By Ed “Duke of BAzlandia”
These days I tend to be quite busy. I don’t have near the amount of free unaccounted for time that I used to have. This is expected due to my job in the military, a larger size family (wife and 5 kids), and my role in B.A. Games.
This lack of time is to be expected. Due to this, I am much more aware of where I am spending my time and what I am getting out of it. In my younger days I was more carefree with my time. I played more video games and other activities, that while brought me some great entertainment, also at times was extremely frustrating.
One of the most rewarding and most aggravating activities I used to participate in was playing League of Legends. In case some of my readers haven’t heard of or played League of Legends, I will explain a little of what the game is.
It is a competitive video game where two teams of 5 play against one another. They start on opposing sides of the map. The map has three “lanes” or trails that lead from one base to another. Along each lane there are four areas, each team starts out controlling the two nearest its base. Minions from each team march in waves down each lane. Players have characters with different special abilities, moves, etc. The objective is to destroy the other team’s base by destroying the opposing players’ buildings along a lane and then the base.
An average game of League of Legends would usually last about 35 to 45 minutes. Not too bad. While this might not seem like a long time, due to the nature of the game and how death timers progressively get longer as the game progresses, much of the frustration playing the game on my part was derived from 2 factors.
In the game, I often played with random people and so there were almost always definitely different ideas of what strategy should be implemented, who should do what when, and when to engage. Couple that with a mistake while playing with a stranger that caused a game loss often turned into an ordeal. Players were often toxic with each other when things were not going well.
The length of game, while not long, required an investment of my time in the game. While my time could be winning the game and doing well, once you entered the end game state a single mistake often ended the game and there was nothing you could do about it.
This usually happened in one of two ways. A team got ahead in experience and gold. That team became unstoppable and there was no good way to comeback. The second was for a mistake by a single teammate that wiped the whole team at the same time. Once this happened there was almost no going back and the enemy team would roll down a lane and win.
What does this all have to do with board games? While I identified two different factors in the game that made playing at times very frustrating, in the end I think it comes down to a single root cause. That root cause is that for the time invested into the game it became very frustrating when the payout/reward was denied or was not within my control.
No one likes to invest their time (even when having fun) and then to have no control of the reward. A perfect example of this in a board game is Killer Bunnies.
I will explain. You basically collect “Killer” bunnies and carrots. The game ends once all the carrots are collected. Once that happens a carrot that was randomly identified at the beginning of the game is revealed and the owner of that carrot wins the game.
I owned Killer Bunnies and even enjoyed playing it the first couple of times. It can be an enjoyable game, especially when played quickly and in an expedited manner.
Then the expansions came along. Then the time to play the game lengthened. It became less and less enjoyable. Why? Because in the end, regardless of what you do, the winner is random. I can collect almost all the carrots but only 1 specific carrot will let me win. That is frustrating. It is all an exercise in well ok maybe. I have no real control, say, or effect outside of increasing probability that I have the right carrot to win the game. I can play the game perfectly and have the best strategy, but a player who happened to have the right carrot can win.
It is quite frustrating. I have found that I can even enjoy the game all the way up to the end, but when that card is revealed, there are times where it feels all the effort was just wasted. Not a happy feeling.
What I am saying here or trying to say isn’t that the game itself is bad. What I am saying and driving at is that a game that contains that particular type of random winning mechanic is not a good thing as game play lengthens. I enjoy a good game of Zombie Dice or other games that are easy, quick, and completely run-on luck in determining who wins. I think the important word in the previous sentence is “quick”.
When looking at a game, and game mechanics, I think as a designer it is important to look at the time commitment you are asking a player to invest and the payout or reward they receive, even when they lose. Is it worth it? Are all players rewarded for their effort?
This doesn’t mean all players should win, but did all players truly have a chance to win? Was there a specific action that all players have to take to win and was that available to all players or was it a first to do something always win? Is there more than one viable strategy to win every game with every setup? If the game is close, can you tell?
In the end, does it feel like the time invested to play was worth the end result for each player?