Every year I encourage the members of my regular game group to create a top 100 games of all time. Today I’m finishing the series in which I explore my friends favourite games and specifically look at the games they chose to put onto their top 100 that I dislike.
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 Bear was really keen, but are not games I would ever suggest playing on our game nights.
Todays victim is Bear. He swings much further over to the thematic and direct conflict sides of the spectrum than the other members of my game group. He’s probably the person whos tastes differs the most from mine. He agrees that Food Chain Magnate is a fantastic game, but he detests Galaxy Trucker. All things shake out I suppose.
Terraforming Mars #2
Sometimes I wonder if my distaste for Terraforming Mars stems from a series of poor experiences. Every time I sit down to play Terraforming Mars I struggle to get anything done. More than once I’ve been given a starting corporation that suggests a direction to follow, only to have that direction be a red herring (like starting with the corporation that benefits Jovian tags, only to never see a single Jovian card, even with the drafting variant). The deck of cards is massive, and the number of cards that I see in the game is low and fixed. It’s prohibitively expensive to chase milling the deck. It’s frustrating to be dealt an initial hand of cards, pick a strategy to chase, only for that strategy to be neutered by the luck of the draw.
Further to luck of the draw, many cards have prerequisites that must be met before the card can be played. Thematically, these cards are great! The planet needs to have a certain amount of oxygen before life can be sustained, or it needs to be cold enough for glaciers to still exist so you can melt them, But in a gameplay sense, drawing cards that have already had their conditions surpassed feels lame. You only get 4 cards per turn, and now one of those cards is dead on arrival.
Image Credit – Gábor Zehetmayer @zgabor via BGG
Terraforming Mars is also entirely too long. In my experience, two of the three terraforming requirements rocket up their tracks, completing within a few generations. Then the third one drags along at a glacial pace. I’ve heard that people can finish a game in under two hours, but that has not been my experience. In a game where luck is a significant factor and someone falling behind in an engine building game means catching up feels neigh impossible.
I also complain about the component quality, the player boards are woefully thin, and horribly susceptible to being jostled. It sucks to have to chase down an aftermarket tray to keep everything in it’s place. The cubes have a nice shiny metallic paint, but they’re easily scratched and dinged showing their wear very prominently.
When Terraforming Mars comes together, it absolutely sings. It feels good to get an engine running and to take turn after turn, triggering combos and converting resources to realize your objective. I like the tempo considerations, biding your time with actions waiting to see if someone is going to pass or make a run on one of the objectives you have your eye on, and I enjoy the thematic of the game. I love the narrative of bringing Deimos down to massively increase the temperature of the planet at the mild sacrifice of your neighbour’s tree farm. Unfortunately it’s a song I’ve only heard other people talk about.
I don’t begrudge anyone who loves Terraforming Mars, but it’s not a game I enjoy playing, and would opt to play something else that gives me similar feels, such as Earth, Ark Nova, or even Race for the Galaxy (which has a lot of the same complaints, but plays in less than an hour).
Twilight Struggle #5
I can see the brilliant design work that lies within Twilight Struggle by Anada Gupta and Jason Matthews. A Cold War game where one player assumes the role of the USA, while the other leads USSR. The cards take players through the decades with various events and major political upheavals within the time frame. Like many two player only games, I can see how Twilight Struggle can rocket up someone’s favourite game list if you have a willing and eager partner to play over and over with, especially if you’re both exploring and growing at the same pace.
Twilight Struggle‘s multi-use cards are exciting and brutal if you’re caught flat-footed. Knowing which cards can come up is a major part of playing Twilight Struggle well, which makes it a frustrating learning experience. Cards can be played as events or operations, and cards can be ‘associated’ with the USSR or the US, which means if you play a card that’s associated with your opponent’s nation for the operation points, the event still occurs. An aspect of the game is recognizing how to best play the worst cards in your hand, which is painful. I don’t like treading water, or winning wars of attrition.
Image Credit – killy9999 @killy9999 via BGG
It feels like a lot of the game is exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses, or push them into making a bad decision. Controlling Defcon, mitigating your opponent’s events, and spreading your nation’s influence across the map are all subjects worthy of their own strategy guides, and getting into each of those systems is a challenge. There are 4 ways for the agme to end, if someone has 20 VP, if either side controls Europe when the Europe scoring card is played, or, if your opponent causes the DEFCON level to reach 1. If none of those three events happen, then there is a final scoring. I’ve only played Twilight Struggle 4 times, but I’ve never seen a game reach the end game scoring phase.
