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Subject: Are there bad mechanics, or just bad games to use them in? rss

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GeekInsight
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When I attended Strategicon, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with a number of game designers. At one Q&A session, Kevin Wilson, co-designer of Elder Sign as well as a host of other games, stated that there were no bad mechanics, just bad games to use them in. Immediately, my mind leapt to the "roll and move" staple of so many non-fun games. I mean, if ever there was a bad mechanic then that would be it: no individual determination, outcome totally in the hands of the dice, no choices to make. Bleh.

But Mr. Wilson then gave the following example: Chutes and Ladders, or Snakes and Ladders for non-U.S. types. But, instead of playing it the traditional way, we introduce a new variant. At the beginning of the game, each player is assigned a color secretly. They want that color to be the one to get to the end. When a player rolls the die, they can move any of the pawns. So the game becomes more about deduction and deception than about roll and move. While I still don’t know how much I’d enjoy the game, the dramatic improvement is readily apparent. Suddenly, roll and move isn’t so objectionable.

Still, I’m not so sure we can say that no mechanic is a bad one. I’m thinking specifically about player elimination. In general, if a game has player elimination then I don’t want to play it. It’s absolutely no fun to sit out while everyone else plays a game. Especially if that means being bored for any length of time. And while I enjoy Bang! and Werewolves, it’s usually despite that mechanic, not because of it. In those games I can usually excuse it by saying, "Well, the game moves fast enough." But the mechanic itself is always a negative.

What about you? Is there a mechanic that you think is always bad? Or is every mechanic a good one and you can enlighten me (as Wilson did with roll-and-move) about player elimination?

(Originally posted on the Giant Fire Breathing Robot)
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Jim Cote
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I looked over BGG's (incomplete) list, and could find none that are inherently bad.
 
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Nathan Bergom
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MyParadox wrote:
When I attended Strategicon, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with a number of game designers. At one Q&A session, Kevin Wilson, co-designer of Elder Sign as well as a host of other games, stated that there were no bad mechanics, just bad games to use them in. Immediately, my mind leapt to the "roll and move" staple of so many non-fun games. I mean, if ever there was a bad mechanic then that would be it: no individual determination, outcome totally in the hands of the dice, no choices to make. Bleh.

But Mr. Wilson then gave the following example: Chutes and Ladders, or Snakes and Ladders for non-U.S. types. But, instead of playing it the traditional way, we introduce a new variant. At the beginning of the game, each player is assigned a color secretly. They want that color to be the one to get to the end. When a player rolls the die, they can move any of the pawns. So the game becomes more about deduction and deception than about roll and move. While I still don’t know how much I’d enjoy the game, the dramatic improvement is readily apparent. Suddenly, roll and move isn’t so objectionable.

Roll and move is done beautifully in That's Life! You roll, and then you have to figure out the best way to use that roll. It's possible that it's the flavor of roll and move that rubs you the wrong way, the boring "roll the die and move one pawn." Even Trouble can sometimes have an interesting decision.

MyParadox wrote:
Still, I’m not so sure we can say that no mechanic is a bad one. I’m thinking specifically about player elimination. In general, if a game has player elimination then I don’t want to play it. It’s absolutely no fun to sit out while everyone else plays a game. Especially if that means being bored for any length of time. And while I enjoy Bang! and Werewolves, it’s usually despite that mechanic, not because of it. In those games I can usually excuse it by saying, "Well, the game moves fast enough." But the mechanic itself is always a negative.

I'm still trying to figure this one out. You don't like player elimination, but you like Werewolf? It feels like someone saying, "I like Stone Age, but I hate worker placement." Player elimination is the whole point of Werewolf. Or hey, take wargames. The point is to eliminate other players. These are examples where player elimination works.

Different people will find different mechanics to their liking. I enjoy co-ops, but there are people out there who would rather pull out their teeth than play Pandemic or Ghost Stories. Some people like worker placement, some don't.

Actually, if there were a mechanic out there that truly didn't work, it probably wouldn't even be called a mechanic. There's no "throw cream pies in faces" mechanic out there. If it is accepted as a mechanic, it's because it's worked somewhere.
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Michael Hruza
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Roll and move. There are times when it's o.k.(Monopoly) , but most of the time it's just bad (Clue, Zombies!!!).
 
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Domenic
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MyParadox wrote:


Still, I’m not so sure we can say that no mechanic is a bad one. I’m thinking specifically about player elimination. In general, if a game has player elimination then I don’t want to play it. It’s absolutely no fun to sit out while everyone else plays a game. Especially if that means being bored for any length of time. And while I enjoy Bang! and Werewolves, it’s usually despite that mechanic, not because of it. In those games I can usually excuse it by saying, "Well, the game moves fast enough." But the mechanic itself is always a negative.


I'm not so sure. Yes, there are drawbacks to player elimination, but that is very much the focus of a game like Werewolves. Or musical chairs, to take an even simpler example. If you enjoy a game that's focused on player elimination because it provides some intensity, and you believe that the downtime is sufficiently low because it moves quickly, then you've identified the right place for that mechanic. Everything in life involves tradeoffs.

