Every year I encourage the members of my regular game group to create a top 100 games of all time. Today I’m continuing the series in which I trash on my friends favourite games, because apparently, I hate fun.
Hate is a very strong word, and most of these games I would still play. These are games that I would call ‘fine’ and would play if Bigfoot was really keen, but they are not games I would ever suggest playing on our game nights.
Today I’m picking on Bigfoot. He would identify himself as a euro gamer, while not specifically some who delights in trading cubes, he does seem to excel at it. Bigfoot is generally ‘the person to beat’ and more than once we’ve finished a game only to find his score is more than the rest of ours combined. While he’s not totally against the odd direct conflict game, his preferences are firmly in the economic side of the spectrum. For each of the games on this list, I’ve included where in his top 100 each of these games sit
Gaia Project #2 & Terra Mystica #14
My dislike for Gaia Project stems more from my dislike of its spiritual prequel Terra Mystica than anything else. While Gaia Project does address some of the more common complaints from its predecessor, such as helping prevent getting pinned in the corner and unable to do anything, It doesn’t do enough different to make me enjoy it.
I find the actions in Gaia Project to be prohibitively expensive. My biggest complaint is that I don’t like having to manage four different resources (Ore, Knowledge, Credits, and Power), to do anything, and that I always seem to be short on at least one of the resources, grinding my progress to a halt. I also complain about runaway leaders, It’s tough to watch one player pass early because they ran out of a resource, and watch another player take action after action, rush up a technology track, gain more benefits and start the next round in a much better position. I know this can be resolved if you ‘git gud’, but I’m just a scrub.
Gaia Project and Terra Mystica both reward players who plan out far ahead, and are able to squeeze efficiency out of every last action, and I’m jealous of those who have cracked the puzzle and able to score more than 50 points in every game. I can see that Gaia Project and Terra Mystica are very deep games that reward those who put the time and effort into learning the system.
Somewhat ironically, I really enjoy Clans of Caledonia. It shares the resource generating buildings of Terra Mystica, but combines everything into one resource (gold). It also has a fluctuating market a-la Navagador, which is one of my favourite Mac Gerdts games.
My first experience with Gloomhaven wasn’t great. The other three people I was playing with were not exactly the best at learning and remembering all the rules to a game, so it fell to me to learn and run the game’s system for the group. We played 12 times over the course of a couple of months with 6 losses before we as a group decided not to continue with the campaign.
Flash forward to just a couple of weeks ago, I gave Gloomhaven another shot via the video game on Steam. This experience helped me figure out why Gloomhaven always left a sour taste in my mouth. My fundamental problem with Gloomhaven is I don’t like the core of the game, the card burning mechanic.
If you haven’t played, the core of the game is that you have a hand of cards – between 8 and 12, depending on your character. Every card has a top half and bottom half. On your turn, you pick two cards from your hand, and you do the top action on one card and the bottom action on another card. After you play those cards, they go into your discard pile. To get your cards back, you need to rest, which will “burn” one of your cards, removing it from your supply for the rest of the mission. If your entire hand of cards is burned and/or you can’t play 2 cards on your turn, you’re ‘exhausted’ and you’re out off the game for the rest of the mission
This means your hand is functionally your timer for the game, your options will dwindle as the game goes on, feeling like a noose tightening around your neck. Your hand is being depleted quicker and quicker, and you need to complete the objective.
Most of your strongest actions will burn the card instead of sending it to the discard pile, which means to do a big cool thing, you just straight-up burn the card. It’s that fundamental aspect that I dislike, I feel like I’m being punished for doing the big cool thing, and that’s not how I like my games to feel. If I’m playing a combat-centric game, I want to be a big damn hero, not a rag-tag adventurer just barely making it out of each encounter alive.
All that said, I can see why Gloomhaven is so beloved. It’s a tight and clever puzzle with lots and lots AND LOTS of good, tough decisions to make. When you manage to survive the encounter with a sliver of health left, it feels great! But I don’t derive joy from that kind of game. I don’t enjoy feeling powerless during a battle. I tend to swing more towards the Massive Darkness end of the spectrum. A big dumb dungeon crawl where I’m chucking handfuls of dice and slaying a Elite monster in a single blow.
There aren’t many dungeon crawl games that I enjoy, but I have had a bunch of fun playing Massive Darkness (Raphaël Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien and Nicolas Raoult), and Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-Earth (Nathan I. Hajek and Grace Holdinghaus)
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar #26
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini is a game that absolutely has depth and the capacity for mastery. Tzolk’in‘s main hook is how it simulates the passage of time. In the centre of the board is a large gear, and connected to that gear are five other smaller gears with spaces to place workers. Every round, the centre gear will turn one space, moving all the workers one spot up their tracks. On a player’s turn, they can either play workers from their supply (costing corn if they play more than one) or take works off the gears and preforming the associated actions.
Tzolk’in absolutely rewards mastery and forward planning. It’s not enough to take Tzolk’in one turn at a time, you need to be making plans and moves several turns in advance. While it is satisfying when all your place can come together, I struggle with Tzolk’in in that I just cannot seem to balance long term strategies with short term goals. I can place a worker down knowing that I want to pull him off in four turns, but in just two turns I find myself up the creek with no corn and no workers and required to pull my workers off early only to have something to do!
Tzolk’in a neat game, and I appreciate that some will enjoy its strategic offerings more than I have. It’s fine, and I wouldn’t deny playing it again, but it’s not one that I’ll ever suggest to play.
El Grande #60
This one is easy, I simply don’t like area control/area majority as a mechanic. I don’t find it fun or interesting. El Grande is a pure distillation of area control, that’s all there really is to this game. If you enjoy area control games, look no further because this one will serve you well. It’s just not my cup of tea. You go and enjoy your gerrymandering, I’ll be over here playing dexterity games.