Monday, November 28, 2005

Good? Fun?

When discussing games, there are a number of questions I will ask myself every single time, but the two most important questions are:

1) Is it fun?
2) Is it good?

I'm of the opinion that games are like movies, however. A game doesn't have to be any good to be fun. There are a number of games which are just ... not good. But they are a blast to play, depending on the environmental conditions.

When I refer to a game as being good or bad, by the way, I'm not talking about the quality of its components. I'm talking about how it plays, as well as how it feels to win or lose.

Environmental Conditions include the group you're playing with, your current health, your mood, the mood of your opponent(s) ... there are thousands of little things that make up a game environment. My cat, for example, has made the environment of our home a hostile environment for some members of the group.

Good or Bad is also relative - there are good games that I'm not willing to spend a lot of money on. It's one reason I hate being given review copies - it's hard to accurately review a game that didn't cost me money. Sizzletoad, for example. It's fun, but it's not $20 fun ... I think. But I have no way of knowing for sure. I much prefer just spending money on the game. That way, if it sucks, I genuinely feel robbed. If a game is a gift and it sucks, I fail to feel robbed of anything but time.

So what do I look for in a game?

1) A Good Balance of Skill vs. Luck - I prefer games where skill will beat luck. I enjoy some games where there is no luck at all, but I do enjoy a slight random element that will allow newbies to occasionally win.

2) Replayability - The CSI board game (which I don't own) only comes with a handful of cases. Once they're solved/beaten, there's no reason to ever play the game again. Unless you have a really bad memory. But this can apply to games that are not scenario-based, as well. Shadows Over Camelot, for example. It's a good game. It's a fun game. But I can only play it once a month or so, because it always follows the exact same patterns.

3) Player Interaction - A good game has at least some measure of player interaction. Some games that I own, I enjoy ONLY because of the interaction. This is not just the interaction of players, however. In Mall of Horror, when I move to the Security Office, it may force you into the Parking Lot - I consider that interaction, because my choice directly impacted your choice. In Ticket To Ride, If I take the Seattle-Portland route, you may need to rethink your entire strategy.

4) Rewarding Play, Even When Losing - When I lose at Dungeon Twister (which is often), I look hard at that loss, and try to avoid repeating those mistakes. I don't think to myself, "Eh. So I lost. Big deal." I also get to learn from my opponent's tactics. It makes me look forward to playing again against that same opponent.

5) Variety of Available Tactics - If all you need to do to win is follow the same pattern every single time, then it loses its fun. Nautilus didn't even have much of a choice.

6) The Ability To Come From Behind - Pirate's Cove is an example of an otherwise excellent game with one critical flaw: If you get knocked down early, it's very difficult to get back into the game. This makes the game Not Fun for those who might as well have been eliminated early in the game.

7) A Level Playing Field - Yes, it's true that some players will be better at some games than others, but a game should be balanced so that players of equal skill will all win approximately the same number of games. If a game has a decent handicap system, so much the better. This pretty much applies only in games where players have pre-set starting pieces and points. Axis and Allies succeeds fairly well at this - even though there are uneven starting forces, the two sides are well-balanced enough that the game could go either way.

There are more things I think about when looking at new games, but these are (for me) the big ones.

Feel free to comment - agree, disagree, whatever. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:22 AM


    I just wanted to let you know that there is a new rule set for Sizzletoad!, available for free download at the following link:

    The new rule set removes the common discard pile, and uses individual discard piles, which completely changes the game, and adds a good bit of strategy which did not exist before. It also makes the game a lot more fun for kids (the target age group is 4 and up) and families playing the game together. DMW