• Joshua Williams

Six Reasons I Avoid a Game (Part 1)

Overly Complicated Games

I am frequently terrified of performance anxiety in my personal life, and I’ve found I’m not alone. That embarrassing realization or fear that you’re not as good as you thought you were, not as experienced as you led people to believe, or even worse, it’s your first time, even though you’ve gloated to everyone that you’ve done it plenty of times before. And then you’re left looking ill prepared and pathetic in front of everyone at the table, who were relying on you to teach them Gloomhaven, or Pax Pamir, or Twilight Imperium. The sweat begins roll down your forehead and appear on your upper lip. You look frantically for an exit, but your game table blocks your escape. You try to convince everyone it would be easier to watch a YouTube tutorial. You failed.

So, I have a simple rule; if I’m not comfortable with teaching a game after watching a few YouTube tutorials, I rarely purchase the game, unless someone else is willing to take on the mantle of Game Master for teaching that specific game. But, as I teach 90% of the games my group plays, games like 18xx, Mage Knight, war games that would make an actual general declare defeat upon opening the box, and games that include a novel instead of a traditional rule book, never make it to my shelf.

The idea of subjecting my friends and wife to a rules explanation and first game, where the estimated play time is ballooned to three times the predicted length, because my nose is buried so deep into the rule book, so that the other players have to determine my mood from the position of my eye brows, does not sound fun for anyone. And because I’ve been through depression and hating myself in the past, I have no desire to fight the battle again and argue with myself over rules clarifications, by trying to learn the solo variations of these complicated games.

So, I’ll stick to pleasant and easy to learn games that I can explain in comfort, after watching tutorials from people like Rahdo and Rodney Smith, while curled up on the couch with a reasonably sized rule book.

But, I have been known to enjoy masochistic pain on occasion, and I’ve recently cheated on my rule by buying the game Pax Pamir. I tried to figure out the game before I bought it, but there were inadequate videos online. But I loved the art and the components and the gameplay that it promised, and I knew I must have it; I took a chance. The first game was brutally rough; I easily read through the rule book three times in total during the first game, and had the BGG forum opened for rule clarifications throughout, but my wife and I were determined, and one haphazard game turned into our favorite gaming experience of the year, and a game that will forever remain on my shelf.

Games with a lot of Hype and No Critical Reviews

If you’re into video games, you may have heard about a developer called BioWare, who created my favorite series of games, forming a world I would lose myself in for weeks at a time, the Mass Effect trilogy. For much of my teenage years, I was Shepard, flying through space, saving the galaxy, and seducing everyone that the game gave me a menu prompt to do. So I was beyond excited when they announced the follow up to the trilogy, Mass Effect Andromeda, some years later. With my memories of space combat, diplomacy, choices, and sex renewed, I pre-ordered the game as soon as I was able to. My God did I find a hot pile of garbage.

This and a few other examples of buying things based off of the hype surrounding a products release, has left a sour taste in my mouth. It’s dictated one of my main rules when buying a new board game; don’t succumb to the hype, and I must be able to find a critical review. This has meant I have run into some issues with games selling out by the time I find a review I trust, but I’ve always been able to wait a few months, to find it in stock again. Most of the time, this policy has saved me from games that may not be bad, and may even be reviewed exceptionally well across the board, but have gameplay mechanics or themes, that I dislike or refuse to play, but weren’t fully explained in the promotional ads. Critical reviews choose to focus on the game, it’s mechanics and what players may not like about it, rather than gushing over the publisher, designer, or getting paid for the review; they can take a game that they truly love and believe should be played by everyone, but point out the flaws or gameplay mechanics that might make it a disappointing purchase to someone that doesn’t like, the supernatural themes for example, but wouldn’t otherwise know about them before buying the game.

But, just last week I broke this rule of mine, and I chose to act out my fan boy obsessions. After falling hard for all things Stonemaier Games, I pre-ordered Tapestry, even though I couldn’t find any reviews I felt were critical or that I trusted. Every so often you’re going to slip and cheat, and buy something because you have a unexplained crush on a publisher, designer, or developer, even if they’ve burned you in the past. It’s unavoidable for most people. Stonemaier hasn’t hurt me yet, so I’m okay for the moment with my choice and weakness surrounding the release of Tapestry. On the other hand, I can’t believe I ended up in bed again with BioWare, after I swore it was over. But Anthem looked so good on the E3 stage. I really need to block their number.

Three or More Player Games

The usual player count in my house is one or two players; I do play with more players, primarily four players, but that usually only occurs once every two to three weeks, when I get together with my primary gaming group. Because of this, it’s tough for me to justify having a game taking up a spot in my limited shelf space that cannot be played in my primary gaming setting - at home with my wife, or by myself. If my situation with my current play group changes, or I find another group that gets me to a table with three or more players at least once a week, I will definitely change this rule of mine. But until then, I can’t convince myself that buying a game requiring a high player count is a good idea.

This is one of my hardest rules to keep. A game requiring more than two players to play, doesn’t make it inherently bad, which is what usually keeps me from owning a game. Being in this hobby, playing games frequently throughout the week, writing reviews, and showing off my play sessions on Instagram and Twitter, makes me want to play those games that are popular, that are good, that are classics. But I can’t create the content that I desire, or even just play a game to enjoy it by myself, if it requires three or more players, and right now I find it too difficult to find enough players for those games consistently. Games like Sidereal Confluence, Two Rooms and a Boom, and Rising Sun, just to name a few, are all games that I’d love to play, and know would have a special place in my collection, but until I find a group that satisfies the required player counts at at least a weekly interval, they’d be taking up space that another game could fill ans that I could play right away.

That being said, I really wanted to experience a game with asymmetrical player powers and rules, and I quickly settled on buying the game Root after racking my brain over several options. Going against my rule for high player count games, I explicitly bought this game to only play with my current or future game groups of four or more players. The production, gameplay, and the art hooked me in. I know that the game can play with two players, but I also know it’s not nearly as good as the four player game. At the two player count, you’re really playing a shadow of the game, as there are really only two factions that work well against each other, with no other faction interaction. I might try it, but from what I’ve seen, it really does a disservice to a game as great and well thought out as Root.

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