Saturday, August 26, 2006

I am a bit puzzled by reviewers of boardgames who play the game once and then criticize the game in a review for weak play balance. The very idea that you can understand the play balance after one play is beyond me, when the game is asymmetrical, because even the best boardgamers won't figure out a complex game in one play. There are some games where people constantly disagree about the play balance--Britannia 2 is the obvious one, from my point of view--so how do reviewers get off with deducting points for poor balance after playing once?

I suspect it's symptomatic of a characteristic of contemporary game players: they don't ordinarily study the depths of a game--usually because they don't play it very often before moving on to another-- and usually do not become expert players. To them, if the balance isn't immediately OK, it must be defective. (Symmetrical games are very common in the Euro field, where play balance is fairly easy to arrange, whereas historical games are usually asymmetrical.)

I recall a young player at the WBC Britannia tournament who, when he finished, said he couldn't see how he could have done anything differently (no, he didn't win). It was only after some expert players talked with him a while that he realized there were large choices he hadn't seen, and also, that even small choices made a difference in the long term. He had seen only the few big, obvious, choices. He may have been accustomed to Euro games, where designers try to make the range of choices obvious, though it isn't necessarily obvious which one of those choices you should select. They're trying to get rid of "analysis paralysis", too many choices that cause the player to think too much and take too long. Some players LIKE lots of choices, and they are often the people drawn to a game like Britannia and some other wargames.

I suppose you could dub this the "shallow play syndrome". It's fairly obviously related to the "cult of the new" syndrome. While it doesn't matter to me if people play that way, it's annoying when they don't recognize that that is what they are doing, and adjust their reviewing accordingly.


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