Also, it's a matter of opinion, isn't it? For people who enjoy a more intense conflict, player elimination is fine. And maybe you're playing at a con, so once you're knocked out you can just start in another game right off.

Not to get drawn too far down the player elimination side-track, but I actually think it's a slippery slope. Assume I agree with your argument about why it's bad. Now consider a game in which it is possible for a better player to achieve an early insurmountable lead. While the other players are not eliminated, and are still sitting at the table playing the game, they are essentially just waiting for the game to finish so the obvious leader can be declared the winner. For this reason, I think better games also provide ambiguity as to the leader, because you want to avoid the frustration of playing for a long time knowing you will ultimately lose.
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Daniel Danzer
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nbergom wrote:
Actually, if there were a mechanic out there that truly didn't work, it probably wouldn't even be called a mechanic.

If only, because for being called a common "mechanic" it has to be used in many games.
But the question is rather: Is there any specific mechanism you really dislike?
For me, "Memory" is such a thing. If there is too much of that i a game, I am usually - dissatisfied. Maybe I am just not good at it, but I don`t think, to memorize certain facts, things or whatever should be too much part of a game.
Hidden, but trackable information is kind of "masked Memory" ... so I think: What is that good for? If the game does not work without hide something artificially from my eyes, then how can the game be good at all?
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Bidding.

I loathe bidding. If it is well integrated in the game and it's just one of multiple mechanisms I can somehow accept bidding showing up. But a game with bidding as central mechanism... gulp

And before somebody now tells me "Try Ra, it's bidding but it's really fun". I did. Won't play it a second time.
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Jim Cote
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bigfriendlymike wrote:
Roll and move. There are times when it's o.k.(Monopoly)...

That's exactly when it's not okay.
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I'm not too fond of the "Every time X happens I punch you in the balls/ovaries" mechanic.
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manchuwok wrote:
I'm not too fond of the "Every time X happens I punch you in the balls/ovaries" mechanic.


I can't believe it. I stopped by to write almost the exact same thing.

SCOOPED!
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Chris Schenck
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Yeah, the roshambo mechanic is a bad one.
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MyParadox wrote:
Still, I’m not so sure we can say that no mechanic is a bad one. I’m thinking specifically about player elimination. In general, if a game has player elimination then I don’t want to play it.

And if a game has no player elimination, there are lots of people who don't want to play it. Player Elimination is a major feature of a game, and there are millions of people who enjoy it.

Your preference does not make a mechanic universally bad.
Twilight Imperium has player elimination, and it's #29.
This is ignoring 2 player games where elimination is the point, of course.

As others have pointed out, runaway leaders can end up worse for players, who have to go through the motions of playing when they are, for all intents and reasons, already eliminated from the running.

Which is even more boring than outright elimination. At least then I can play Angry Birds while I wait.
 
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MyParadox wrote:
What about you? Is there a mechanic that you think is always bad? Or is every mechanic a good one and you can enlighten me (as Wilson did with roll-and-move) about player elimination?

(Originally posted on the Giant Fire Breathing Robot)


Space Empires: 4X uses player elimination as the end-of-game condition. So you get all the intensity of player elimination without the downtime.
 
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James Sitz
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Sequential play in low-interaction games annoys me a lot. Why should I watch someone's turn if it won't affect mine?
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Brian Schroth
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You don't need to invent a Snakes and Ladders variant to find a good roll and move game. My favorite game of all time, the masterpiece Titan, uses roll and move. And it is an extremely strategic monster of a game.

Player elimination isn't "always bad", either. In a long game, it's a "bad" feature of the game if it doesn't have player elimination! It's much better for a game to allow a player to be eliminated than force them to stay in the game for another hour being irrelevant.

(Titan has player elimination, too)
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Player elimination is also a great mechanic when it is also an endgame condition.

Just imagine how much quicker monopoly would be if the game ended when one player was eliminated, and most money wins.
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TheFlatline wrote:
cbs42 wrote:
Yeah, the roshambo mechanic is a bad one.


Nah. Starcraft was built on rock-paper-scissors. Lots of asymmetrical games use similar approaches. RPS is fine.


I think he meant the South Park definition:

"First, I kick you square in the nuts as hard as I can..."
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Ian Millington
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Elimination can suck, yes, but at least it is honest.

There are plenty of games where you are a complete stuffed shirt through the endgame. No possibility of winning, and no ability to turn in your meeples. Sometimes it is a relief to be able to go get a drink, while the others duke it out.

Small World, for example, can have player purgatory. Mess up your first race badly and you've got a pointless 30 minutes ahead.
 
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MyParadox wrote:

Still, I’m not so sure we can say that no mechanic is a bad one. I’m thinking specifically about player elimination. In general, if a game has player elimination then I don’t want to play it. It’s absolutely no fun to sit out while everyone else plays a game. Especially if that means being bored for any length of time. And while I enjoy Bang! and Werewolves, it’s usually despite that mechanic, not because of it. In those games I can usually excuse it by saying, "Well, the game moves fast enough." But the mechanic itself is always a negative.


