On Sunday, I was playing a game of Terraforming Mars (which I won!) and the scores were a bit spread out.
I won with 73 points, and the last place player had 53 points. That player had been lagging behind most of the game, and I was wondering if that was any fun for them.
Especially in a 3.5 hours game like this was.
The player in question was black, and you can see above that they had 26 points while I had 55, prior to all of the final scoring (the pic was taken after Milestones and Awards, I believe).
The response to my question was that yes it was, that you have to play to get better and the process of playing is fun in and of itself.
But it made me think about this because I’ve seen it in other games, too (namely a review of Porta Nigra) where somebody mentions that you can be out of a game early.
Is a catch-up mechanism required in a game for it to be fun?
Some games do have some kind of built-in mechanism for keeping things relatively close.
And some just leave you out in the cold.
With Terraforming Mars, it is possible to catch up, earlier in the game. The third place player (tied for 2nd, though lost the tie-breaker) finished 8 points behind me, but they were hanging back with the last-place player for the first few generations before really kicking it into gear.
However, since your megacredit income each turn is your income plus your Terraforming Rating, the person who is ahead has a decided advantage (unless they have no other income, while you are low in TR but have managed to really improve your actual income).
For me, a catch-up mechanism can be a good idea, but it’s not really mandatory. It also depends on how much I enjoy the game, which of course is relative.
For Terraforming Mars, for example, I enjoy the game well enough that even when I know I can’t win, there’s a joy in just playing it. I actually agree with that player. It’s interesting to try out card combinations and just see if I can get the best score possible.
Something like Terra Mystica, though, I may not feel quite the same way about.
I remember my second game of Merchant of Venus. That’s basically a pick-up and deliver game where you’re trying to make money by buying and selling goods as you roam the spaceways.
I made a couple of mistakes, and given the way the civilizations came out on the board, I was basically shuttling back and forth between the top right corner of the board and the top left, making a pittance each time. Not enough to actually go out further and try to get more expensive goods.
I was like that for the last 90-120 minutes of the game.
While I enjoy Merchant of Venus, that was not a fun time. It didn’t help that by the time I got into that situation, it was 1:00 am.
Thankfully, it didn’t harm my enjoyment of the game. It’s still a convention mainstay and I’d love to play with Eric Summerer one day.
But it kind of highlights what I’m talking about.
I remember Edward from Heavy Cardboard saying many times (I think it most recently was just last week in the Transatlantic review episode) saying a common reaction to people getting into this situation: Plan better (which can be amended to “play better”, which he may also have said at some time).
As gamers, isn’t that what we’re all about? Learning a game and trying to improve ourselves? If we get stuck in that kind of situation, we can analyze why that happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
In the meantime, we can try to do the best we can with what we have. Try to get the best score possible.
Do we really need some mechanic to make sure things stay kind of close?
Sometimes that’s a good thing too, depending on how light the game is.
But it’s certainly not a necessity.
What do you think about catch-up mechanisms?
Let me know in the comments.