Thursday 21 October 2010

15 Bad Games I Learned Something From

No, no, no. I can't be like everyone else. I got to be negative. I got to be me!

1. Monopoly, Munchkin, etc., etc. Sometimes even a "bad" game in terms of board game developments in the 90's can be the "right" game because everyone knows it. Hence my decision to stick with a core D&D system rather than more novel rules-lite systems.

2. Source of the Nile. Commits so many board game sins by modern lights. Is not faaaaiiiir. But the very unfairness and tedious stretches make the good parts fun as all hell!  Previously.

3. My own crappy 11th grade AD&D campaign. Someday I'll do an expiatory post on this rules-bound monstrosity.

4. My high school friend's home-brewed "urban combat" role-playing game, Gay Slayer. I was so repulsed by the prospect of being invited to this that I started running my own transgressive alternative for the group, City Crime, in which you rolled up your race, social class, sexual orientation, and criminal compulsion at random. And GMing that game taught me the joys of fast and loose improv rules.

5. F. A. T. A. L. At the end of the slippery slope of any attempt to include sexuality in your role-playing game rules lurks this anal-circumference abomination. The more rules, the less meaning.

6. Hyborian Gates, Redemption, etc., etc. Elements of a customizable game with different power levels should be costed differently. Amazing how many first-wave CCGs missed this particular lightbulb.

7. HumAliens CCG. Not every kiddie franchise out there is Harry Potter gold.

8. Diskwars, Clout, etc., etc. Most fantasy gamers would rather roll INT than DEX when competing in real life. (These were games where part of your success depended on accurately throwing Pog-like cardboard discs or poker chips.)

9. The Hundred Years War (Strategy & Tactics magazine game). When you are putting a new wargame out every 2 months, simple little playtesting details can fall by the wayside, like whether you have the right counter mix for the set up instructions. Quality over quantity.

10. Power Kill, Train, etc., etc. "While you thought you were playing an innocuous pastime, LOOK, you were actually causing the deaths of innocent people!" Manipulative, morally didactic games don't work.

11. Cleopatra and the Society of Architects. Cool components do not excuse, in fact may encourage, over-complicated mechanics and multiplication of mini-games. I'm looking at the Tetris puzzle in this one, in particular.

12. Champions CCG. Not even the most cynical planned obsolescence gimmick in all of gaming can overcome crap design and humor insulting even the intelligence of 8-year-olds. (This was a British CCG I saw a few packs of, where your monster cards actually permanently lost hit points as you scratched off their damage dots, so you woudl continually have to buy new ones after each game.)

13. Every goddamn eurogame where you use one thing to buy another thing and then another thing which in turn buys another thing which you use to win the game; overcomplicate with auctions, worker placement, and special effect card decks to taste. If you have a good mechanic, bring it front and center rather than covering it up with all the usual dreck. Particular offenders: Princes of Florence; Hamburgium.

14. Dwarf Fortress. Space bar does this on the one screen but this other thing on the other screen and yet a third thing over here? Sometimes, a user interface that is actually hostile to human input - the equivalent of switching road signs to confuse the German paratroopers - can come to feel like an initiatory ordeal into an exceptionally cool and all-consuming cult. See also the rules of De Bellis Antiquitatis.

15. Spore. If you want to release a creature generation toy, release a creature generation toy, but don't hype it to be the most cosmic and profound thing since 2001: A Space Odyssey when it's actually boring and baffling to play. Lesson: Don't believe the hype.


  1. First thing I would like to say is this: man am I ever glad I totally and legally downloaded Spore for free.

    Second thing I would like to say: Clout is amazingly fun after some heavy drinking.

    Third: I am surprised Runebound isn't on your list. This little gem takes way too long to play, is boringly repetitive, and the best way to try to win is to bypass the initial green encounters and just gamble on the yellow ones. Why even have those green encounters to begin with?

  2. Yeah, I haven't played Runebound in a while but the downtime did get to me when I did. One of my long-waiting game designs is an improved Runebound ...

  3. I look forward to it. I like the idea of quest games where players, while not necessarily antagonistic toward each other, are in direct competition as to the speed and quality of their questing.

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  5. Colonial Diplomacy or its predecessor. I've never seen more fights and broken friendships over that game. Even Republic of Rome is more civil, and *that* is saying something.