Published on April 2nd, 2013 | by Luke Turpeinen
A Matter of Taste
Personal preferences in games
When I was in high school I knew enough about gaming to not be sucked into another Monopoly game for the rest of my life but I still had a fairly narrow view of what games should be like. Unlike my high school days, I now have a much wider palette for games and I am able to recognize that there are certain things that I find in common across games I like.
First, I like a lot of flavor in my games. I want there to be a strong theme, even if the mechanics are the focus and the theme was added on afterwards. For a game to be interesting I need to engage with it in a way that just moving blocks to get points doesn’t fully satisfy. Games should show us a good mechanical base and they should also attach us to a character, world or mood. Puzzle Strike by Sirlin Games does an excellent job of this: it’s a game that is functional and extremely well balanced that has a lot of character due to its theme of a faux-fighting game a la Street Fighter.
Second, I like high production values. As an art major (BFA in Animation, if you’re wondering) I appreciate good design, good quality materials, bright colors or detailed art that fits your theme and mood. While high production values can not make up for a lack of engaging, fun or balanced rules, it can make the difference between a good game and a great game for me. Smallword by Days of Wonder is a good example of this. While I like Smallworld for its new take on war gaming and area control, I’m sure I wouldn’t like it as much without the perfect art and character design on all of the boards and tokens.
Third, I like games with a high level of engagement with other players. There are certain games that end up being more like three people taking turns playing solitaire rather than playing a game together. I tend to be very vocal about the intense levels of boredom I experience with those “multiplayer solitaire” games. An ideal game to me has a strategy that you build towards but that can be interrupted by the other players. Cosmic Encounter by Fantasy Flight is one of my favorite games in this regard. Half the game seems to be wheeling and dealing, allying with and double-crossing the other players in an attempt to bluff, counter-bluff and triple-bluff them in conflicts. The sides change almost every turn and it’s a lot of fun all around.
Fourth, and lastly, I love games with asymmetric starting points. Games where you are all playing the same game with the same rules but each person has a different power or ability that changes your optimal strategy. All of the previous games listed do this very well as does the DC Comics Deckbuilding Game by Cryptozoic, the amazing Chaos in the Old World by Fantasy Flight Games as well as many others. This makes playing the game more fun because you can alternate starting points between games and have a slightly different experience each time. In addition, the roles played by other people may not be the same each time, further changing the game without changing the base mechanics or adding new rules.
That’s not to say that a game has to have all of that to pass the test to get my personal seal of approval. Pret a Porter and Glory to Rome are two amazing games that don’t really have any of these qualities in high amounts but they are still fun and engaging for different reasons. Now you know more about me, my game history and my personal biases- which is good, because I will be one of many people writing about games here and it’s better to know up front what I like and how that might influence my ratings of games. Just remember: different people play different games at different times for different reasons, there is no One True Way.
Until next time.