Monday, February 25, 2013

Player Elimination? Is it ever appropriate?

First the Bad.

On the extreme end of purely adversarial games, is a mechanic that many people dread.  Player elimination.  Losing is one thing.  But being eliminated?!  And then everyone just plays on without you!  About the most pure example of a mechanic which is fun so long as it never happens to you.  And especially not if you are first.  Of all the stories of rage quitting that I've heard, an early player elimination is the most common theme.  Especially when the average length of the game in question is basically an entire day.  Nobody wants to be kicked out of the game, with the prospect of having to wait hours, all alone, for a chance to play with people again.

Some games are awful because they were designed around player elimination concepts, but don't have player elimination.  Instead of players being eliminated and the game ending, players are forced to continue on, in some sort of zombie state, until the end of the game.  They get to do a single default action, over and over, every turn.  Like taking 2 resources.  Or placing a single combat unit in a single area of the map.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Commands & Colors: Ancients, Part 2

Long term strategy, short term strategy, both or neither?

In terms of trying to concretely plan ahead, I'd have to say this game rewards thinking ahead about two or three turns.  Three turns is just the most you can really count on.  One turn to prepare.  One turn to launch the attack.  Then one more turn to try to follow up with that attack if they aren't destroyed or driven off in a counter attack.

Longer term planning can be helpful.  Getting all your troops into a mutually supporting formation or good terrain for the assault you know must be coming never hurts.  And it always helps to have a vague awareness of how many troops you want in each section, and trying to maintain cards in your hand to command them.  But that comes down to more of an intuitive feel for the game than anything you can discretely logic out.

In the short term, the positioning of your troops and the order in which you attack can have profound implications.  I'd say the bulk of the strategy is in the short term pairing up of troops to assault one another, the order you choose to execute their attacks.  I've seen even the best laid plans fall apart because someone allowed the enemy to escape before their strongest attacks could be brought to bare.  Which often results in a crushing counter attack.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Commands & Colors: Ancients, Part 1

Commands & Colors: Ancients came out in 2006 from GMT Games, and was designed by Richard Borg as part of his ever growing Commands & Colors series.  It is one of my favorite games.  I suppose I shouldn't qualify that.  It is my favorite game.  No exceptions.  I've logged over 50 plays, and I can perceive of no point in time where I will have gotten board with it.  But that does not spare it from my critical eye.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Critical Analysis of Board Game Design

So for the past two years, I've completely fallen in love with board games.  And there are plethora of voices out there with respect to reviewing and criticizing games.  However there are not many voices out there that attempt to critically analyze board game design.  Which is one of the more fascinating aspects of any game design.  Because every decision you make as the designer will have a very real impact on how the players experience your game.  And I find the reasoning, or lack there of, that went into various design decisions fascinating.  I also enjoy really thinking about how boardgames and people interact in terms of an ordered system, and an active agent that must navigate it.

So this blog will be all about the games I play, and how the design decisions effect the experience from a variety of angles.  Common angles will include how friendly it is to new players?  How easy it is to make mistakes in the game?  How much time is spent making decisions as opposed to overhead invested in updating the state of the game?  Are the decisions obviously good or obviously bad?  Are the decisions so bland as to all be about the same?  Does the game reward long term planning, short term planning, or is it so completely random as to not reward planning at all?

Obviously I have my own preference with respect to many of these questions, and as my criticism of games grows in sophistication, I will likely discover many more important questions.

The first game that I will be critically analyzing is Commands & Colors: Ancients.