Monday, May 9, 2016

Blog Mailbag: Take That

Ooh I got mail. Well, I got a comment, which caused me to get an e-mail notification, so close enough. This one didn't even tell me I screwed something up (though I appreciate those comments too).  Now I can do a mailbag post!

I have mixed feelings for Small World. Just a few years ago I couldn't get enough of Vinci, Small World, and (Brief) History of the World. Now I think the gang up on the leader mechanic is souring me to the game - to the point where I'm thinking of getting rid of some/all of those. 

I mostly agree. Attack the leader is definitely not my favorite mechanic and over time it is becoming increasingly more so. In these games I feel like my decisions are meaningless. All I'm really trying to do is convince the rest of the players that I'm not winning, so they go after someone else. The person who deflects best wins.

When I hear of upcoming games that use this mechanic, I'm less likely to give them a try.   It is often just a lazy design choice.   You don't need to ensure a game is balanced and fair if you have a strong "take that*" mechanic, because the players will just take care of it themselves. Munchkin is a prominent example of this with uber powerful cards and completely worthless ones. Munchkin at least has humor, but many don't even have that.

Take that is a game mechanic where players can choose to attack an opponent of their choice.  This lets players gang up on the perceived leader.

Still, I think "take that" games can be enjoyable.   They can work well when the skill level of players is vastly different. I can make optimum decisions without worrying I'll crush new players. They just bring me down if I get ahead.  I don't own many "take that" games, but they occasionally come in handy.

They have to be really good though, which for me means adhering to the below rules.
  1. It is fairly simple. Don't make my head hurt optimizing moves, if they don't really matter.
  2. It is relatively short. Nothing makes me despise a game a 3+ hour game that is decided at the end by a player being ganged up on.
  3. You can do fun stuff. Since efficiency isn't important, at least let me have some neat plays.
  4. There is a drawback to always attacking the player in front.  If a player has to give up something to attack the leader, it will vastly reduce the frequency of attacks.
  5. Being attacked can cost you victory points, but doesn't cause you to be stuck. I don't want to pass 3 consecutive turns waiting to be able to play.
Small World passes these tests for me. It doesn't take too long and turns don't require that much thought. You can find interesting combos regardless of how other players are treating you.  Sometimes attacking the leader is an optimum move for an individual player, but sometimes it will cost you excess units.  If your race gets too beaten up, you can always put it into decline and get a new one, so you are never stuck.  Vinci, and though I haven't played it, I'm sure Brief History, would fail #2.

Lastly, I think it can be an important mechanic for legacy games.  Since it is difficult to balance a series of games dependent upon each other, "take that" can be an important tool.  Risk Legacy heavily used "take that" to keep the game fair, while players took the design in any number of ways.  Pandemic Legacy, as a co-op, didn't have that option, so it tightly controlled the story limiting the impact of player decisions.  While I'm enjoying Pandemic Legacy, it feels like the game is playing the players rather than the other way around as in Risk.  I prefer the Risk model, but to do so, some degree of "take that" might be necessary to keep wild shifts balanced.  Seafall sounds like it will be somewhere between its predecessors, so will see how that goes.

No comments:

Post a Comment