The Big Board-Gaming Catch-All

I played Food Chain Magnate once at a meetup and everything went totally over my head. I felt like I was drowning the entire game. It seemed fun enough though, but I haven't had a chance to try it again.

Djinn wrote:
Fredrik_S wrote:
Fedaykin98 wrote:

hbi2k - Congratulations, you hate "Euros", which is only sensible. :D

Hah. It really is sensible. It doesn't help that many (not going to say all) of Euro games are impossible to win if you are new to them and playing a game against someone who knows what they need to do on turn 1.

That seems like an odd complaint to me to be honest. You'd expect the person who is more familiar with the game to win. It's a poorly designed game if an expert with 100 games under their belt can lose to a total newbie fumbling their way through the game. You should expect to suck at anything the first time you try it, but that shouldn't prevent you from having fun.

I don't mind losing games and I never try to win my first time playing a Euro. I treat the first game as a learning game and experiment with the mechanics. The only way I get upset when I lose is if I don't know why I lost. It should be clear where I made mistakes so that I can learn from them and get better the next time I play.

I like when there are nuances to the strategy that only become apparent with experience, but when the entirety of the strategy is intentionally obscured behind needless complexity, it feels like a series of gotchas.

Me: Okay, so I'm trying to collect cones, right? And I collect cones by trading lumber for iron? Well, I've got a bunch of lumber, so I'll trade it for your iron and then I get a cone. That's what I'm trying to do, right?

Experienced Player: Yup! Except since I'm the Arbiter, I can take that iron you just traded me and convert my five anti-cones into cones, so I win, five cones to one cone! Gotcha, bitch!

Me: Wait, why didn't you tell me you could do that?

Experienced Player: I did, except it was buried in my explanation of the 10,000 other mechanics that are simultaneously happening that you were unable to keep up with!

Not that anyone I've been playing with would actually rub it in, but even without the other player being unsportsmanlike, it feels bad to get gotcha'd like that. Even when everyone is being super nice-- which they almost always are-- the mechanics seem intentionally designed to create "gotcha" moments.

It can be fun to know what the hell I'm trying to do but not being good at it yet, to see glimpses of what's possible with more experience but to be unable to implement it without practice. It's not fun to be entirely lost and confused about what the basic point of making any particular move is.

There's a wide gulf in complexity in Euro games. Something like Stone Age or Lords of Waterdeep is simple enough that kids can play whereas Brass: Birmingham or Pax Renaissance will break your brain. It sounds like you're jumping in the deep end before learning how to swim. Which games are you talking about specifically?

Bubblefuzz wrote:
Djinn wrote:
Fredrik_S wrote:
Fedaykin98 wrote:

hbi2k - Congratulations, you hate "Euros", which is only sensible. :D

Hah. It really is sensible. It doesn't help that many (not going to say all) of Euro games are impossible to win if you are new to them and playing a game against someone who knows what they need to do on turn 1.

I don't mind losing games and I never try to win my first time playing a Euro. I treat the first game as a learning game and experiment with the mechanics. The only way I get upset when I lose is if I don't know why I lost. It should be clear where I made mistakes so that I can learn from them and get better the next time I play.

Same. Although I did win my first game of Food Chain Magnate, an absolute accidental fluke. The second game the experienced player in the group totally got their revenge and pummelled me. All good fun.

I can’t remember who said it but there’s a quote somewhere that says if you can’t lose a game on turn one what’s the point in having the turn. I don’t agree with it entirely but it has some truth.

hbi2k wrote:

It can be fun to know what the hell I'm trying to do but not being good at it yet, to see glimpses of what's possible with more experience but to be unable to implement it without practice.

Me in Food Chain Magnate. My second game I finished with just $3, my restaurant crashing and burning in a long game. However I really enjoyed it, learned a lot and felt like I could improve playing again.

hbi2k wrote:

It's not fun to be entirely lost and confused about what the basic point of making any particular move is.

Me with Madeira, it was just a pile of beige and felt overcomplicated for the sake of it. Played it once and don't want to again.

Djinn wrote:

I played Food Chain Magnate once at a meetup and everything went totally over my head. I felt like I was drowning the entire game. It seemed fun enough though, but I haven't had a chance to try it again.

