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Subject: What makes a game "mean"? rss

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Brendan Riley
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I've heard lots of people, including me, use the word "mean" to describe some games. So I'm curious, have you heard this term before in reviews or discussions of games? If someone says a game is "mean," what does that tell you about the game? What kind of gameplay would you expect?

If you've not heard the term used, here are three geeklists organized around that idea. I'd prefer to hear what you have to say without going to look at those, but just in case.

My Five Favorite Incredibly Mean Worker Placement Games
My top 10 most vicious games ever played
The meanest, nastiest, most ornery games you ever did see.
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Jonathan Challis
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wombat929 wrote:
I've heard lots of people, including me, use the word "mean" to describe some games. So I'm curious, have you heard this term before in reviews or discussions of games? If someone says a game is "mean," what does that tell you about the game? What kind of gameplay would you expect?


That it has actions whereby you hurt an opponent - not just blocking an action space, but you set them back in some way.
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James C
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When I see it I think of a game in which players interact with other players in ways that specifically hurts the other players position/standing in the game.

Edit: yeah what he said.
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The mean games are the average games.whistle
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David op De Beeck
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for me Splotter games, 18xx games, wargames, Tramways are the type of games I enjoy, for me they are normal games. I might have heard them being reffered to as mean, don't know if I agree. They are just very interactive.

A game like 7 wonders duel can be concidered to be mean if you play only to deprive your opponent from the resources he needs (which is the only way to play by the way). But not everyone plays it like that. I'm sure Rahdo doesn't

Then there's take that mechanics which are just stupid nonesense. If you hurt someone it should have purpose, if not there might be something wrong with you.
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Scott Radtke
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“Mean” is almost invariably hyperbole. A term meant to describe games where players consciously and actively disrupt other people’s plans, in a market that’s awash in games played on separate game boards by people who are pathologically averse to conflict.

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Jeroen van der Valk
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Couple of thoughts:
- A game itself may be "mean", I'd think especially solo/cooperative games that consistently beat down the players (like the Arkham Files line of games)
- A game may provide a setting and corresponding game mechanisms that intentionally lead to confrontational play (such as conflict games)
- A game may provide some mechanisms whereby players could thwart other players' moves (like worker placement games, card drafting games, and others)

Especially in the last case I wouldn't necessarily call a game inherently mean as meant in the original question, but the game design does provide a decision space wherein "mean" moves are possible.

Still, I personally don't use the term much, if at all. For me games are difficult, or hard, and this can be a consequence of the level of confrontation. For instance, Food Chain Magnate allows for players to completely sink other players, as intended, but to me that doesn't make the game "mean", just difficult / complex.

Put another way, the level of "confrontation" in a game, whether directly from its mechanisms (as in Arkham Files games), or from players using a game's mechanisms, is a factor in a game's difficulty.
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Kelanen wrote:
wombat929 wrote:
I've heard lots of people, including me, use the word "mean" to describe some games. So I'm curious, have you heard this term before in reviews or discussions of games? If someone says a game is "mean," what does that tell you about the game? What kind of gameplay would you expect?


That it has actions whereby you hurt an opponent - not just blocking an action space, but you set them back in some way.


Something like this.

But it may also have to do with player count, or what the game is about.

I wouldn't call two-player games where you get rid of opponents' pieces mean. Chess or Memoir '44 for example.

Which leads me to think that it would either require 3+ players (so attacks are directed by decision, and not by lack of more than one option), or some sort of 'building up' of stuff which can then be broken down by others.

In the aforementioned games, you start with something, and then your stuff only decreases throughout the game. So perhaps 'denying something that may be gained, or removing something that has been gained'.

Citadels I'd definitely call mean.

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Bob Horton
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The people playing
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Jeroen van der Valk
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HortonHearsAWho wrote:
The people playing


By themselves, only if they start kicking you under the table.
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Carla
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'Mean' is subjective. To me, it means hurting someone on purpose with no other goal than to do so, ie, setting someone back not because it advances you, but just to do it. I am one of those who prefer separate player boards and indirect or no interaction, because I am one of those 'averse' to interaction. (I left out the word 'pathologically' because that's just mean. )
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Michael Rogers
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To me, "mean" implies that the game not only allows you to screw over other players, but that it practically requires you to do so (either because that's the main mechanism, or because the game's strategy is such that it's difficult to win without being directly aggressive).
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James Clarke
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Is Chess, for example, mean? Happy Families?

