Thursday, August 09, 2007

Analyzing My Top Ten Games / 50% Off Rio Grande Games at Amazon

John Dextraze wrote to me as follows:
Your favorite games vs your top 10 important aspects of a game do not seem to correspond to each other in any great depth.
He asked me to make the comparison. And so I will.

A summary of my top ten board games:
10. Santiago
09. The Princes of Florence (Only $21.57 at Amazon right now, by the way; see more deals below)
08. Anagrams (link is to Scrabble set; just toss out the board)
07. El Grande
06. Tigris & Euphrates
05. Pente
04. Age of Steam
03. Cosmic Encounter (OOP, try searching eBay for Eon or Mayfair editions)
02. Puerto Rico
01. Go

A summary of my top ten important aspects in a game:
10. Not offensive
09. Limited decisions each turn
08. Heavy, without dragging
07. Multiple strategic goals
06. Randomness without luck
05. Interaction without much negotiation
04. Much depth
03. Extensibility
02. The game experience
01. Replayability for a lifetime

First Notes

I think the first thing you have to note is that my important aspects refer to "games", while my favorites list refers only to "board games".

When I made my favorites list for board games only, that was deliberate. In so doing, I left off a number of games that would have knocked off many of my lower ranked games. I would add games such as Magic: the Gathering, Bridge, some sort of generic RPG such as 1st edition D&D, 8-Ball Billiards, Air Hockey, and even Ultimate Flying Disc.

It all depends on how I set my list restrictions. Allowing only board games, I had to pick some games which are sub-optimal, because I haven't yet found ten perfect board games.

Common Matches for all the Games

All of the games fulfill criteria 10, in that they, and the companies that produce them, are not offensive to me.

As far as criteria 3, I've only tried to extend four of the games (Princes of Florence and the top three). But it wouldn't be that difficult to do for the other six. Add special effects for different locations, player powers, or missions. I just haven't played these games enough to bother, yet.

For criteria 2, only my top three games have the game experience extending beyond the confines of the game. You'll find that that's true for most board games, simply because the game experience is hard to find in them. Board games tend to exist only in the box, starting when they're taken out of the box, and ending when they're put back in the box. The game experience is more common in RPGs, CCGs, and some other games, such as Bridge.

And, of course, I feel that all of these games are replayable for a lifetime. I haven't got bored of them, yet, anyway, and I've played them all between 10 and 1000 times.

Which leave me to examine criteria 9,8,7,6,5, and 4 for each game.

Santiago

Santiago has limited decisions each turn (9).
It is not that heavy, but definitely not light (8).
There are multiple strategic goals: spend a lot or save a lot, join fields or isolate your fields (7).
It is an excellent example of a game with randomness but little luck (6),
as well as interaction without negotiation (5).
It's pretty deep, especially as the game goes on (4).

The Princes of Florence

Princes of Florence has limited decisions each turn (9).
It is pretty heavy, but doesn't drag (8).
There are multiple strategic goals: heavy Jesters, heavy building, a mixture, or something unusual (7).
The only randomness is the card picks where you can choose one card out of five to keep, and the turn order (6).
Like other auction games, there is interaction without negotiation (5).
It's very deep (4).
Princes is one of the games for which I create an expansion (3).

Anagrams

Anagrams has a number of decisions each turn, but being a contest of speed, you can't utilize all your time trying to find all the possible decisions (9).
It's a light game, but a brain-burner (8).
Strategies include looking to form short words with the open tiles, holding in reserve words for which you're waiting for tiles, and protecting vs stealing words (7).
It is an excellent example of a game with randomness but no luck at all (6),
as well as interaction without negotiation (5).
It's pretty deep in a verbal manner (4).

El Grande

El Grande has limited decisions each turn, although the Intrigues give a few more decisions than most. Nevertheless, most of those decisions are easily pruned (9).
It is heavy, and can drag a bit, depending on who you play with (8).
There are multiple strategic goals: first place in some, or second place in many, and how much to use the castillo (7).
It is an excellent example of a game with randomness but little luck (6),
as well as interaction without negotiation (5).
It's pretty deep (4).

