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Poor play -> poor design?

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zaiga
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Suppose you have a game where poor play by one opponent gives another player a large advantage of some sort. Or the reverse of that problem, through poor play of a certain player another player is severly disadvantaged.

Would you consider this a flaw in the design of the game? Or is it just something players have to deal with?

I'm interested in your opinions on this matter.

- Rene Wiersma

Anonymous
Poor play -> poor design?

No. It wouldn't be a flaw in the design. It's called being a bad player.

Say if you are playing Chess and you move your queen in front of the other player's queen. Then your opponent takes your queen. It isn't flaw in the game, it is just called having a bad strategy.

Actually, I can't think of an example in which bad game design would give one player a big advantage over another. So how about a pretend one, eh?

Say you are playing a game where you have to get a certain amount of money to win, but you also need a certain amount of food, water, and building supplies each turn or else you get some of your money taken away to buy the supplies you need. Now, if you have to get some food and you want to trade with the other players you might offer, say, 10 gold for five pieces of food. If the player declines, and you need the food, you might keep offering and offering untill you get the food. Now, this could leave you with a big problem in the game. This would be an example of bad game design, in my opinion.

zaiga
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Poor play -> poor design?

DragonKid wrote:
No. It wouldn't be a flaw in the design. It's called being a bad player.

Say if you are playing Chess and you move your queen in front of the other player's queen. Then your opponent takes your queen. It isn't flaw in the game, it is just called having a bad strategy.

Of course, but Chess is a two-player game. If it wasn't obvious, I'm talking about multiplayer strategy games, where the game itself is balanced, but the balance can be disturbed in favor of one player by poor play of another player.

Suppose you have player A, player B and player C. Player A and B play a very tight game, but then player C screws up and basically hands the win to player A. I can imagine that this would leave player B (who played just as well as player A and is just as deserving of the win) with an unsatisfied feeling.

- Rene Wiersma

sedjtroll
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Poor play -> poor design?

zaiga wrote:
Suppose you have player A, player B and player C. Player A and B play a very tight game, but then player C screws up and basically hands the win to player A. I can imagine that this would leave player B (who played just as well as player A and is just as deserving of the win) with an unsatisfied feeling.

Go play Puerto Rico with a newbie and a veteran. I dont know anyone that would argue PR is poorly designed.

To answer your question, I think it depends on the game, or more specifically the taregt audience. A game for Gamers can assume the players will try hard and play well. A game for the 'general public' shouldn't be too un-fun when one player is just way smarter (or dumber) than everyone else.

- Seth

IngredientX
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Re: Poor play -> poor design?

I think that as long as a group of players with equal ability all have a chance at winning, then there's no practical balance problems with the game itself, just a fact of gaming that must be dealt with.

In Puerto Rico (in which the phenomenon you describe happens A LOT), having a rookie who picks Craftsman at the wrong time will throw the game. If there is an equally inexperienced player to his/her left who then fails to pick Captain, or who picks Captain but ships the wrong goods, then we're more or less even again.

To give you an example of a game with a slight design flaw (hoo boy, this might bring some flames... :twisted: ), I think Acquire is slightly broken when playing with at least six players. You can have six players of equal ability, but what often happens about seven turns in or so is that most of the players will be out of money, having bought all the stocks they can afford. Many times, this happens without a single merge taking place. When that first merge is complete, any player who is still broke will not only lose the game, but will struggle to make it out of last place.

Given that these players are of equal ability, and that the choices they made are usually out of relatively equal information (because if a merge has taken that long, it's probably because no one has the proper tile yet), the fact that a player is out of the merge, and hence out of the game, has more to do with luck than skill. This, to me, is an example of a broken mechanic.

The flow of the game is so dependent on that first merge that if at least six are playing, I prefer to introduce a variant that pays the third-highest stockholder half of what the minority stockholder makes during a merge. This keeps more people in the game.

Of course, with five players or less, Aquire is the polar opposite of a broken game (if you've never played it, treat yourself, it's marvelous, and not dated at all, despite being over 40 years old!). But hey, it's an example. True, it's not an example of a mechanic broken because of unequal ability, but what do you want from me, I'm rushing this post and have to get back to work. :) Give me some time, I'll think of a proper example.