I'd say no. So for me, any definition of mean would need to capture those and all such like specific instances.

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Joe Salamone
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A good indicator is when the game ends and my wife says, "Play by yourself next time."

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Bryan Carpenter
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hieronymus71 wrote:
For instance, Food Chain Magnate allows for players to completely sink other players, as intended, but to me that doesn't make the game "mean", just difficult / complex.


I would definitely cite FCM as a mean game, though it's not just because one player can sink the others.

I think 'meanness' is a combination of actions in a game which have a real impact on other players, coupled with a lack of catch-up mechanisms. This is why FCM is a mean game: players' actions can have a large impact on each other and once a player starts to slip behind the game does nothing to help them out.
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Highland Cow wrote:

Is Chess, for example, mean? Happy Families?

I'd say no. So for me, any definition of mean would need to capture those and all such like specific instances.



Mismatched chess players makes chess mean.
Losing major piece after major piece while kept in check until the king stands alone on a board filled with the opposing sides complete or merely complete array.

That's mean.

But still not as mean as a friendly game of Diplomacy.
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Vikings on Board is a mean game. I've played games before where it was strategically best to take a valuable item or position, but I've never played anything like Vikings on Board. It was so cutthroat that if you got a few key spots on the early turn, the rest of your placements could have just been dedicated to wrecking any strategy that other players had.

When I finished the game my exact words were, wow...that is the meanest thing I've ever played. I never opened it again and I sold it off at a flea market in march.
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Glenn van Dessel
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I would say that the term mean refers to the ability to target a specific opponent with an action that will set that person back and lower their chances of winning.

You know, the kind of stuff where when playing with the wrong crowd it can lead to arguments, especially among couples. " I can't believe you would do that to me! why didn't you attack "insert someone who isn't part of the relationship here"?"

The actions are quite deliberate and target a specific player by choice which in certain groups can spark anger.
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James Clarke
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Phogg wrote:
Highland Cow wrote:

Is Chess, for example, mean? Happy Families?

I'd say no. So for me, any definition of mean would need to capture those and all such like specific instances.



Mismatched chess players makes chess mean.
Losing major piece after major piece while kept in check until the king stands alone on a board filled with the opposing sides complete or merely complete array.

That's mean.

No, those are mean circumstances. A one-sided contest can occur in almost any game with mis-matched players.

Chess isn't intrinsically mean.

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Me experience with the word "mean" with respect to board games is that it is almost totally synonymous with "choosing a target to attack or block." Games that passively block or globally attack opponents are not "mean." Mean is reserved for games that allow/force you to pick an opponent and do something awful to that opponent, whether that's an attack or a block.

Pete (likes mean games)
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Oliver Josiah
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Games in which you can kick a player when they're down are pretty mean. Scythe jumps to mind. If a player foolishly falls behind on the Power track, then it's very easy for other players to just walk into their territory.
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Jonathan Challis
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Highland Cow wrote:

Is Chess, for example, mean?


Actually yes - direct confrontational games are inherently mean. and people like my wife won't play them for that reason.
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Richard S.
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Maybe part of what affects our perception of meanness is whether the game seems like it ought to be mean, and whether the players have a choice of being mean or not. If you are playing Risk... what are you supposed to do, not attack other people? Somebody might get mad at being ganged up on or targeted unreasonably, but if you never attack anybody you're not really playing the game. On the other hand, if you're playing Carcassonne, you're building gardens, there are these cute little meeples and pictures of pastoral scenes... and you have to choose to mess with other people. You can just build your own city or you can try to steal somebody else's, and that can feel mean, because it's deliberate and not strictly necessary.
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Carla
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Kelanen wrote:
Highland Cow wrote:

Is Chess, for example, mean?


Actually yes - direct confrontational games are inherently mean. and people like my wife won't play them for that reason.


Agreed!
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James Clarke
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Solanum wrote:
Kelanen wrote:
Highland Cow wrote:

Is Chess, for example, mean?


Actually yes - direct confrontational games are inherently mean. and people like my wife won't play them for that reason.


Agreed!

Ok, if we're split on whether chess is or isn't mean, I guess we'll never agree what mean means

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