Learning online has been helpful, it'll take maybe 5 games to get all the nuances I reckon. Never get to have that run at a game like this at our in person meet ups. It's on Board Game Core by the way if you were interested to try it some more.

bbk1980 wrote:

I can’t remember who said it but there’s a quote somewhere that says if you can’t lose a game on turn one what’s the point in having the turn. I don’t agree with it entirely but it has some truth.

I've heard that quote as well, I'm not sure what they're getting at. It is impossible to lose a game of chess on your first move. You can make a bad move, but does that mean losing the game? I doubt it.

The same complexities that make Euros obtuse and create those "gotcha" moves are the same complexities that allow multiple strategies, paths to victory, whatever you want to call it. Yeah they take a while to learn and understand, but that's what makes some games fun to play over and over.

Having said that, I do really think there are almost two types of Euros. There are the really complex games with lots of moving parts like the ones mentioned here, but also the rules-light games that have deep strategy. A lot of the Euros that came out in the late 90s and early 00s were like this - Through the Desert, Tigris & Euphrates, Battle Line, Ra, Modern Art, Java, etc.

bbk1980 wrote:

I can’t remember who said it but there’s a quote somewhere that says if you can’t lose a game on turn one what’s the point in having the turn. I don’t agree with it entirely but it has some truth.

That's silly. The first turn should matter certainly, but there are lots of ways it can matter short of irreversibly deciding the outcome of the game.

I tend to think there is more truth in the inverse: If the first turn is likely to give the player who is ahead a virtually insurmountable advantage, why bother grinding out the rest of the game?

hbi2k wrote:
bbk1980 wrote:

I can’t remember who said it but there’s a quote somewhere that says if you can’t lose a game on turn one what’s the point in having the turn. I don’t agree with it entirely but it has some truth.

That's silly. The first turn should matter certainly, but there are lots of ways it can matter short of irreversibly deciding the outcome of the game.

I tend to think there is more truth in the inverse: If the first turn is likely to give the player who is ahead a virtually insurmountable advantage, why bother grinding out the rest of the game?

Boudreaux wrote:
bbk1980 wrote:

I can’t remember who said it but there’s a quote somewhere that says if you can’t lose a game on turn one what’s the point in having the turn. I don’t agree with it entirely but it has some truth.

I've heard that quote as well, I'm not sure what they're getting at. It is impossible to lose a game of chess on your first move. You can make a bad move, but does that mean losing the game? I doubt it.

I agree, I think my line on it is turn one should be able to leave you behind, but if the other player(s) make mistakes/ get lucky you can defintley catch up. My favourite game of all time is probably Concordia and there is nothing you can do on turn 1 that will kill your game entirely.

Boudreaux wrote:

Having said that, I do really think there are almost two types of Euros. There are the really complex games with lots of moving parts like the ones mentioned here, but also the rules-light games that have deep strategy. A lot of the Euros that came out in the late 90s and early 00s were like this - Through the Desert, Tigris & Euphrates, Battle Line, Ra, Modern Art, Java, etc.

Targi felt like such a simple game to learn the rules, but have found it really deep and so replayable. It's been my favourite find and as soon as meetups start again... Targi time!

Boudreaux wrote:
bbk1980 wrote:

I can’t remember who said it but there’s a quote somewhere that says if you can’t lose a game on turn one what’s the point in having the turn. I don’t agree with it entirely but it has some truth.

I've heard that quote as well, I'm not sure what they're getting at. It is impossible to lose a game of chess on your first move. You can make a bad move, but does that mean losing the game? I doubt it.

Sure you can. If you make a terrible first move like moving your A or H file pawns you're at a serious disadvantage. Although that disadvantage is dependent on player skills. If both players are newbies moving their pieces randomly without any strategy it won't make a difference, but between grandmasters you might as well call the game right then and there. Chess doesn't have any luck, so if you're significantly behind against an equally skilled opponent you're going to lose.

The point of the quote is that if you can make a move that doesn't give you any noticeable advantage or disadvantage then the move itself is a waste of time and should have been removed during playtesting. I agree with that quote 100%

Djinn wrote:

It's a poorly designed game if an expert with 100 games under their belt can lose to a total newbie fumbling their way through the game. You should expect to suck at anything the first time you try it, but that shouldn't prevent you from having fun.

