"What is your least favorite game mechanism? Why?"
After last week, I was determined come back more positive, but it looks like Eric’s question is gonna suck me back into the morass of negativity I usually reserve for family and close friends. So, off come the rose-colored glasses…
Looking at this question, my first instinct was “blind bidding” – but it does not appear on the list! I guess it is a list of purebred mechanisms, and blind bidding is some twisted cross-breed of “Auction” and “Simultaneous Action Selection”, similar to the mating of a German Shepherd with a Dachshund (now there’s something I would pay to see). Other bidding hybrids: Lamarckian Poker gloms two molecules of Auction onto one of Hand Management; similarly, KC’s Havoc mixes Auction with Card Drafting. It would be fun to try to stick together different mechanisms and try to make a new one out of them; I figure if dog breeders got away with “Cockapoo”, the world’s open to me, right? Are there any games out there that mix Trick-Taking with Rock-Paper-Scissors? How about Singing and Tile Placement? I think a marriage between Action Point Allowance System and Partnership, whereby partners have to divide up APs, could be interesting…
Anyways, looking over the list, an obvious answer seems to be “Paper and Pencil”, but that’s about as helpful as answering the question “What’s your least desirable quality in a woman?” with “meth addiction” or “gonorrhea”. No, what we’re looking for here is something that otherwise blinds you to all the other good stuff, kinda like “man-hands”. The problem is that some bad qualities come packaged with more attractive features; many a young man has withstood “strict religious upbringing with overbearing parents” in the pursuit of “dormant and explosive naughtiness”. While I often complain about the tedium of Card Drafting, oftentimes it is coupled with very interesting Hand Management, as in Knizia’s excellent Marco Polo Expedition.
Looking over the remaining mechanisms, there are a lot that are quite narrow (e.g., “Crayon Rail System”, “Co-operative Plan”). No, I’m aiming for something bigger here, something that I see in far too many games, pushing me to the point where I’m ready to abandon the whole hobby altogether (“drastic mood swings”). Set Collection is a strong contender, but, in the end, I’m going to go with Trading.
What are the things that bug me about trading?
- The Frustration. One of the things I like about gaming in general is the abundance of opportunities to covertly manipulate people to my advantage. However, things aren’t so easy when the terms of negotiation are so tangible. Since getting what I want requires people to explicitly trade with me, they become much more resistant, and eventually I’m looking at an embargo in the face. In no other type of game does my past history weigh me down so much like clay slippers.
- The Inanity. One can only wait so long during another player’s turn before turning to him and exploding “NO! I DON’T HAVE A BRICK! NO ONE HAS A BRICK! EVERYONE IS LOOKING FOR BRICK! BRICK IS ONLY ON TWO NUMBERS, AND THEY HAVEN’T BEEN ROLLED IN 6 TURNS, AND CERTAINLY NOT SINCE LAST TURN, WHEN YOU SPENT 5 MINUTES ASKING FOR BRICK!” Okay, so it's not always that ridiculous, but trading games are susceptible to those pockets of downtime ("little infinities") where nothing happens.
- The Frailty. In most games, there is a hidden layer of depth that is masked by very obvious moves. For example, in my last match of Bohnanza, I did a trade with the person who eventually won. The trade netted us both 1 point, but kept him from being forced to prematurely sell from one of his fields. I could have rejected the trade, but I would have to convince the other players to be more generous with me (or make a similar move) since I took one for the team. Unfortunately, I find that folks, including myself, are unwilling to think that deeply, and play trading games at a more superficial level.
Actually, the real reason trading games annoy me is that I never seem to have what others are looking for. Grrr... To end on a positive note, I’m about to go spend the rest of the day playing 2-player CCGs with a friend, none of which feature trading! Here’s hoping your Labor Day was a lot less work than mine.