Saturday, July 15, 2017

Giving It a Try

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A friend recently drew my attention to an interesting post on Facebook. The short version is this:
An employee from Portal Publishing was irritated to see people claiming that a game is unbalanced and worthless after only playing through once or twice. Instead of learning the ins an outs of the game and getting good at playing that game, they give it a cursory single play-through and then give up on it entirely.
Really, the entry is quite interesting. It's a little emotional, as the author is clearly upset. But I highly recommend reading the whole thing.


I find this interesting, because it touches on some things I've talked about before. One thing that stands out to me is the way that people often forget that there's a difference between personal preferences and objective quality. In other words, if a person doesn't like something, that person usually has trouble understanding that other people do like it. To use an extreme example: most people take it for granted that everyone loves to drink beer. When they meet someone who does not like beer, for whatever reason, they cannot fathom that it's even possible for someone not to like beer. Often, this goes to the extreme of something like, 'What's wrong with you? Who doesn't like beer? That's un-American!' and other simplistic platitudes.

But in exactly the same way that people have different tastes, and some people may not like the flavour of strawberries, but other people do, someone may find the taste of beer to be unpleasant.

It's the same way with games. I, being a Storyteller player type, am drawn to games like Changeling: the Dreaming and FATE Core, which emphasise and accommodate games that focus on plot and character development. It is very hard for me to understand why so many people like Dungeons and Dragons, which uses a system that is usually detrimental to story-based games.

But the important thing is that I don't have to understand it. I just need to accept that people do like D&D. Their reasons are their own. No one is obligated to like the same things as me for the same reasons as me.

And that is often difficult for people.

Dominion still sits at #57 on the Board Game Geek's Top 100 list. It's variant, Dominion: Intrigue, is at #51. Clearly, a lot of people like this game. I don't. In my opinion, most deck-builder games suffer from a certain set of problems that I find unenjoyable (there are a few deck builders that have found ways to work around these problems that make them much more palatable to me: Tyrants of the Underdark and Miskatonic School for Girls being two examples).

But whatever I think of these games, other people clearly like them. Otherwise they wouldn't be on the top 100.

And here's the point: I recognise that. In fact, the majority of the reason that I developed the games review rating system that I use is because I felt like too many reviews (not just of games, but of movies and books and other things as well) told the reader whether or not they should like the subject of the review. In finding a random movie review online, I read quickly through a review of Wish Upon, and ultimately, it ends with a run on sentence that begins with: 'The movie is almost worth seeing for the scenes where the heroine's dad reconnects with his love of the saxophone...' The reviewer does not say, 'The only thing I found worthwhile in the movie...' or 'You might find it enjoyable when...' Instead, he simply offers a blanket statement describing his own personal opinion of the film and expects his readers to fall in line with his views.

I always make a point to describe my opinion of the game, and to say 'You might disagree with me!' I try to describe the game in objective terms, and let readers decide for themselves whether they want to try a game. A perfect example is my recent review of Apples to Apples. At the end, I say 'I hate this game.' I don't say, 'This is a bad game.' I offer my opinion. And I explain why I have that opinion. And I specifically state that other people love this game: 'I have described how I feel about Apples to Apples. Perhaps you disagree, which is fine. People like games for different reasons.'

The only time that I say flat-out that a game is bad is when it's objectively bad for concrete reasons. To date, the only game I have reviewed that received this treatment was The Princess Bride: Storming the Castle. That game is objectively bad (as you can see in my review of it) because the components are poorly designed and constructed, the rules are broken, confusing, and contradictory, and the interaction of elements of the game don't make sense. It's not a game that someone might like because they have different tastes; the game itself is actually bad.

Another important thing to remember (going back to my original topic of the Portal Publishing Facebook post) is that some games are more complex than others, and must be practised a few times before you can claim to be 'good' at them. This touches on what the Facebook post mentions when it says, 'You need to learn how to play each faction and how to fight each faction. Play more.' Just playing once doesn't allow you to know how to play the game well enough to have a decent chance of winning.

I've touched on this topic before as well. I mentioned specifically that one of the downsides to the Golden Age of Board Games is that I don't have an opportunity to practise and improve my skills with games at which I'm not very good. I spoke of economic development games like Terra Mystica and Scythe, both of which I suck badly at playing. But apparently, the difference between me and other gamers is that I am actively seeking opportunities to learn more, to improve, to find out how to be a better player. I recently had a fairly lengthy discussion with my friend expressing a desire to do exactly that. I told him that I would love for him to teach me how to play these games. Not as in 'teach me the rules,' but 'teach me how to formulate a strategy,' 'teach me how to be more successful,' 'help me to grow and develop an understanding of this type of game so that I don't feel like I have no chance of winning at all.'

And apparently, not many people think that way. Which is a shame.

Anyway, hopefully I've given you something to think about. So, gentle readers, muse on that topic for a week, and meet me back here next Saturday for another fun-filled entry. Until then, remember to

Game on!

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