That depends on how interested the game designer is in keeping new players around. One of the reasons Magic: the Gathering has lasted for 27 years is a brand new player can sit down across from a pro and have a shot at winning. Skill still matters a lot, but that variance keeps things interesting and that hope keeps the underdog engaged. Poker works on a similar axis.

Djinn wrote:

I don't mind losing games and I never try to win my first time playing a Euro. I treat the first game as a learning game and experiment with the mechanics.

I do that too. It used to really annoy someone I played games with back in undergrad. He'd analyze the game systems and make plans expecting that I'd be playing to win. Meanwhile I'm not trying to figure out how to win; I'm poking the game systems in various ways to see what happens. Drove the guy crazy. Now he works for Blizzard and I just talk theory on the Internet.

bbk1980 wrote:

I can’t remember who said it but there’s a quote somewhere that says if you can’t lose a game on turn one what’s the point in having the turn. I don’t agree with it entirely but it has some truth.

Somebody doesn't understand the concept of incremental advantage...

Vargen wrote:
bbk1980 wrote:

I can’t remember who said it but there’s a quote somewhere that says if you can’t lose a game on turn one what’s the point in having the turn. I don’t agree with it entirely but it has some truth.

Somebody doesn't understand the concept of incremental advantage...

You're taking the quote too literally. All quotes fall apart if you take them literally. If you're playing a game with 5 character classes and one of them is garbage, well, that's not good game design. No one is arguing that. The point is that every move should have an impact that affects the game and that's all the quote means.

A good example of a game with meaningless decisions and that breaks this rule would be Clank! Each player starts the game with the same 10 cards and you draw 5 each turn. Your 10 cards include two boot symbols, so within the first two rounds you can move 2 spaces. However, the starting space only has a single path of two spaces before the path forks and you're able choose where you want to go. The first two rounds are meaningless and a waste of time because everyone moves in the same direction. A better approach to game design would be to have the starting space fork so the players are able to make impactful decisions on where to move on turn 1.

I apologize for using a bit of hyperbole when responding to a bit of hyperbole.

To a certain extent we are all hyperbolizing. There are very few games where the first turn can literally win you the game with no chance for a comeback, and very few games where the first turn is entirely meaningless.

Still, there are certainly games where an early advantage tends to snowball in a way that is very difficult for the opponent to recover from. One of the challenges of good game design is making every stage of play feel meaningful.

One of the things that I like about games with some sort of screw-your-neighbor mechanic like Munchkin, Risk, and Cosmic Encounter is that it tends to be a self-correcting problem as folks gang up on whoever is in the lead. That can lead to its own balance issues when done badly, but at least it's better than someone snagging a powerful resource base in turn one and snowballing into an unstoppable juggernaut by turn five with nothing anyone can do to stop it.

hbi2k wrote:

To a certain extent we are all hyperbolizing. There are very few games where the first turn can literally win you the game with no chance for a comeback, and very few games where the first turn is entirely meaningless..

Agreed just to say though having played Age of Steam I can 100% say that is a game you can lose turn 1, and I did

I think we're having a very productive discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of Euros, but I feel compelled to say that I intended no serious insult to those who enjoy them. Euro it up, by all means!

Spoiler:

Better you than me!

Seriously, I enjoy some lighter Euros, or games with Euro elements. Blood Rage, for instance, is a direct conflict area control / dudes on a map game with Euro mechanics and reduced randomness (a hallmark of the Euro that hasn't been much discussed). I have also been known to enjoy Ticket To Ride and Lords of Waterdeep.

Regarding family games: Thanks for the tips! I've ordered these:

Spoiler:

King of Tokyo Dark, Catacombs, Karuba, and My Little Scythe. Gonna make presents out of some or all of them.

hbi2k wrote:

One of the things that I like about games with some sort of screw-your-neighbor mechanic like Munchkin, Risk, and Cosmic Encounter is that it tends to be a self-correcting problem as folks gang up on whoever is in the lead.

I despise Take That mechanics. It just leads to kingmaking. If John is behind, he can attack Sarah allowing Steve to win or attack Steve allowing Sarah to win. Or maybe John won last time, so Sarah and Steve will team up to stop him from winning this time. It's a frustrating way to play. I do like interaction in games, but direct attacks is the wrong way to go about that.

