Monday, May 9, 2016

Can card games be humorous?

Ok, the past month has been beyond insane. I spent several weekends working on my celtic folk music duo, and one weekend lying in bed for nearly two days straight because I was so ill. Then, this past weekend, I sat down to write a new entry for this blog... and came up completely blank. No matter how I tried, no matter what I looked at on boardgamegeek.com, no matter who I talked to, I had no ideas. So this entry is a couple days late. But I finally have an idea, so I'm going to run with it.

Obviously, the title is a little tongue in cheek. Of course card games can be humorous. But what I'm talking about here is the tendency of games to be card-text-heavy, which can slow the game incredibly.

Let me explain.

How many of you have played Munchkin? Or any of its supernumerary variants (Super Munchkin, Star Munchkin, Munchkin Bites, or Munchkin Fu, just as a couple of examples)? If so, you probably know that the point of the game is to engage in an evening of hilarious hijinks, betraying your friends as you fight ridiculous monsters such as the dreaded Gazebo. The winner is the first player to reach level 10, levels being gained most frequently by defeating monsters. Here's an example of game play, to give you an idea of how it works:

Daniel: I kick down the door! (draws a door card) I find a Large Angry Chicken. It's level 2, and I'm level 3, so I defeat it.

Susan: Nope! It's actually an Enraged Large Angry Chicken! (plays the Enraged card on the Large Angry Chicken card)

Daniel: Drat! I'm not high enough level now! Tina, will you help me defeat this monster?

Tina: What will you give me?

Daniel: I'll let you have the treasure card for defeating it.

Tina: Ok, sure, why not?

Daniel: Great, so your 6 levels add to mine, making us an effective level 9, so now we're defeating the Enraged Large Angry Chicken.

Susan: Nope again! I play the Wandering Monster card to add the Plutonium Dragon to the combat!

Tina: Oh, heck no. I'm out! I use my Invisible! Invisible! Invisible! power to abandon combat! (Tina and Susan both laugh uproariously)

That should give you the general idea.

Here's where the problem comes in: game play works best when cards are played quickly. But players who are unfamiliar with the cards can't play the cards quickly, because they don't know what the cards do!

I've seen this problem in several games. Aside from Munchkin, it's also true for Gloom, and it was exceedingly true for the game Burn in Hell. The games are meant to be funny, and if gameplay is quick and frantic, it can be. But players must have played the game several times to get familiar enough with the cards to be able to play them quickly.

In other words, these games have to be practised for several games before they can be played 'correctly.'

Don't get me wrong, the payoff can be considerable if enough work is put into it. But it strikes me as a little sad that you have to play a game several times through with it not being funny, because everyone is spending minutes at a time reading the cards and trying to figure out how they work, before the ultimate payoff can be reached.

I'm not sure really where I'm going with this. It was just what I was thinking about. Next week will be a nice safe board game review, so hopefully it won't be as pointless as this entry was. So there's that to look forward to! Until then,

Game on!

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