FastLearner
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Poor play -> poor design?

sedjtroll wrote:
zaiga wrote:
Suppose you have player A, player B and player C. Player A and B play a very tight game, but then player C screws up and basically hands the win to player A. I can imagine that this would leave player B (who played just as well as player A and is just as deserving of the win) with an unsatisfied feeling.

Go play Puerto Rico with a newbie and a veteran. I dont know anyone that would argue PR is poorly designed.

Yes you do. :)

Mind you I think PR is a brilliant game and beautifully designed, but I do think that this particular phenomenon is the game's major failing (and it's strongly linked to player position, another failing in the game).

Could I have done better? No. But I'd definitely argue that PR is broken that way. There are tons of great games that don't have that problem, or that have it much more minimally.

jwarrend
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Poor play -> poor design?

Time for my $0.02! I think the real issue you're getting at here is "how much interaction is appropriate?" I know that your point is sort of different, but I think it ultimately boils down to how much one player can influence another's position. In a negotiation-heavy game, the silver-tongued players can manipulate the newbies to make bad deals, but I wouldn't necessarily say those games are "broken" so much as that they have a learning curve. Puerto Rico is definitely the same way, in that an inexperienced player can screw up the game and the player sitting to his left will likely benefit the most from this. But I wouldn't really say that PR is "broken" so much as to say that it works best when all players are at the same skill level. When you have 5 equally skilled players playing PR, there are very, very few games that could be considered "better". (in my subjective opinion, of course)

So, I'm not sure I've answered your question. But I think it's hard to answer in generalities. Puerto Rico has exactly the problem you describe, yet I wouldn't really call it "broken". And to some extent, I think any game has this kind of a problem to some degree or another. You're always going to have players who make weird moves, who make mistakes, who hose another player for no apparent reason, who rely too heavily on petty diplomacy. Lots of games "fall apart" when these kinds of players are involved, but I wouldn't say the games are "broken" per se. Neither would I necessarily the players themselves are necessarily "broken". I've heard stories about how people on BrettSpielWelt, the German online gaming community, get upset when a player makes an "imperfect" play in Puerto Rico. I think that's nonsense. These are games. And gamers are people. This is supposed to be fun, it's not supposed to be chess. Part of learning is making mistakes. If you get hosed because someone screwed up, that's frustrating but certainly not a reason to get all uppity about the person's poor play. Or, you can choose not to play with that person again.

Anyway, I still haven't answered your question. I guess my answer is that in a game with lots of interaction, you're always going to run the risk that a "bad" player can screw up the position of a "good" player, but the only alternative as I see it is to make the game less interactive, which is probably equally unsatisifying. Certainly, finding ways to mitigate the problem is a good idea. I like games that allow for lots of deal-making, because that can solve a lot of the problems associated with one player benefiting from another's mistakes -- "let's band together and stop this guy from continuing to cash in!" And I think minimizing things like strong turn order effects, or providing mechanisms for varying turn order, can help as well. Fast is quite right that PR has a strong turn order effect. But I think the game works precisely because of the mechanic that brings that about. PR with "bidding for turn order" wouldn't be the same. So in some cases, you have to accept that a "bad" player will occasionally screw up a game if doing that frees you to design a game that's great when played by "experts".

So maybe it comes down to learning curve. Do you want the game to be playable on the first go, or do you want players to have to play 3 or 4 times before they really catch on to the strategies of the game? Defining which you're going for will help you know whether you should be worried about the "bad player" effect, since in a "learning curve" game, players will understand that the new guy will screw things up.

And incidentally, I like gaming much more with groups that will treat someone's learning game as an opportunity to teach that individual about the game, rather than to whine about how the new guy is making new guy plays and screwing up my game. I think this is more a player personality problem than a game design problem.

IngredientX
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Poor play -> poor design?

jwarrend wrote:
So maybe it comes down to learning curve. Do you want the game to be playable on the first go, or do you want players to have to play 3 or 4 times before they really catch on to the strategies of the game? Defining which you're going for will help you know whether you should be worried about the "bad player" effect, since in a "learning curve" game, players will understand that the new guy will screw things up.