That can lead to its own balance issues when done badly, but at least it's better than someone snagging a powerful resource base in turn one and snowballing into an unstoppable juggernaut by turn five with nothing anyone can do to stop it.

Why is it a bad thing if playing well puts you in the lead? I mean, what's the alternative? Everything before the final turn is meaningless?

Djinn wrote:

Snip

That can lead to its own balance issues when done badly, but at least it's better than someone snagging a powerful resource base in turn one and snowballing into an unstoppable juggernaut by turn five with nothing anyone can do to stop it.

Why is it a bad thing if playing well puts you in the lead? I mean, what's the alternative? Everything before the final turn is meaningless?

If a game becomes noncompetitive towards the end it can be pretty brutal. I played a game of wingspan and blood rage where I was so dominate that there was no possible way to slow me down or catch up. I legitimately felt bad taking my turns. That said that was an edge case. As those games are pretty well balanced.

Take that mechanics can be fine but you're right it can lead to kingsmanship. It's mitigated much more in games with diplomacy/trade. When done right though take that mechanics can be really fun/interesting. When done wrong it's a sh*t show. Same with catch up mechanics. Although honestly I can't think of a time where catch up mechanics won a person a game. Mostly just keeps them competitive.

master0 wrote:
Djinn wrote:

Snip

That can lead to its own balance issues when done badly, but at least it's better than someone snagging a powerful resource base in turn one and snowballing into an unstoppable juggernaut by turn five with nothing anyone can do to stop it.

Why is it a bad thing if playing well puts you in the lead? I mean, what's the alternative? Everything before the final turn is meaningless?

If a game becomes noncompetitive towards the end it can be pretty brutal. I played a game of wingspan and blood rage where I was so dominate that there was no possible way to slow me down or catch up. I legitimately felt bad taking my turns. That said that was an edge case. As those games are pretty well balanced.

In my experience Blood Rage is notorious for having snowballing leaders, which I suppose is thematic.

Djinn wrote:

Why is it a bad thing if playing well puts you in the lead?

Being in the lead is fine. Giving an already superior player so many advantages that their victory is virtually assured is boring.

I mean, what's the alternative? Everything before the final turn is meaningless?

The alternative is a balanced play experience in which early leads are worthwhile to pursue but can also be overcome.

Kingmaker scenarios can be a problem, but they can also be avoided with clever game design. In Cosmic Encounter, for example, it's easy for the top two players to mutually agree to end the game in a tie, so each player has to ask themselves: do I want to share the crown, or do I want to go for total victory and risk having everyone gunning for me? And it's also easy for one of the players involved in such a pact to double cross the other, so there's a Prisoner's Dilemma aspect to it as well.

That's way more interesting to me than, "well, Bob snagged all the good textile mills or whatever dumb thing four turns ago so now I'm hosed."

master0 wrote:

If a game becomes noncompetitive towards the end it can be pretty brutal. I played a game of wingspan and blood rage where I was so dominate that there was no possible way to slow me down or catch up. I legitimately felt bad taking my turns. That said that was an edge case. As those games are pretty well balanced.

But what's the alternative? How can you design a strategy game that remains competitive right up until the end among players of uneven skill levels? Either you take the Quidditch approach of nothing matters except for the end move which is snagging the Golden Snitch or you add heavy amounts of luck. Neither of which are satisfying.

hbi2k wrote:

That's way more interesting to me than, "well, Bob snagged all the good textile mills or whatever dumb thing four turns ago so now I'm hosed."

If Bob manages to snag all the good textile mills then clearly he played well and deserves the win.

This thread seems to be using a lot of words to say "some games are Go-like and some games are poker-like"

The only thing I feel strongly about here is: if a game is Go-like (Euro style, little/no randomness, nigh impossible for a new player to beat a veteran), then it really ought to have some kind of handicapping system. If it doesn't, then a match between a newb and a veteran isn't really a "game" in any meaningful sense - at best it's a pedagogical exercise, and at worst it's one person being frustrated while the other is bored.

The thing about Euros is that because they're essentially optimization puzzles, you're in some ways competing against yourself more than the other players. A match between a newb and a veteran really isn't the problem that you're making it out to be. Whether I'm crushing the table or in dead last, I'm still having fun playing with my little engine trying to get it to output as many victory points as I can. I'm not unique in that.

