike Terra Mystica


Actually, no, this list is more relevant to my dislike of Agricola, Kingdom Builder, Castles of Burgundy.

Only #2 is a bit relevant to TM and its presence in TM is just a tiny aspect. If anything, the "in itself" part of my description of #2 was inspired by my experience with Terra Mystica, because I didn't mind this aspect there.
 
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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crazybyzantine wrote:

I love minis, but they don't have to be "RPG/paint-worthy" level of detail/quality (e.g. Fortress America and Invasion from Outer Space: The Martian Game are fine). Definitely prefer them to standees, counters, joystick pawns, etc.


I added a clarification on this. I meant minis as components of a game that wouldn't sell without them.
 
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Jonathan Challis
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1, 2, 3 are things I actively look for in a game. I'm quite happy with #4.

For me, turn-offs are poor components, quick/light games (anything under 90 mins I rarely bother),campaign play (double for legacy) and heavy interaction.
 
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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clearclaw wrote:
A while back I wrote a not dissimilar geeklist: Flags to avoid, or a list of excused flaws It would be a bit different if I wrote it now.


Great list! Thanks for sharing it here! I'll go through it and might leave some comments.

[EDIT]: That list mixes intentional aspects with unintentional ones. In my list I tried to cover specific aspects that I always dislike and that designers intentionally add to their games.
 
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KC Schrimpl
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100% agree on the minis!

It’s like the toy with a Happy Meal, can’t sell without one.
 
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Seth
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Roll to move.

"End your turn early" effects (such as in Firefly or ____ Horror). Double for anything that makes you skip your next turn.

Multiplayer solitaire.

I agree with pointless minis.

A bored-looking noble on the box
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Andrew Gilpin
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Dice. Period. yuk Any game that features dice as the main decision-making mechanic will make me take a very close look before purchasing/backing. And then a second look. And then a third look.

I prefer games that allow me to affect my progress using strategy as much as possible. Yes, of course most games need the "luck" factor, but I find it much more satisfying to go through a deck of cards than to constantly roll dice to find out what's going to happen.

There's one exception to this: I LOVE heart games that feature dice used in unconventional ways. Sentient, for example, or Fuse. In these games the dice are not used as the main strategic element, but their rolls do directly affect the gameplay.
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Laurentiu Cristofor
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cantilena wrote:
Dice. Period. yuk


I don't like the use of dice in many games either, but games like Can't Stop or Sagrada prevent them from being an automatic turnoff.
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Andrew Gilpin
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Agreed. There are many interesting games which use dice as a strategy mechanic rather than a luck mechanic (or at least allow you to weight it more towards strategy than luck!)
 
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Marcin Pietkiewicz
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Totally agree.

Might be a bit controversial here but I would add games with balancing mechanics that punish players that created too big of an advantage and games with negative events. IMHO it much simpler to add those mechanics instead of better balancing the whole game in the beginning.
 
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Brendan Slade
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Games with no decisions to make (Monopoly) and Player Elimination (Monopoly) are definitely at the top of the list.
 
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J C Lawrence
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I doubt you've played Monopoly -- it really isn't missing decisions, especially with the frequent (near continuous) auctioning of properties.
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Generic themes with good gameplay and/or generic gamplay with good themes.

I like games that make me smile because they are both pretty AND interesting.

More than anything ... badly written rulebooks (of which there are TOO MANY!)
 
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Andrew Gilpin
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KingBadgerJelly wrote:
Generic themes with good gameplay and/or generic gamplay with good themes.

I like games that make me smile because they are both pretty AND interesting.

More than anything ... badly written rulebooks (of which there are TOO MANY!)


Oh, yes - I completely agree with you about the rulebooks. They need at least as much playtesting as the game itself!
 
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Frank de Jong
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If a designer/publisher feels the need to tell us their game is the next big ... or takes ... to a whole new level. Or it is highly strategic. Or a involves unique mechanics. Etc. etc.

Human Punishment: Social Deduction 2.0 is a great example that even put it in its name. Instant pass.

If you need to tell us how great your game is by saying how great it is yourself, truly it must be quite shitty. Like a used-car salesman telling you how great the shabby looking 10 year old car is. Or a certain president saying how great his deals are and how much he's achieved and how historic it is. We from Carpet Cleaning Inc. recommend Carpet Cleaning Inc. shake
 
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Geoffrey Burrell
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I don't like games where you can win without conflict with other players. One example in the Twilight Imperium series where you can win without attacking another player. I prefer games like the Axis and Allies family of games where you must fight to survive. I definitely prefer games with direct conflict.
 
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Pete K
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clearclaw wrote:
I doubt you've played Monopoly -- it really isn't missing decisions, especially with the frequent (near continuous) auctioning of properties.


This common defense of Monopoly doesn't account for the fact that the auctions mostly run out long before the game is officially over. Monopoly is much more bearable if there's some agreed-upon termination point (1st player eliminated, etc.).
 
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J C Lawrence
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pkufahl wrote:
clearclaw wrote:
I doubt you've played Monopoly -- it really isn't missing decisions, especially with the frequent (near continuous) auctioning of properties.


This common defense of Monopoly doesn't account for the fact that the auctions mostly run out long before the game is officially over. Monopoly is much more bearable if there's some agreed-upon termination point (1st player eliminated, etc.).


The last time I played it took about two and a half hours end-to-end, which is not so very long of an end-game to drag.
 
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Pete K
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Anyway, regarding the initial post:

1 Special Power Cards: I agree on this one. This seems to be an increasingly popular way to add complexity to games, like Cyclades and Five Tribes. It puts new players at a disadvantage, since much of the rulebook is essentially hidden information to them. I'll play these games, but I'm reluctant to buy them. The exception to this is Cosmic Encounter, a favorite.

2 Variable Game Goals: Not as big of an issue for me, if 1.) the game is otherwise a simple one, or 2.) it's a 2-player strategy game. However, hidden objectives are usually a negative, because they confer a large advantage to players who have seen the cards (and they are almost always on cards) before. Again, Cosmic Encounter is a notable exception here.

3 Point salads: I suppose too many point-scoring actions can turn a game into an accounting exercise, but I really haven't experienced that yet. If Castles of Burgundy is a point salad, then I guess I like point salads. I always thought Dungeons & Dragons was the ultimate point salad, where players could level up by backing into enough orcs and so on.

4 Miniatures: They can add flavor to a game and offer some people a chance to personalize their components. I cannot say miniatures are a turnoff because we've replaced Star Wars Imperial Assault tokens with lego minifigures and so on. But, I don't buy games for their minis, either.
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Another thing that bothers me is “resource components”. This is something I am struggling to combat in my game design now. I have 7 resources and am trying to have this represented simply by placing units in certain areas rather than having to accumulate huge piles of wooden pieces or tokens.

I get the card thing too! I’m trying to implement a Corcordia style deck builder where your deck is spent as game turns. I don’t think there will be a way around a steep learning curve although I’m trying to make it as intuitive as possible.

A game that blew me away with it’s use of tokens, dice and cards was/is Forbidden Stars. The combat in that game is really, really nicely designed. The sense of cards actually having meaning and the manner in which you can customise your army to suit your own needs is brilliant.

I’m much more into the the epic scale games like Through the Ages or Twilight Imperium so I’m biased about complexity for newcomers because that is part of the fun for me.
 
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Michael Lowrey
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Interesting list. One question: where's the line where gratuitous point salads begin? I get that this can be annoying, but how much is too much?

I see and agree with your point on minis.

Things I don't like:

Multiplayer solitaire games.
Themeless Euros.
Color trading or collection games (Splendor I'm looking at you)
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