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Subject: Is it bad to design unforgiving games? rss

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Filip W.
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I'm in the middle of playtesting a game that's very unforgiving. If you make a mistake in the first rounds chances are you'll never catch up. The rounds are fast though; there's little downtime and a 6 player game ends in less than 30 minutes (a 2 player game goes for about 15-20 minutes).

Even so, I find occasions in my solo playtests where one of my players is in a position where they can't possibly win. The only thing the could do to affect the game is to try and be a kingmaker (it's not always possible to be a kingmaker but often enough to be a potential problem if you've got a troll in the gaming group).

So what do you think, is it a bad idea to develop a very unforgiving game or will it sell as well as more forgiving games?
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Seth Brown
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I would say, go ahead and make it a game with player elimination. If I'll never catch up in a 2-player game, I can concede and we can start again. In a multi-player game, even a half-hour can seem like an eternity if it's been obvious from round two that I'll never catch up, but I'm forced to play on anyway as a kingmaker.
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J C Lawrence
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I often find such games to be more interesting.
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Christopher Dearlove
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Osirus wrote:
I would say, go ahead and make it a game with player elimination. If I'll never catch up in a 2-player game, I can concede and we can start again. In a multi-player game, even a half-hour can seem like an eternity if it's been obvious from round two that I'll never catch up, but I'm forced to play on anyway as a kingmaker.


The flip side of that is that games with player elimination are often unacceptable to many people for social reasons. Of course for those it isn't, fine, but it will cut down your potential sales. It would be interesting to know how much. I don't know how much, but my guess is significantly.
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Jessey
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If it's thematically appropriate, definitely not (I'm a theme first kind of guy). I'm designing a game set in an Asylum where the players are fighting off madness while trying to escape. It's 100% unforgiving, and that fits the game.

That the rounds are short means the biggest negative of unforgiving systems is bypassed (having to spend 3 hours being unable to win sucks!). But even 20minutes can seem like ages when you have no way to win.

The next problem you noted already, a player who can't win is encouraged to adopt the role of kingmaker if only because at least then they can impact the outcome. It's not necessarily a 'troll in the group' that kingmakes, but can also be frustrated players who were 'beat out of the running' at an early stage.

I think the most important thing though is how easy is it to get caught with your pants down in the game? Do experienced players ever find themselves in that situation? Is it a phenomena that mostly plagues beginners but they get over it in 2-3 games or does it take months before you can effectively avoid being dropped off the radar? Is it easy for players to look back on the first few rounds and identify their mistakes?

I think the answers to these last few questions are more important in answering your main question.
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Kris Rhodes
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Any way you can make the kingmaker role somehow official--a way to win in its own right?

Could be interesting--by doing things that help another player win, if you do it right, you may end up winning yourself. And the players then have to make decisions about what to do about your help--which may end up making them have to decide whether to hurt themselves in the short run...

Well I don't know anything aobut your game so no idea if mechanics for this would be available in its neighborhood...
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Sturv Tafvherd
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Osirus wrote:
I would say, go ahead and make it a game with player elimination. If I'll never catch up in a 2-player game, I can concede and we can start again. In a multi-player game, even a half-hour can seem like an eternity if it's been obvious from round two that I'll never catch up, but I'm forced to play on anyway as a kingmaker.


I agree with this.

Here's a thought: can you create a subset of the rules that makes it less cut-throat ... and that way, beginners can learn the game. Or perhaps allow for team efforts.

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Jorik
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Dearlove wrote:
Osirus wrote:
I would say, go ahead and make it a game with player elimination. If I'll never catch up in a 2-player game, I can concede and we can start again. In a multi-player game, even a half-hour can seem like an eternity if it's been obvious from round two that I'll never catch up, but I'm forced to play on anyway as a kingmaker.


The flip side of that is that games with player elimination are often unacceptable to many people for social reasons. Of course for those it isn't, fine, but it will cut down your potential sales. It would be interesting to know how much. I don't know how much, but my guess is significantly.

