Imbalanced Boardgames – What’s Wrong With These People?

Yesterday, in the midst of watching my blog views go to new heights because of a small bit of Terraforming Mars news, I saw this tweet from Robin David on Twitter:

This tweet highlighted comments from designer Richard Garfield in an interview with the DiceBreaker web site.

In the interview, Garfield is talking about his many game designs, his thoughts on designing, and especially the many deck-building games that he has been involved with, all the way back to Magic: the Gathering.

However, what my post (and Robin’s tweet) is about is his view on designing “different” games.

This view saddens me, even as I know it’s true and I sometimes have to stop myself from succumbing to that feeling myself.

Take Root, for example. Up to six different factions (and more with the new expansion that just came out), all with asymmetric powers and different requirements for playing well.

Games like this with true asymmetry that can take multiple plays to learn don’t come out as often because too much of our boardgaming hobby is “one and done”. Even when we don’t want it to be.

I’m guilty of that sometimes too. When I play a “new to me” game, I sometimes don’t get to play it again for quite a while. I like to think (though I’m sure some of you can point out that I’m wrong) that I don’t dismiss a game because it was too hard to understand my role or something like that.

I loved Root, though was that because I instinctively “got” the Eyrie Dynasties faction when I played and I actually did well with them? What would have happened if I hadn’t done well?

I like to think that I would have still seen the quality in the design and been eager to play it again. However, even though I ranked it in my Top 15 (I think), I have yet to play it again though that’s mostly lack of opportunity.

I’m pretty sure that I’m not one of those people that Garfield mentions when he says:

“Skim the comments and reviews on [BoardGameGeek] and they are littered with people talking about imbalances after far too little time. It often seems players pick a strategy the first time they play and if something unforeseen happens the game has a problem that should have been designed around.”

I don’t think I would ever give up on a game because my beginning strategy didn’t work like I expected it to.

Sometimes I can tell that the mechanisms are something that will never appeal to me (I’m looking at you, Factory Fun), but not because I did poorly.

I might also say that the game didn’t intrigue me enough to want to explore it further. I think that’s a different thing than what Garfield is describing, though.

I don’t need a game to cater to one main way of winning and if it deviates or offers different strategies, I will dismiss it.

I won’t. I enjoy exploring a game.

It took me 8-10 tries to finally win a Terraforming Mars game, because I was really terrible at doing combinations that would benefit me.

However, I can see what Garfield is talking about. I’ve seen it in action, where a player doesn’t want to play something again because it did something they didn’t expect. Rather than try to see if they can wrap their head around it and embrace it, they decide it’s just not for them.

It’s sad that there isn’t more asymmetry out in the gaming world. It seems like Cole Wehrle is one of the few to really try to create that kind of game where multiple plays are almost required in order to get all of the nuances.

My one caveat to all of this, though, is that the game has to be fun to explore.

I don’t need a game to fit my expectations so much that if it doesn’t, I get bored and dismiss the game.

I do need a game that makes the exploration fun.

“oooooooh, what can I do with this faction? I like that one.” I want to get that feeling. I want to try it out, fail, and say “That didn’t work, but I want to see if I can make it work.”

If a game isn’t fun even when you’re losing, then the designer has lost the battle and people will dismiss it when they don’t feel like it’s worth taking that extra time to explore.

Perfect example of this is Maracaibo by Compass Games, designed by Alexander Pfister.


First, I think Pfister gets a lot of slack because he’s such a great designer. Many people do give his games multiple tries before saying “nope, this isn’t for me.”

But a guy in our game group ended up playing it 8-12 times, each time saying “I’m not sure I like it, but I want to play it again to see if it improves for me.”

Ultimately, he said he didn’t like it.

But he gave it 8-12 tries! That’s what we need more of in the hobby. Not dismissing games out of hand because the first experience wasn’t a fun one.

I realize I did this with Dominion a couple of weeks ago (though that was two plays), but if I do get the opportunity to play it again, especially with a good expansion or two, I will do that.

What do you think of this? What will make a game qualify as a “One and Done” for you and what games might you give more chances to?

Do you think we have too much of this negative attitude in the gaming world? Do you think we need more asymmetry, or games that require you to play it a few times before you really can decide how much you like it?

Have you played a game that you hated the first couple of times but you now love?

Let me know in the comments.


9 Comments on “Imbalanced Boardgames – What’s Wrong With These People?

  1. In the wargame realm it’s probably games published by Hollandspiele that come closest. Designer/publisher Tom Russell often describes his designs as “fragile.” I’ve lost entire games of Supply Lines of the American Revolution because of a mistake in Turn 1. Difference is Tom warns players it can happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I know that Food Chain Magnate is another game where you can definitely lose on Turn 1. As long as the experience is fun and educational, that’s great! It’s when it’s not fun and your options are totally limited that it becomes a problem.

      That’s one reason I’ve never really had the urge to try Food Chain Magnate. But I will if the opportunity presents itself.

      However, Supply Lines sounds fun!


  2. Pingback: Boardgame Geek Top 100 – Played or Play? 70-61 – Dude! Take Your Turn!

  3. Pingback: Boardgame Geek Top 100 – Played or Play? #40-31 – Dude! Take Your Turn!

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