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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A Jug of Cheese, a Loaf of Wine, and Thou

Dave's post on 2-player gaming and why he in some ways prefers it to multi-player gaming got me thinking a bit on this topic. Being a wargamer, where virtually every game is 2-player (and any arguments regarding "less downtime" go out the window), I have a definite appreciation for a single opponent. For one thing, your odds of winning go up at least 16%. ;-)

I have a pretty good collection of 2-player games outside of my wargame collection, including most of the Kosmos line and the entire GIPF collection, including expansions. Sadly, few of these games are played these days, as I rarely have just a single opponent, and then I'm playing Twilight Struggle or some other CDG or block wargame (where most of my energy seems to go these days). I even bought Roma recently, partly to see if Queen has learned to publish good games, but also because it's gotten good local buzz from my group (OK, from Dave). It almost makes me want to go back to work just to spend lunch playing games with Laurent.

I do not play CCGs, although I was a huge fan of Vortex and have decks for all eight races - with a limited set of tiles for each race, I felt the game was fun and allowed for limited deck construction options without being overwhelming, which is my second biggest problem with CCGs (the "crack addict" aspect being numero uno).

I'll do a list of 2-player games I want to see hit the table more in a future entry, for now I'll just discuss the differences between two-player and multi-player experiences. I'll also limit this discussion to euros rather than wargames, as that's an entirely different area (although there are a lot of cross-genre games, usually involving a healthy amount of plastic figures).

First off is the social aspect. For an engineer, especially a computer engineer, this is a little odd - shouldn't I be worrying about the mechanisms and how well they mesh? I guess I've always been a rebel. I definitely agree that 2-player gaming has a much different feel than multi-player in this respect, and to be quite honest the multi-player experience is more fun for me when it comes to euros. This is not to say that I don't like 2-player euros, just that most of the games tend to be more cerebral and with less opportunity for social interaction.

For example, the GIPF series requires a lot of concentration to analyze the possibilites of what an opponent is trying to do, not to mention if you have the initiative. I find GIPF itself to be a real brain burner, and I hear Puenct is in the same league. The Settlers Card Game falls in the same category for me, I seem to be thinking about what I need to get to the next level instead of interacting with my opponent. Sure, there are counter-examples (Battlecards is a good example of a fast game with lots of screwage cards), but in general I get the feeling that I'm really playing solitaire for two, occasionally with a common resource pool.

In contrast, multiplayer games almost always involve smack talk (although we're pretty wimpy in that regard), great reactions from other people, and the always entertaining "Let's you and him fight!" I almost always have at least one milk-through-the nose moment in a Medici game, almost never in a two-player game. Sure, there are a few stare-at-the-board games like Samurai, but in general there is always interaction in multiplayer.

That said, I will qualify yet again that with Euros, it is all about who you play with. My experiences with euros at WBC, at least in tournament settings, have been miserable. Even some of the pick up games at cons are excruciating if you have the wrong group of people playing. I dearly love the people in RCG, and so I must qualify this particular preference as requiring people who I enjoy playing games with. If the social lubrication is working, I have considerably more fun (and you can run with that comment in any direction you want). For this same reason I just don't enjoy Euros in general played online, even though there are many opportunities to do this. I simply don't feel that same person-to-person connection that is critical to my enjoyment of euro gaming.

Another problem with 2-player games is that of having a design that while rewarding good play will still leave the opportunity for the person who is slightly behind to catch up. In a multiplayer game, there is often at least the chance for the others to beat on the leader as a group, but in 2-player you don't get this option. As such, designs have to be tighter. I'm not sure that this is the case, and most 2-player games tend to have some mid-game goal that once achieved will all but guarantee eventual success. The ninth settlement in SCG is a good example, although I have certainly lost after getting that last settlement up on occasion. Strangely, a game like Cribbage doesn't have this problem, as the entire "system" is reshuffled after a short time and everyone starts from scratch (at least in terms of the next hand if not in total points scored). Euros, on the other hand, while having theme and bits and interesting systems, typically give you one prolonged shot at building whatever it is the game demands, and if you get shorted early you are often left in the dust.

Similarly, interaction is part of a multiplayer design and not so much of two-player games. Action and reaction is a much trickier proposition with four players, and thus (for me, anyway) more interesting. With two players, you do something, and your opponent reacts. With four, you have three different sets of actions to decide how to respond. Friedrich is an excellent example of this, although it is playable with two players. The Prussian has to decide which threat requires resources immediately while taking future threats into account. In most euros, the interaction is even more complex, as the sides tend to shift during the game as different players get closer to victory.

I do like many 2-player euros, but I would much rather play multiplayer if possible. Even so, there are quite a few 2-player euros I want to give more of a shot in the next year - the GIPF games, Roma, even some of the multiplayer games such as St Petersburg that some in the group feel work well with two. The game I'm most anxious to get on the table in the near future is Pizza Box Football, and Blood Bowl is right behind that. LotR: The Confrontation I'd like to play more, and I miss the regular Vortex sessions we used to have a few years ago.

Strangely, I tend to prefer 2-player card games or classics like Backgammon to 2-player euros. However, the lack of theme seems to keep me from pulling this sort of thing out regularly. I'm sure there's a psych dissertation here somewhere, but I've gone on long enough for one post.

Next time I'll talk a bit about how my rationale stands on it's head when we start moving to wargames.


  • At 3:03 PM, Blogger Dug said…

    Oh, and Dungeon Twister. That's another 2-player game I'm interested in playing, although it looks less like a euro and more like some sort of 70's throwback.


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