Competitive Games – Keep Them Close And Short
My friends and I have been playing some Sid Meier’s Civilization V recently. It’s a great game, but I do have a couple of qualms with it. For starters, even on a short game I feel that it’s a bit too long – 2 to 8 hours. Secondly, I find that once you get too far behind on a certain victory type it can be very difficult to catch up again (it may mean missing out on a lot of wonders too.) Mind, I’m still fairly inexperienced at the game so there might be ways around it that I’m not yet aware of.
When it comes to competitive games I prefer a faster turn order and shorter length. This allows me to learn quicker as I can make more choices and fit in more games. It’s also nice to get several chances at besting my opponent, or in turn to give them a chance at beating me. Usually by the end of a session everybody has had a chance at winning so there’s less hard feelings. With a longer game you tend to only be able to fit in one or sometimes you even have to arrange it over several days. If you end up in a situation where you’re behind and know you can’t catch up then it can start to feel tedious and the game becomes less engaging. I’m not the type to quit out early as this isn’t fair, but I may not be enjoying it either. On the other side of that, even if you are winning you may not get the chance to enjoy your victory because people could lose interest and quit out before the game concludes. I enjoy Civilization as a casual/social game more than something I want to be competitive at.
Another example of a game that suffers from this is Monopoly. It can take hours or even days to finish, and that means having the space to be able to leave the board undisturbed. Even so, once you start to lose in Monopoly it can be very difficult to pick yourself back up again; You’re losing money too quickly to be able to purchase what you need to make more money. There are cards in the game that can potentially turn things around – such as the street repairs card – but as it is due to luck there’s still little you can do to improve your situation. Extra Credits provide a good example of such a mechanic used in Mario Kart to help keep it a closer game, The Blue Shell.
It can be frustrating to feel like the lead you have secured can be taken away from you at any time, but on the other hand the lack of challenge can turn it into a flat experience. I really like games that are designed to keep the players close together so that the results remain an uncertainty until the very end. After all, one of the reasons for why we enjoy play is because we’re not certain about the outcome. One such game that I think does this really well is Citadels. It’s a very simple card game; Quick to pick up and learn and yet has a lot of depth to it at the same time. You have to build districts that are worth points or have abilities, and the game ends when somebody reaches 8; A player gets extra points for being the first to do this, but it doesn’t mean they’ve won the game. Sometimes it’s not clear who has won until all of the points are counted up. While the game length can vary, I’ve found them to be on the shorter side.
During each turn of Citadels everybody picks a character card that offers them a special ability they can use that turn. One such card is the warlord, which allows you to pay gold to destroy another person’s district. It doesn’t feel unfair because there are ways to protect against the warlord and so you still have to be smart about when you play the card. Another couple of examples are the assassin and thief, for which you have to call a character’s name and whoever picked them either misses a turn or has to hand over all of their gold. Again, you have to think about how to play such cards because you need to work out what character the other person is likely to pick. Playing the character cards well can help you to turn the game back in your favour.
I find that whether you’re winning or losing, competitive games are usually more fun for everyone when it’s a close call. A lot of games include mechanics to help sway the results, but it’s challenging to balance them in a way that doesn’t feel unfair or unskilled. I also don’t enjoy being stuck in a long game after I’ve realized I have no chance at competing with the lead. It’s possible to limit a games length in many different ways, such as having a timer or ending the game when a player has reached a certain number of resources (it can be a strategy to rush the other players.) Although I also admit, another reason for why the length of a game such as Civilization V bothers me, is because I can get hooked and don’t like to put it down – I can be pretty impatient to pick things back up again when I’m enjoying them.