And incidentally, I like gaming much more with groups that will treat someone's learning game as an opportunity to teach that individual about the game, rather than to whine about how the new guy is making new guy plays and screwing up my game. I think this is more a player personality problem than a game design problem.

These are great points. I remember when I played my second game of Ra, another player was criticizing my "strategy." My strategy? I was barely staying afloat! :evil:

Another hardcore fellow taught my wife and I Tigris and Euphrates, and wound up sending my wife to the bathroom in tears because he was so blunt and critical of her game.

These are problems that you'll never be able to fix in a page of game rules. There will always be people who take these games waaaaay too seriously. In games like Ra (auction games always have a bit of a learning curve, because it takes a few tries to figure out everything's value), T&E (pretty intense learning curve, which I still haven't rounded yet), and PR (see my previous post), you're just going to have these problems.

Thankfully, I've found enough people who are great with teaching me new games that I don't really have to deal with this nonsense. And the more I teach games myself, the more I enjoy it.

Hopefully as our hobby grows, we'll have more patient players willing to endure some wonky endings. After all, even those gnarly grognards had to start somewhere.

Anonymous
Poor play -> poor design?

I know the phenomenon you are describing...

As an excellent tactician, I HATE losing to politicians. :D :D :D

Because that's always what it boils down to, when players start trying to control the play of weaker players.

Not really sure if I have any inspiration for fixing that, though.

Scurra
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Poor play -> poor design?

waywardclam wrote:
I know the phenomenon you are describing...

In our PR games, we call it "the voice". You know, when you are trying to persuade someone to take the captain, or the craftsman or whatever.
But we make sure that we only use it now in games with experienced players - because it just isn't funny in a game with someone who is still learning. OTOH, it is hilarious in those veteran games...

Citadels is another game in which a mixed group tends to lead to disaster. Although that's a psychology game more than anything else, which also distorts things. Imagine if you had to choose the roles in PR in a similar fashion to that used in Citadels!

It's usually pretty evident to me fairly early on in a design whether it's a game that is going to have a learning curve. But by knowing that, it makes it easier to look at some of the mechanics and decide if they need to be "dumbed-down" to swing the balance back. A light game can still have a learning curve, but it needs to be scaled back or disguised in some way. A great example of this is Carcassonne, in which the learning curve only becomes apparent after a couple of games (when you start to realise that things like tile probabilities can be significant) and yet you can ignore all of that quite happily and still have a fun game.

Anonymous
Poor play -> poor design?

We had a multiplayer tournament game of Magic that had a particularly funny version of this. For any not familiar with the Pentagonal variant, the basic idea of the game is that five players sit in a star shape, and each attempts to kill the two players opposite him. So you have two enemies and two allies (who are enemies of each other). The politics get VERY strange however, as soon as one player dies...

In the tournament, I observed a player negotiating with his (newbie) opponent, suggesting to him what he should to do avoid throwing the game to another player. This went on and on for a while, with other players debating the merits of his suggestions, until finally the new player said (100% seriously) "Okay. What are your instructions?"

The entire table and all the spectators burst out in laughter at the ridiculousness of the situation...

zaiga
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Poor play -> poor design?

I have given this some more thought. In the "Perfect Game", if a certain player makes a mistake, it would equally benefit all other players. This way the player who makes the least mistakes will win the game, which sounds approriate.

However, the "Perfect Game" does not exist. Since in every good game players' positions will grow assymetric after even a couple of turns and because a lot of games have a fixed turn order, it is often very hard to design a game in such a way that the spoils of a player's mistake are divided equally among the other players.

Also, the more player interaction there is in a game, the more game balance is decided by the players themselves, instead of being kept in check by game mechanisms. This is both good and bad. Through player interaction the players can collectively try to keep the leader in check, which is good, but if there is too much direct interaction it could become leaderbashing, which is bad.

Bottomline: I do think you should try to make a game balanced in such a way that everyone is equally rewarded for another player's mistakes. It's not the end of the world if you don't succeed for 100% in this mission, but I do think that this should be a point of consideration for a gamedesigner.

- Rene Wiersma

FastLearner
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Poor play -> poor design?

Well stated. And that's precisely my take on the matter (and what I meant above but stated poorly).

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