Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Some musings on board games

Its not that easy to obtain the ideal board game experience. It first of all requires a decent game which rewards skill and rational play. It also requires all players being aware of the game being played to a level that they do not make easily avoidable mistakes.. it can be frustrating to lose a game because another player benefited from a new players mistakes. Both Puerto Rico and Chaos can suffer from this quite badly, the old joke about wanting to be left of the new player in Puerto Rico being very accurate.

Still, even when everyone knows what they are doing, its really important that they are playing to win. Yes, yes, one should be playing to have fun, but in any skill based game it is inordinately frustrating who is playing for their own objectives. Sometimes this can be due to misunderstanding- an over focus on millitary in Antike leads to a pointless arms race that helps neither player (actually its usually better to try and launch surprise assaults, as vps are only awarded for temple destruction). Sometimes this can be from players being annoying, and over-interpreting "bash the leader". Many games require players to attack the leader, and might be encouraged to do so, but it is vital that when one bashes the leader one is still trying to win- you hurt the leader, but not to the extent of hurting your own ability to win. If you start doing that you are just not allowing that player to have fun, and thats a jerk move. Ideally one should always seek to better one's position. I know it can be frustrating to be in last place, but if you choose to decide to play kingmaker you are taking away someone's victory. Its just not on really.

As a game has more and more players it becomes less and less vital to attack other players. In a 2 player game hurting the other player is equivalent to helping yourself, but as more and more players join in you end up being the prisoner who keeps defecting in the prisoners dilemma, while everyone else is co-operating.

One of the reasons I enjoy Dominion is thats its actually immune to these problems and yet does have player interaction. Dominion attacks all other players equally, so its impossible to pick on any other player particularly. While new players will make mistakes, its rare for those mistakes to stop someone else from winning. The interaction in Dominion is subtler, and I know thats why people are put off from it, but it is there- following what people are buying will give you an idea of when the game is going to end and thus when to buy victory points, or defensive cards to protect against crazy attack group think.

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