What Makes a Game Terrible?

3 04 2014

waterworld-board-gameHey gang, we know it’s been a little quieter than usual around here this week, but rest assured: we’re working hard on some very cool things that we’ll share with you soon! In the meantime we thought we would get a little discussion going and see what your thoughts are on the flip side of last week’s discussion…

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.”

But we also know what we don’t like.

So what makes a game terrible? What’s a deal-breaker for you? Is it poorly designed components? Terrible artwork? Mechanics? Genre? Theme? Do most of the games you hate have one thing in common? What’s the fastest way to get a game OFF of your table?

Sound off in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

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14 responses

3 04 2014

I despise the inability to make brilliant decisions that affect gameplay (Candy Land :), having my brilliant decisions made a moot point (imbalanced dice mechanic), and overly-scented candles (they give me a headache). I can be endeared to any art, no matter how crappy, if the game is good enough. Finally, as a product of the Keurig generation, I’m growing increasingly antagonistic toward games lasting longer than 3 hours. Other than all of that, I’m an easy-going guy. 😉

3 04 2014
Eric Anderson

I don’t like games where you just move around a board with no decision making or party games where you can’t really outsmart people.

3 04 2014
Mike Friesen

What makes a terrible game? I have a hard time calling a game terrible as a blanket statement. Some games like Candyland, Monopoly, Snakes and Ladders ect are, to most serious gamers, terrible games. Little or no control over what happens = little or no strategy required = boredom! When, however, you play these games with the right attitude and in the right group, they can actually be fun. You may think I’m insane, but consider this: My 3 year old daughter is starting to learn games, and she enjoy’s the simple roll and move, memory, or color matching games. The same theory applies with my friends and family that don’t play many games. If they want to play the farming game or Monopoly, that’s fine. For me, the bulk of gaming enjoyment comes from interacting with the people I’m playing with, and not the games themselves.

3 04 2014

It has to be a combination of things that makes a game terrible in my opinion. So, any two of the below listed typically kills it for me (just one from below isn’t a deal breaker, and is OK if the rest of the game is “good”).

1) All dumb, random luck with no decisions.
2) Length of play is over 1.5 hours to play.
3) Game has so many balance issues that rules are errated and updated ALL the time.
4) Game takes up too much space.

3 04 2014

I have 2 deal-breakers:

1) Bad art. I do judge a book by its cover. (Catan is the ONLY exception, but that’s because I played it before I owned it).
2) The novel-sized rule book. It’s no fun to read a game. I want to play a game. That’s why I ditched 40K.

3 04 2014

No control or excessive luck to the point where any decisions I make don’t matter or my decisions are severely limited – Milles Bornes, Candy Land come to mind. Nothing worse than drawing card after card and just sitting there.

Games like Tri-ominoes where poor draws can put you so far into the negative that you can’t catch up. (I enjoy most of the rest of the game, but whoever made the rule about “keep drawing until you can play with penalty for each draw” should not be allowed near rules again.)

Excessive play time for the game. I’m not a big fan of long games in the first place, but a game that is good for ~ 20 minutes, but drags on for more than an hour does not make for a fun game.

Zombies. If a game has zombies as its main feature, I’ll pass. I get that a lot of people like them as a theme, but I just don’t enjoy it. Even if the game itself is great after removing the theme, I just don’t want to play a Zombie game. Judging by Kickstarter and the various hot games, I’m in a very small minority. 🙂

“Mature” games. Seriously – why is it that people think “mature” == cursing and topics that just don’t fit in normal conversation? To me, that’s the opposite of mature and just brings out the worst in people and brings people down, not brings out the best. CAH and its related ilk fit in this category and I’ll decline politely to play them and try not to be in the same room as a game like that if given a choice. If you wouldn’t play it with kids in the room, its probably worth re-thinking its appropriateness.

I agree with the sentiments above for the most part. While I don’t enjoy something like Candy Land for myself, it’s great for kids to learn to take turns and win/lose graciously. Tri-ominoes isn’t bad for counting/math, though I’ll house-rule out that horrible “keep drawing” rule. I’m looking forward to getting a copy of Monza to play with my niece this Christmas, though I suspect it will be lost in the shuffle of new toys.

8 04 2014
Ryan Pearson

My Uncle’s pet peeve is cardboard tokens. Not so much for wound markers or status effects, but a tiny little disk you have to slide around a board to represent the player. One wayward breeze and it goes everywhere. Try to move it with your own fingers and it sticks to the board like concrete.

For myself, its a badly written rule book. Some games can take ages to set up (and still be great afterwards) but if after half an hour of reading a rule book your none the wiser, it doesn’t bode well. Not to mention it starts the game on a sour note.

8 04 2014

That’s a good one, Ryan. You might notice a good rulebook, but you DEFINITELY notice a poor one. If I go to the expense and trouble to try your game, make it clear, and easy for me to learn.

8 04 2014
Ryan Pearson

We just emailed Jeremiah some questions about reviewing. We certainly would be interested!

I have a lot more sympathy for developers after trying to write a rule book.

15 04 2014

If a game is not well balanced, it doesn’t get to see much table time love at my house. Games that are too dependent on luck or have one or two overpowered cards or abilities can frustrate the player who isn’t getting the good dice rolls or doesn’t draw the cards he/she needs to have a fighting chance. On the flip side, some games throw in a “catch-up” mechanic. This makes it so the losing player still has a chance to win the game up until the end. A player who has played the game well and is winning until one overpowered play by the trailing player costs him the game. Both payers are robbed of the sense of accomplishment of a game well played.

The best games are the ones that are the ones that allow the players to employ skills of reason, wit and deduction. Games that lead you to believe that you will be rewarded when you successfully execute a plan with the best reason, wit and deduction then neutralize that success are the WORST GAMES!

15 04 2014

You’re gonna want to avoid Yedo in that case, Alden…

Games that lead you to believe that you will be rewarded when you successfully execute a plan with the best reason, wit and deduction then neutralize that success are the WORST GAMES!

15 04 2014

Saw or heard a recent discussion about that “catch up” mechanic. There’s nothing wrong with something like that if well-executed to at least keep someone in the game, but horrible when done wrong. They mentioned Mario Kart and the “Bullet” powerup vs. the “blue shell”. The bullet gives the person in/near last place a way to jump forward, often without being able to win anyway. The Blue Shell on the other hand, takes out the person in first. They mentioned the bullet being semi-reasonable because it allows the trailing player to make progress, but the blue shell is just horrible because it punishes the person playing well with no way to avoid it.

Anyway, some of the catch-up mechanisms can work because it’s also painful being that person who had bad draws/rolls/position with no possible way out. Base Settlers with poor position, dice rolls, and the thief could be painful like that. Yes, usually mitigated with good position, but if people shut you out then all of your plans mean nothing and you’re stuck just being present for trades and such with no hope of winning.

15 04 2014
AJ Skifstad

Elimination games usually suck unless they are quick plays. A good game intensifies at it comes to a close. All or most players are in the running for victory during the last minutes of the games. Game nights get ruined when three people are waiting for the other two to finish duking it out in “Risk”. Games suck when you see your future annihilation half way through the game. Make the game intensify and get more exciting not loose steam and you’ve got a good one.

16 04 2014

I think that’s one of the reasons One Night Ultimate Werewolf is resonating with people. I haven’t met a single person who likes player elimination–it’s just something you live with for certain games. But now that some are coming out with similar gameplay, but that don’t eliminate anyone, they’re getting traction.

And seriously, we played ON:UW four times in 30 minutes last night, and it’s just so dang fun…

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