Tigris & Euphrates

Tigris & Euphrates has limited decisions each turn; although the board is wide open, most choices are easily pruned (9).
It is very heavy, but doesn't drag (8).
There are multiple strategic goals: isolate or expand, which colors, what types of conflicts, and so on (7).
It is an excellent example of a game with randomness but little luck, although it is possible to get hammered with some really bad draws for the strategy you're pursuing (6),
as well as interaction without negotiation (5).
It's extremely deep (4).

Pente

Pente has limited decisions each turn, because most plays will obviously lose quickly (9).
It is fairly light play, but heavy thinking is required (8).
There are multiple strategic goals: Five in a row, five captures, aggressive vs cautious (7).
It has neither randomness nor luck, but the game often diverges well after the first few series of moves (6).
It has interaction without negotiation (5).
It's very deep as your experience with the game grows (4).

Age of Steam

Age of Steam has limited decisions each turn (9).
It is very heavy, but doesn't drag (8).
There are multiple strategic goals: short or long routes, which roles to concentrate on, how to grow your networks, etc. (7).
It is an excellent example of a game with randomness but little luck (6),
as well as interaction without negotiation (5).
It's very deep, as are many god rail games (4).

Cosmic Encounter

Cosmic Encounter is the game that breaks its own rules, so I would expect it to break these, too.

It generally has limited decisions each turn (9).
It's pretty light, but good planning and negotiation can go a long way (8).
There are multiple strategic goals: choosing your allies and enemies, overt or covert wins, single or joint wins (7).
It's got a lot of luck, but so many random cards are drawn, that a lot of the luck can cancel out (6).
It's got negotiation; it's the only negotiation game I can handle, because it's just so funny (5).
It's not at all deep (4).

So yeah, it violates a lot of the rules, but CE has so many rules and so many exceptions, that it's always a blast to play, especially for a rules lawyer and variant maker like me. The game is extensible, we've added and changed many rules, and thousands of powers, cards, and other expansions have been added to the game.

And every game gives you the game experience, with great stories that carry over well after the game is put back into the box.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has limited decisions each turn (9).
It is deep but doesn't feel heavy (8).
There are multiple strategic goals: shipping vs building, high score vs low score, and which goods to produce. (7).
It is an excellent example of a game with randomness but very little luck (6),
as well as interaction without negotiation (5).
It's very deep, especially as you gain experience in the game (4).

I've added many expansions to the game. And I spend time before and after games, discussing the game, how the game will be played, and how the game was played. It's an experience.

Go

Go has limited decisions each turn, despite a wide open board, because most moves can be pruned after not much thought (9).
It is very light play, but very deep thinking (8).
There are multiple strategic goals: aggressive vs defensive, single territory, multiple territories, and many others that I can't begin to understand, let alone describe (7).
It has no luck, but the game often diverges well after the first few series of moves (6).
It has interaction without negotiation (5).
It's incredibly deep, especially as your experience grows (4).

Games are played on different sized boards and with or without handicaps. There are many variants available to try. The game requires much study before and after the game, and has a language and culture all its own.

Thoughts

So do they match? I think fairly well. For Cosmic Encounter, the humor and rules lawyering in the game adds a lot, but it's a very specific exception.

As to the lack of luck in Pente and Go, they are also exceptions, being abstract games played on large boards that look very different each time they're played. Other abstracts are also strong contenders, such as Yinsh and Dvonn (Dvonn almost made the list; Dvonn's setup phase feels very random).

Deals

While looking up the games on Amazon, I noticed some pretty good deals on a few Rio Grande Games (all around 50% off):

The Princes of Florence - $21.57
Yinsh - $17.79
Carcassonne - The City - $26.97
Elfenland - $22.60
Frank's Zoo - $6.45
The Traders of Genoa - $21.57
Around the World in 80 Days - $20.49
Pick Picknic - $9.45
Paris Paris - $20.99
Evergreen - $16.90
Adam & Eva - $18.69
Igloo Pop - $17.79

If you buy one of these games, you'll be happy, Amazon will be happy, and I'll be happy. What a deal.

Yehuda
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