What Makes a Game Great?

26 03 2014

Gold DiceWe spend a lot of time here on TOG critiquing games. Every day brings a new batch of games to this great hobby, and we get to analyze what’s good and what’s not. We’ve spent the last nearly two years telling you what we like about games–well, at least Jeremiah has, anyway… Now we want to hear from you.

There are so many different games out there. New genres. Old genres. New takes on old ones. Classic designers. Up-and-coming designers. Straightforward games. Games that involve lying. Experience games. Family games. Abstract games. And that just scratches the surface!

We understand this is subjective, and maybe intangible. Maybe you’ve never thought about what it is you like so much–what makes a game great for you.

So tell us! Is it a great theme? Clever mechanics? Lots and lots of dice? Let’s hear it in the comments below!


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12 responses

26 03 2014
Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

I’m actually working on a blog post about this… but the heart of the matter is that there’s a delicate interplay between theme, mechanic, length, and the quality of the components. (Plus a mysterious Factor X, to account for games where the whole is greater than the sum of their parts.)

That explains (I think), why I can love games from across the spectrum:
– roll’n’move (Fast Food Franchise, Entenrallye)
– completely Euro (Puerto Rico, Princes of Florence, Web of Power)
– combat with dice (Descent 2.0, Risk: Legacy, Summoner Wars, Memoir ’44, Heroscape)
– all things Catan (Settlers, Rivals for Catan, Starship Catan)
– cooperatives (Lord of the Rings, Forbidden Desert, Sentinels of the Multiverse)
– kid games (Gulo Gulo, Hallo Dachs, Monster-Falle, Nacht der Magier)

26 03 2014

I agree w/ Mark on this one – it’s a combination of things. I enjoy theme, but if there’s not a decent game under it that only goes so far. I enjoy worker placement games, but there are some that just don’t have a theme I like. I don’t tend to like many Roll/Move games, but implemented well they can be fun at times.

I tend to avoid games that have a really high luck factor with no way to change the outcome. Tri-ominoes, Milles Bornes – both have the potential to just get stuck so you keep drawing or passing until the game ends. That saps the fun out of the game completely to me. I avoid Catan because it has that potential as well where you could get stuck with no resources just due to dice rolls. (I’ve watched many play throughs of Catan and realize it’s not a game for me.) I enjoy luck – dice rolling, card draws – but there has to be an element that gives me some control.

Games that keep everyone involved are great as well. If people are eliminated and the game can continue for a while, that doesn’t make for a fun game. Being able to stay in the game helps quite a bit, though. Having what someone else does affect you in such a way that you need to pay attention can be great at times. It keeps people from checking out when it’s not their turn.

Judging by Kickstarter, if your game has Zombies or Miniatures, that seems to have a heavy influence on it being a good game. (Not for me, but the funding levels are crazy for those components. 🙂 )

It’s hard to say what makes a game great overall. That combination of theme, mechanics, components, gameplay, etc. will be different for everyone.

26 03 2014

Not to just copy the other two responses already here, but I would also have to say I enjoy a variety of game genres. I’m up for trying most games. I’ve enjoyed play fast paced game over in 5 minutes as well as games that have taken upwards of 12 hours to finish. Most games have a place on my table, strategy or chance, lots of bits or not, detailed graphics or just abstract shapes. If someone brings a game to play I’m up for giving it a go.

26 03 2014

That does bring up another point. Length does make a difference in whether I can reasonably consider a game or not. If the game starts tending towards 2+ hours, it likely won’t work in our house. There’s only so much time we have and most games we play are in the 1-1.5 hour range tops. I might very well enjoy a game with a long duration, but I’d rarely be able to actually play it. 🙂

27 03 2014

Same here. The 12 hour game I referred to is only played once in a blue moon, if that. Its been close to 2 years since I played it.

27 03 2014

I used to have more tolerance for longer games. I don’t know if it’s because I’m older, but they just don’t have the same appeal. That being said, if someone says let’s play Twilight Imperium III this weekend, I’M IN!

27 03 2014

Yeah, length plays an increasing factor–especially if I ever want my wife joining us. My boys will play whatever, but if I have to tell my wife we’ll be playing for 2+ hours, she’ll look at me like I’m insane. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

27 03 2014

Yeah, some of my favorite games are either super long (Mage Knight, Viticulture etc.) or really quick plays (The Resistance, The Duke, Hanabi, etc.). Guess which ones I get to play more often?

27 03 2014

I didn’t use to judge a book by its cover, but I’ve never had much success with “castle” themed games. So I traded away Castle Panic (Dungeon Roll is on the list of traders, too). Another bummer for me is when we spend more time in the rule book than on the game table (at minimum it needs to be EASY to reference questionable rules). I am, however, a huge fan of games with unique mechanics (Gloom) as well as cooperative games (Flash Point).

31 03 2014

Reblogged this on Dreams Reflect in Dreams and commented:
Something that I have always thought about, but never sat down to address. Will be posting my own response in a bit.

3 04 2014
What Makes a Game Terrible? | Theology of Games

[…] Last week we asked you: What makes a game great? And we had a nice little discussion about things that make for a great gaming experience. Of course, those sort of preferences are very subjective. We’ve all heard the phrase, “I don’t know art, but I know what I like.” With gaming we could say, “I don’t know game design, but I know what I like.” […]

8 04 2014
Ryan Pearson

I’m biased toward any sort of number crunching. Tabletop games got me into games, while things like Suburbia rekindled it (even if the numbers aren’t large, it quickly escalates when you try and work out the variations).

One little rule I picked up from a developer (Andy Hopwood I think) seems to apply to all games. “They need to do 3 things. They need to make you think. They need to make you laugh. And they need to make you swear.”

A chance to stretch your brain, some good times, and surprises seem to be a good formula for a lot of things actually.

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