Djinn wrote:

The thing about Euros is that because they're essentially optimization puzzles, you're in some ways competing against yourself more than the other players. A match between a newb and a veteran really isn't the problem that you're making it out to be. Whether I'm crushing the table or in dead last, I'm still having fun playing with my little engine trying to get it to output as many victory points as I can. I'm not unique in that.

Yep I like the puzzling, win or lose. To the point where I don't mind playing a Euro solo, where I'm just trying to beat the game. It's a tactile chilled time.

One thing I thought I'd pop in and mention - imo if teaching a euro to a group of new players should be trying to pay a functional game, not a winning one. Using turns to show off the game and how it plays, otherwise only really succeeding in putting others off the game and back on the shelf it goes.

If I've arranged to play a game live online with group, it has been nice to know in advance what we'll be playing if it's a middling weight euro or above, so we can all have a lil skim through a rules PDF, maybe watch a vid before we play. I've enjoyed that part of it and come to appreciate a decent rulebook.

Djinn wrote:

If Bob manages to snag all the good textile mills then clearly he played well and deserves the win.

Yes, Bob is clearly a more deserving genetic specimen by virtue of having experienced this particular game's brand of bullsh*t often enough to know that, despite everything about the theming, art, and UI communicating that it is a game about trading lumber for iron, buried somewhere under numerous layers of obscuring complexity is the fact that textile mills are in fact the key. We must reward Bob for this, for he is the most worthy! We must punish Ted for not intuiting this on the first turn of his first game!

Edit:

It occurs to me that part of the problem is that some games are structured as dozens of little mini-engagements that can give a new player a little dopamine-rush of victory even if the overall outcome of the larger game is never likely to go their way. A game of poker is composed of dozens or hundreds of hands. A game of Risk is composed of dozens of battles, a game of Cosmic Encounter of multiple encounters.

Each engagement is easily comprehensible and, in the best-designed games, functions as a microcosm of the larger game. The small-scale tactics educate on and inform the large-scale strategy.

In most of the Euros I've been playing, there's nothing like that. Everything is so interdependent that it's impossible to understand anything until you understand everything. There is never a point where you can say to yourself, "well, I maybe be losing the game, but I did this part well, and if I can do more like that next time, I'll have a chance at winning."

I like the idea of euros, but the ones I've played never seem to have satisfying win conditions. The ending always seems to be: each player counts up various piles of tokens, multiplies each sum by various modifiers if certain conditions are met, and then whoever has the highest final total wins. That always leaves me feeling like the game's challenge mainly just stems from the players not knowing who's in the lead, or why.

Can anyone recommend any good euro style games with more... I guess, chess-like win conditions? I took your queen, you sunk my battleship, etc.? Or is mathy win conditions part of what makes a game Euro?

hbi2k wrote:

There is never a point where you can say to yourself, "well, I maybe be losing the game, but I did this part well, and if I can do more like that next time, I'll have a chance at winning."

The fact that exact point happens quite a lot when playing some euros is one of the reasons I like those examples of the genre. Some I agree with you, others totally the flip side.

fenomas wrote:

Can anyone recommend any good euro style games with more... I guess, chess-like win conditions? I took your queen, you sunk my battleship, etc.? Or is mathy win conditions part of what makes a game Euro?

Mentioned already. Targi. Two player, quite mean, lots of blocking. Maybe could even call it a euro/abstract combo.

fenomas wrote:

I like the idea of euros, but the ones I've played never seem to have satisfying win conditions. The ending always seems to be: each player counts up various piles of tokens, multiplies each sum by various modifiers if certain conditions are met, and then whoever has the highest final total wins. That always leaves me feeling like the game's challenge mainly just stems from the players not knowing who's in the lead, or why.

This too. Most of the times I've managed to win one of these games, it's because I got some big bonus in the final tally that wasn't precisely "hidden," but everyone forgot about because it's so tangential to the other objectives of the game that are the focus of play up to that point.

I think those mechanics are meant to replicate the feeling of an actual come-from-behind victory, but it's not like I actually did anything clever, I just relied on the fact that the game's mechanics are so obtuse that even veterans can't really keep track of them. And I'm like, really? This is what I have to look forward to if I master the game: being (apparently) ahead all game and then getting beaten because the newbie accidentally got three bonus cones for winning the Most Improved Sheepfold Award?