I’m home for the summer and have reconnected with old friends, who are introducing me to a ton of awesome new games.
One very common element in games is building. Whether it’s acquiring buildings like in Puerto Rico or Homesteaders, building up on a map as in The Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride, or “building” a stack of completed quests in Lords of Waterdeep, this is a mechanic I quite enjoy.
Above: The Settlers of Catan
I do find, however, quite often, that many games feel like they end too suddenly, too quickly, before I’ve really had a chance to build too much. Sure, the game might go on for three hours, and I’m not necessarily saying I want it to drag out even longer than that in real time. But, regardless of how long it takes in real time, many games are limited to eight or ten rounds, and then end, just as I’m starting to feel like I’m ready to really start going. I only started having access to this resource on turn 5, and now you’re telling me I only have three more turns to make use of it?
Some games very much do not have this problem. If you’re doing well in a game of Catan, you’ll have built out plenty before the game is over, likely coming close to exhausting your pieces, or your geographic possibilities. The same goes for Ticket to Ride, Puerto Rico, and in my limited experience of having played it only once, Burgundy.
Mind you, I love all these games I have mentioned. This is not meant to be harsh criticism, or condemnation of games that end too quickly. Rather, it’s more simply a musing on what types of games I enjoy, and trying to think & comment a little more critically and analytically, as some of my friends do, about how games function. Personally, I’m not one for tight strategy, where every move you make has to really count; having a severely limited number of rounds strengthens this aspect of a game. I much prefer games with a greater degree of randomness, where you sometimes get lucky, and sometimes have setbacks, and just keep building, keep moving, making good choices, sure, but not feeling like you need to be tied to a strict strategy, or to always knowing what the best move is on every action you take. Arkham Horror is a good game in this respect – sometimes there are actions to take that are very obviously the best move at that time to help the team, but most of the time, you’re just doing whatever seems like a good idea at the time. Picking up weapons, chancing encounters at this location or that location in the hopes that something beneficial (or at least interesting or amusing) comes up. Mahjongg is quite good this way, too. Because of the strong element of randomness in which tiles you are dealt, it is far from the predetermined strategy of a game like Axis & Allies, or chess, or a game like Homesteaders which, though it does have some elements of randomness, still functions heavily on tight, strategic resource management.
I tried out the game Burgundy a few nights ago, and quite enjoyed it. I don’t know how it goes with more players, or if it always plays out as it did this one time, but over the course of the five rounds, I built out more than half of my hex-map (a similar mechanic to filling in your cities or fields in Puerto Rico, in some respects, if you’re more familiar with that game), and felt satisfied with how much I had built. The game didn’t end, as so many do, with me feeling at the peak of resource production and now finally ready to really start buying and building things, just as the game ends.
I really liked the way dice are used in Burgundy, randomizing which actions you’re able to take each turn. In many games, such as Agricola and Waterdeep, all the actions on the board are available to you, but you can only choose a few actions each round. There is great strategy therefore in choosing which few actions you’ll take each round, in preparing for future rounds, getting the most out of each round, and getting to certain actions before other players do. All of these elements are present in Burgundy, but with the added dynamic of the actions you can take each turn being determined by the dice roll. Each turn you roll two six-sided dice. Suppose you get a 2 and a 5. Now you can take a “2” action, and a “5” action. You can spend a worker to make that 2 into a 1 or a 3 (or the 5 into a 4 or 6), and take a different action. But this element of the dice means the game is a little more “deal with what comes, do the best you can, and hopefully you’ll come out on top”, like Catan, and a little less “all the options are available to you. Pick the best one every turn, or else you lose.” Plus, I just really feel that using dice in this way feels innovative, interesting, and different.
I expect I’ll be learning a lot of new games over the rest of the summer. Perhaps I’ll have some more thoughts… What are some of your favorite games?