But the way the OP puts it it is not that much different.
if you make a mistake and there's nothing much you can do for the remainder of the game except say pass or do ineffectual stuff you might as well be eliminated from the game.
the only thing would be a possible kingmaker postion but I think that's worse because if you are the kingmaker you'll be remembered as that annoying kingmaker that caused the win to go from player A to player B while a was ahead.
make it possible to withdraw or something and the withdrawn player can do something differnet (play a filler with other people, check facebook, take a leak, or whatever)
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lizard
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When it is so unforgiving to make mistakes in the beginning, you should consider questions like: How many options are profitable in the opening? How interesting is the opening when everybody knows how to play well? Can you still play with different strategies and be creative with the choices you make? These questions are all linked together. In the case that all or most openings are alike, you can also look at what happens if you make the situation after the first (few) turn(s) the starting situation.

I hope my thoughts are useful. Anyway, good luck with your design!
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Manchuwok
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It's not a bad idea to design any type of game as long as it meets your goals. Very unforgiving games have a much smaller target audience. If you are designing with that in mind and that meshes with your goals for designing, then it's a good idea.
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Ian Hedberg
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Losing early on is extremely frustrating. Realizing you've effectively lost early on, but either you can still keep playing for that .001% chance to win or concede is even more frustrating. Only realizing in retrospect that you lost early on is even worse. Forcing disgruntled players into the position of kingmaker is just the icing on the cake.

Is it bad to design a game like this?

YES
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David Fisher
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If winning is based on reaching a certain number of victory points, players could track their total over several games (say, three or four) -- then there is still the motivation to maximise points instead of giving up when you know you can't win this particular game.

There would also be a motivation to prevent the leader-in-grand-total-points from winning the current game, so king making might not be so bad (except in the very last game).

A problem, though, is that by the last game it might be impossible for someone to catch up in points. Something that might help with this is to make points in later games worth more than earlier ones -- multiply the points in the first game by 1, the second by 2, etc. (or to be slightly less severe, multiply the first by 2, the second by 3, and so on).

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Peter B
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filwi wrote:

So what do you think, is it a bad idea to develop a very unforgiving game or will it sell as well as more forgiving games?


Yes. No. Glad I could help.
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Christopher Dearlove
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HerrJork wrote:
Dearlove wrote:
Osirus wrote:
I would say, go ahead and make it a game with player elimination. If I'll never catch up in a 2-player game, I can concede and we can start again. In a multi-player game, even a half-hour can seem like an eternity if it's been obvious from round two that I'll never catch up, but I'm forced to play on anyway as a kingmaker.


The flip side of that is that games with player elimination are often unacceptable to many people for social reasons. Of course for those it isn't, fine, but it will cut down your potential sales. It would be interesting to know how much. I don't know how much, but my guess is significantly.

But the way the OP puts it it is not that much different.


Both similar and entirely different.

On the entirely different side of the balance, in many groups elimination is just not acceptable, the game wouldn't get bought and if accidentally bought wouldn't get played. Leaving someone out is just not OK. None of the alternatives might pass muster - or in some cases even be possible. A game that produces the effect within the game wouldn't fail that test, it just would probably get tagged as a bad game.

The difference is that in the first game, the fault would be with whoever produced a game with elimination. In the second it's no one's fault, it's just a bad game (for that group). Quite a different social dynamic.


 
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Justus
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I personally don't like games that unforgiving...but that's me...and one bad game would most likely be the last time ever touch it.

Note that I couched everything in very personal terms. Maybe I'm not the target audience. If you think your audience is the type that likes such brutal games, then its all good as long as it meshes with your design goals.

I like the idea of several mini-games that lead to overall victory. Then you could blow the first turn of the first round and still have a chance to win and motivation to still play your best....then again if its so unforgiving that blowing the first round blows your changes for the over all game then you've just exacerbated the situation.

btw the game might be less painful if people don't realize they f'ed themselves in their first turn...even if they did. If its obvious from the first turn that I f'ed up, then the game would be exceedingly less interesting.
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This Guy
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I like unforgiving games, as long as the game is up front about it. Make sure the rulebook explains that and helps you avoid choices that cement an early loss.

If play testing consistently reveals situations like "never buy a Flour Factory until you have at least 6 workers," first ensure it's a meaningful action, then you can prevent premature choices by adding a 6 worker requirement to the flour factory.