Disagree.

I know that player elimination is a filthy phrase to eurogamers (and large chunks of BGG because of the eurogame domination), but there is nothing wrong with it in and of itself.

The euro objection to it stems from what euro games were about to begin with - friendly, family-based games. In that area, eliminating a player isn't very friendly, and alienates those who get eliminated (so not good for family play). This has been carried over to modern eurogames that are about much more than just friendly, family games (some are really serious, highly competitive, and far too complex for family play).

That's fine, it doesn't fit a particular style of gaming.

There are more styles of gaming; and some of them include people who enjoy that extra frisson of excitement generated by the possibility of being killed off - get it wrong, and you're out. Call it added incentive to play well if you like.

And as long as someone enjoys that, it cannot be wrong by itself.
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Chris Ferejohn
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I'll throw Formula D into the hat as a game that does a good/interesting job with roll and move.

However, I think it's worth mentioning that even roll and move in snakes/chutes and ladders isn't "bad", it just is not appropriate for people with a certain level of game maturity/expectations. I don't enjoy watching, say, blues clues, but it's not meant for me, and it does a great job of providing appropriate engagement and interactions for is target audience.
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Jexik wrote:
Sequential play in low-interaction games annoys me a lot. Why should I watch someone's turn if it won't affect mine?


Well ok, corollary: there are no "good" mechanics either. For every mechanic, there is a bad way to implement it.
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willythesnitch wrote:
Player elimination is also a great mechanic when it is also an endgame condition.

Just imagine how much quicker monopoly would be if the game ended when one player was eliminated, and most money wins.


LOTR Monopoly does add this mechanic. Monopoly: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition Every time the eye of Sauron is rolled on the die you move the "one" ring one space on the board until it reaches Mount Doom(Boardwalk), thus ending the game.
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dommer2029 wrote:

I'm not so sure. Yes, there are drawbacks to player elimination, but that is very much the focus of a game like Werewolves. Or musical chairs, to take an even simpler example. If you enjoy a game that's focused on player elimination because it provides some intensity, and you believe that the downtime is sufficiently low because it moves quickly, then you've identified the right place for that mechanic. Everything in life involves tradeoffs.


Excellent point! While I hate it when a player has to sit on the sidelines, sometimes that does provide the right "intensity" to make a game feel exciting.

dommer2029 wrote:

Not to get drawn too far down the player elimination side-track, but I actually think it's a slippery slope. Assume I agree with your argument about why it's bad. Now consider a game in which it is possible for a better player to achieve an early insurmountable lead. While the other players are not eliminated, and are still sitting at the table playing the game, they are essentially just waiting for the game to finish so the obvious leader can be declared the winner.


I think the "runaway leader" scenario, as its often called, is a problem. When a game has it, that's a negative strike against the game. But usually, that's not the point of the game to have a runaway leader. That's a byproduct of inartful design. Unlike player elimination which exists by design.
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MyParadox wrote:


dommer2029 wrote:

Not to get drawn too far down the player elimination side-track, but I actually think it's a slippery slope. Assume I agree with your argument about why it's bad. Now consider a game in which it is possible for a better player to achieve an early insurmountable lead. While the other players are not eliminated, and are still sitting at the table playing the game, they are essentially just waiting for the game to finish so the obvious leader can be declared the winner.


I think the "runaway leader" scenario, as its often called, is a problem. When a game has it, that's a negative strike against the game. But usually, that's not the point of the game to have a runaway leader. That's a byproduct of inartful design. Unlike player elimination which exists by design.


This is missing the problem. A single runaway leader usually isn't a problem. Competent players can note when 1 player has already won a game.

The problem is runaway losers. If 1 or more people are runaway losers in a game that is still competitive among some other players, then player elimination is often better than making the losers sit through a game they can't win. Player elimination solves the problem by letting them play other games.

Many games that throw in gimmicks to stop runaway winners do not stop runaway losers, which means they fail at what should be the purpose of such gimmicks. It's easy to give examples from bad games, but those are meaningless because they are bad games, so, I'll give examples from good ones ... Outpost and Zepter von Zavandor (ZvZ).

Outpost is thought to have a runaway leader problem. ZvZ is based on Outpost, but has a mechanic to increase costs for victory point leaders. The effect is to add a new wrinkle to the game, where players try to be behind in VP's while ahead in income, and really ahead in potential. ZvZ is just as likely, if not more likely, to have a runaway loser by the middle of the game. While ZvZ is a good game, Outpost is better. Since, in practice, ZvZ doesn't have fewer runaway losers, I claim the mechanic serves mainly to slow the game down, which does not improve the play experience of runaway losers.

Let's take another good game with a reign in the leader mechanic - Power Grid. This is the best implementation of a reign in the leader mechanic that comes to mind. How many 5 player Power Grid games don't have runaway losers, players with no realistic shot at winning? I'd say a clear majority. I like Power Grid and think this is one case where the mechanic improves the game, but it does not prevent runaway losers.

It's not at all obvious that making sure losers play on is better than player elimination.
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