Twilight Squabble reduces Twilight Struggle into a very short rock-paper-scissors game about trying to push your opponent into DEFCON that I enjoy more (mostly because no matter how badly I’m doing, it’s over in a matter of moments. Root is another asymmetric war game that I enjoy more, mostly due to the cutesy woodland aesthetic.
The grand-daddy of deck builders, Dominion is a game that spawned a new genre of games. Donald X. Vaccarino’s game of buying cards from a central market to put into your discard pile, then re-shuffling the discard pile to become your draw deck was my absolute favourite game mechanic for a long while. Unfortunately for Dominion, I started playing board games in 2014 and games like Clank!, Star Realms, Super Motherload, Paperback, and Concordia hit my table first. By the time I finally got the opportunity to play Dominion, it felt like a step backwards. Also, the people who are willing to play Dominion now are the people who fell into it HARD. With custom storage solutions, half a dozen expansions, and arguments over how to set the initial seed, it simultaneously feels like too much (in terms of variability) and not enough (in terms of complexity).
I’m also not a fan of how static the game state feels. Once the seed is set, you can more or less plan out your strategy from turn one. Unless you’re playing with cards that affect other players, it’s more just you against your deck. I do love the combos the game can generate, and nailing a massive turn is immensely satisfying, but I feel the sun has set on Dominion and I missed the glory days.
Image Credit – Gary James @garyjames via BGG
As I said before, Most of the deck builders I really enjoy have a board component that gives me something to do with my cards, like Super Motherload, and Clank!. If I want a pure deck builder, Paperback or Hardback are my go-tos, but only if I want to get stomped on by my partner who is crazy good at both those games.
Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game #33
I’ve only just watched the Battlestar Galactica TV series, solely because the first time I played Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (hereby referred to as BSG:TBG) all the other players were making references to the plot lines, spouting quotes from the show, and making thematic decisions. I had chosen to play Lee Adama (Apollo), and was playing him like a chaotic warmonger with a death wish, which the other players told me was ‘wrong’ and didn’t fit the characters profile
As a game, BSG:TBG is fine. It’s long, fairly complex, and difficult. In BSG:TBG, it not about building an unstoppable force, and more about limping across the finish line. Add to that, I’ve never been a fan of bluffing games, as I feel guilt when I accuse someone and they fire back, offended that I would dare cast suspicion their way, even if it turns out I was right all along. The gameplay of BSG:TBG is mediocre and random. You spend cards to test skills, draw more cards, and try to make your way to Earth. If someone cast suspicion on you, you may just be thrown into the brig, which saps the fun out of the experience. Also, this is a long experience, 3 – 4 hours total. And it’s somewhat deflating when you spend 2 hours as a human, trying to do your very best only to become a cylon halfway through and now need to sabatoge the last two hours of work you’ve put into the experience.
I’m a fairly conservative person (in temperament, not politically). I’m content to sit in my chair for two hours and quietly contemplate our choices with rational discussion. A victory is celebrated with a muted “sweet” and a betrayal is greeted with a quiet “dang”. Having several people of my temperament does not make for a good social deduction game. We have a fried who loves BSG:TBG, and has the perfect temperament to play. My enjoyment doesn’t come from the game mechanics, but from watching this loose cannon fire off accusations from turn one, boisterously proclaim that everyone is a Cylon, and hoot and holler when a big moment happens. It’s the other players that create the fun in BSG:TBG, not the game itself.
What do I enjoy that’s similar to BSG:TBG? Eclipse is a space war game, but no cooperative. I enjoy the Pandemic spin-off games or Burgle Bros. if I’m looking for a cooperative experience, but they don’t t have any hidden traitors (although I can’t think of a single game that I enjoy that has a hidden traitor element).
It’s roll and move. Come on. It’s not that intresting.
Image Credit – Thierry Lefranc @Thierry Lefranc via BGG
Actually, my mom and I play Backgammon every now and then and it’s surprisingly enjoyable, but only because we razz each other. Bear swears up and down that Backgammon is best when playing with stakes and using the doubling die to make a single game count for more. Being risk-adverse, I’d rather not put anything other than the time it takes to play a game on the line. It can be exhilarating when all hope is lost but a lucky double 6’s roll cinches a come-from-behind victory. But over-all, it’s a game about rolling dice and moving your discs. The player who rolls better will win, unless they do something reckless like leaving their single pawn unprotected in their opponents house, in which case, they deserve the loss.