Just don't autopilot the game to death.

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John
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In general for social play I think its no less than a design flaw if a game can effectively eliminate a player early on - doubly so if theres nothing or little they could have done about it. Questions about theme - its supposed to be unforgiving, or realism - thats how it works, are moot, its a game designed to entertain, if one or more players are out of the running and can do nothing constructive, its not entertaining them anymore.

Time is a factor, if its a short replayable game, and its clear its unforgiving, then theres little to worry about. Caveat emptor, and dont worry, you wont be bored for too long before we can start again.

You are going to get better responses to a game that is inclusive and balanced, than one that is exclusive and punishing. The former has a greater chance of being enjoyed by more people for a longer period of time. Simple as that.

If its for competitive play, then all is fair.
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Justus
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Just another thought.

I played Dungeon Lords a couple years ago and made a mistake in the third turn (out of eight?). If I remember correctly I didn't work out the correct order of how things resolved and didn't end up with enough food in the end or something. I realized the mistake as soon as everyone had revealed their cards. And so I sat there for the next two hours completely hosed just waiting for it to play out for the other players. Part of the problem is that I don't like complicated worker placement games and I don't like simultaneous role selection, and so my personal inclinations most likely made it impossible to enjoy the game, but I have to say the mistake really made it boring as hell and I don't think there was a gracious way for me to concede without messing up the overall system.

A couple weeks ago I played container also for the first time. I was feeling aggressive so I bought a fifth warehouse fairly early. It soon became clear it was a really bad idea that cost me any opportunity to win the game, and in fact I came in dead last (even behind a color which was played by a girl who played randomly for the first half of the game, quit, and was replaced by a random person who is clearly more skilled at gameplaying than I am). However because of the austere elegant beauty of the game and because I felt like a vital participant in an interesting economic experiment throughout the experience, I still had a great time and have since purchased the game even though I could easily make a DIY copy of it.
 
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Sam Phillips Beckerman
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Summary:

unforgiving game = fun killer
 
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Chaddyboy
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Sam Houston wrote:
Summary:

unforgiving game = fun killer

Or it makes it more interesting and tense in the early goings, from other peoples' perspectives.

While I still enjoy most of Euros, one thing that I always find somewhat annoying is that seemingly every game has catch-the-leader mechanisms to the point where you might as well just fast-forward to the last turn, since the game is going to do its best to keep everyone else at parity in the mean time.
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J C Lawrence
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chaddyboy_2000 wrote:
Sam Houston wrote:
Summary:

unforgiving game = fun killer


Or it makes it more interesting and tense in the early goings, from other peoples' perspectives.


Quite. All that an unforgiving game means to me is that the significance of my early decisions is higher than otherwise. This is fine. In large part we play games for their interesting & significant decisions.
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J C
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filwi wrote:
I'm in the middle of playtesting a game that's very unforgiving. If you make a mistake in the first rounds chances are you'll never catch up. The rounds are fast though; there's little downtime and a 6 player game ends in less than 30 minutes (a 2 player game goes for about 15-20 minutes).

Even so, I find occasions in my solo playtests where one of my players is in a position where they can't possibly win. The only thing the could do to affect the game is to try and be a kingmaker (it's not always possible to be a kingmaker but often enough to be a potential problem if you've got a troll in the gaming group).

So what do you think, is it a bad idea to develop a very unforgiving game or will it sell as well as more forgiving games?


Given the time frame for games its probably not a huge deal, but the question is is it a group play style thing or a function of the game? I know Munchkin can be an evil game if you have a cut throat group but my group almost never plays that way. (semi co-op til last couple of levels dog pile on any 9th level players) If its a function of your group then you might want to test it outside and make sure its not a game function.
 
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Chris Parker
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Only if your target market aren't the forgiving types.

snore
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One Armed Bandit
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filwi wrote:
So what do you think, is it a bad idea to develop a very unforgiving game or will it sell as well as more forgiving games?


So basically, you're claiming "runaway leader" as a FEATURE?

Don't expect a lot of praise here on the Geek.
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Asili Eiliaz
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I think it's bad to design games at all. We should just wait for them to occur naturally on stalagmites.
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