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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Last Mechanic on the Island

What is your least favorite game mechanic? Why?

I was tasked with choosing the first monthly theme here on GoE, and I had quite a few ideas go through my head. They all sounded incredibly lame. I don't know about you, but it does get a bit old seeing geeklist after list go by with things like "the best games I have on my shelf" and "help me make a decision," etc. So, all the questions that popped into my head with "what's your favorite blah" or "what blah do you like best" just seemed trite. And I tend to be an optimist.

Last week we're sitting over George's place playing Marco Polo Expedition when Dave makes an off-handed comment about his favorite game mechanic. I sat on that for a while, and eventually, the thought crossed my mind "well, what's his LEAST favorite mechanic, then?" I sent that around as a proposed first topic, and it seemed to go over okay - it'll be interesting to see the responses.

So what IS my least favorite mechanic? It's actually a pretty tough question to answer. I tend to be an AGAT player (any game any time) so the idea of not liking something isn't all that natural to me. The list on the Geek isn't all that comprehensive or consistent, to be honest, and didn't help me much. There's a few candidates, definitely, but which to choose?

When I first went through the list, things like roll-and-move, acting, and singing crossed my mind. But then, I used to role-play, so acting's out. Roll-and-move is frequently used as a crutch in poorly designed games, but there are a number of good games that use it well. (Formula De, Can't Stop, DBA, etc.) I've never played a game featuring singing, so I can't rightly say it's my least favorite.

Early Monday morning, I was playing with my daughter on the swing at the park down the road thinking about this question. I decided at that point negotiation is my least favorite mechanic. When I got back I looked at the list and it isn't there. It must be a category. Since I obviously wasn't going to just be able to choose one, I went through the process of elimination to see what mechanic would be left on the island.

So, where did that leave me? I ended up with a mechanic that is a feature of games I actually enjoy playing:

Action Point Allowance System

So, now, why? Don't get me wrong - I love the seminal action point allowance games (Tikal, Java, etc.) They're solid games that give a very satisfying experience when played with the right people.

And therein lies the rub - you have to play these games with the right people. If you play them with people that play slowly or over-analyze action point allowance games can be excruciating. To the point where an egg-timer should be required. However, that would really kill the experience for most of these games, leaving a quandary. It's particularly bad the first time you play a game. Many people have trouble playing a "learning" game - they're always trying to optimize their play instead of just learning how the game works and then try better next time. Couple that with action point games, and you're practically guaranteed a negative experience.

That being said, it's not that I dislike action points. They're my least favorite. (There's that optimistic streak in me showing up again.) Having five things available to do, and only being able to do three is fine, and something we're very used to seeing these days. Making different actions cost different points adds a whole extra level of analysis - and is the part that can make the mechanic break down with the wrong mix of people.


  • At 10:01 AM, Blogger Jon said…

    I think what you like is much more interesting than what you don't like.

  • At 11:00 AM, Blogger Eric said…

    It can be, yes. It's also very interesting to hear the reasons why people don't like something - I'm expecting a lot more out of the gang than "it sucks."

    It's also a lot easier to say why you don't like something, versus why you do.

    That was another reason why I chose the "least favorite" end of the topic versus the "most favorite."

    I am a bit worried about negativity - something that's far too common on the web. Hopefully, we're getting it out of our system now ;)

  • At 1:54 PM, Blogger dave said…

    > I think what you like is much
    > more interesting than what you
    > don't like.

    At the very least, I think the "negative" information (although anecdotal here) is useful for game designers, as it gives them pointers for what to avoid in their designs.

    - d

  • At 2:01 PM, Blogger dave said…

    FWIW, dictionary.com supported the use of "mechanism", but not "mechanic", which is why I replaced the word. Let's leave that tired argument at that.

    Two of my pet peeves in APAS games are (1) players who refuse to count aloud the APs they are spending, and (2) players who insist on being allowed to take back elaborate moves and roll back the game state. Needless to say, there's a big intersection between those two types of players. :-)

  • At 2:23 AM, Blogger George said…

    - you have to play these games with the right people.

    Isn't that key with all games?

    Most of my enjoyment (is that the right word, Dave?) from gaming comes from the socializing with friends. Even a bad game can be good if played with the right people. Conversely, a good game can be very bad if played with the wrong people.


  • At 11:27 AM, Blogger Matthew Marquand said…

    That being said, it's not that I dislike action points. They're my least favorite.

    I couldn't tell but is the Action Point System your least favorite when played only with the wrong people or is it your least favorite even when played with the right people?

  • At 12:49 PM, Blogger Eric said…

    It's my least favorite because it's the one the breaks down the fastest when played with the wrong people. Many games can still be relatively enjoyable even under those conditions.

    When played with the right people, I probably don't even have a least favorite.


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