Lessons learned from playing games

In this Musing, I’m going to talk about a game I played recently for the first time. I’m not going to mention the name of the game, but I will say that it was a relatively new game with area control and engine building mechanisms. I specifically wanted to talk about this game because it surprised me when I played it for one reason. I was disappointed by it. The reason that was surprising was because I’d seen people playing it and thought it looked like my kind of game. But before I get into why I didn’t like it, let me tell you a few things I loved about it:

The artwork

The artwork was one of the reasons I was drawn to this game in the first place. The front cover, in particular, was one piece of art I really liked. Now, having played the game, I appreciate it even more. The cover perfectly illustrates the theme of the game and also hints at the mechanisms used. When I spoke to the owner of the game they commented that the artwork was what really sold the game to them. As a designer, this really hammered home the importance of great art in games. It can make all the difference between whether someone buys or not. When I’m designing games it can be easy to forget about this and I think this is a good lesson to have learned in the early stages of my design career. The components, in general, were very satisfying and the production quality was great. Overall a very good looking game!

The mechanisms

There were a lot of interesting mechanisms in this game. I love how thematic it all was too. All of the mechanisms tied in perfectly with the theme and nothing really seemed out of place. I imagine that the designer referred back to the theme a lot when deciding on what mechanisms to use and it really shows in the final product.

The disappointing bit: It didn’t work well with 4 players

We played this game at the max player count of 4 players. Afterwards, the owner said he’d played it at 2 players and 3 players and it plays totally different at each player count. Whenever games are played at different player counts it naturally alters the dynamic at the table. That’s expected, but 4 player game felt very cramped and presented me with very few options as a player.

Here’s the weird thing: there doesn’t seem to be any change to the game for different player counts and this has the weird effect of changing the game for different player counts! I’m not even sure if that sentence makes any sense!

In designing Tinmates I’ve taken quite a lot of time considering how I can balance the game for different player counts, and I think I’ve done a reasonable job at each level (so far!). Perhaps the designer of this game wanted it to play differently at different player counts. I must admit that I haven’t looked into it enough to find out, this is only a Musing after all, but I do wonder why this decision to make no alterations at different player counts was made. It also makes me wonder if this is something that the players accept or if, like me, they expect a more consistent experience.

My instinct is that it could have been solved relatively easily too, with a variable board size for different player counts. Perhaps the current size was right for 3 players. It definitely could have done with being bigger for 4 players. Could it have been smaller for 2 players? There are a lot of things to consider with that change of board size though and maybe they were considered and it didn’t work.

Sadly, I felt like half of my turns in this game were spent gaining very little and having very little to do as a result. I don’t mind losing a game on my first play, I expect to lose, but I also expect to enjoy losing. Well, maybe not enjoy losing, but enjoy playing at least. I expect to have interesting decisions to make and t feel like I’m making progress but unfortunately, I didn’t experience either.

In summary

As a designer, I can appreciate the interesting combination of mechanisms, especially given how thematic they are and how attractive the game is. My initial reaction is that it really is a great achievement but it could have been so much greater. That said, I’m thankful for playing it, who knew that one game could teach you so much!

Discussion

Have you played any games which have the same issues? Do you think it’s acceptable for games to play differently at different player counts? Let me know on Twitter! @DrandaGames