Friday, 16 March 2007

Yes Timmy, Mechanics ARE important!

When waging a full and bloody warfare, one of the most common weapons used in propaganda are bullshit generalizations, be it that Germans are a bunch of sausage eating savages or that the Chinese are diabolical, but evil. The AT vs Euro war lead by the now deceased General M Barnes was no different, with the bullshit flying thick and fast from both directions. I thought in this article I would look at one of these myths and debunk it.

Originally I was going to tackle the claim that “Euro games are boring and people who play them are poopy heads.” Upon further research however I found that this was in fact the case and I’d either have to pick a new topic or have one very short article.

The next one I chose was the claim that “in Ameritrash games, the theme is what is important, not the mechanics” which is a load of old bollocks really.

As an example, let’s take a game which I should love in theory, MIDEVIL, which is a spin off of ZOMBIES! (a game I have never played.)

Now take a look at that cover. There is a horde of skeletons straight from Army of Darkness is about to tear two our heroes limb from limb. One, a buxom young lady, has a pistol in one hand, a sword in the other, and a face that says “I don’t care that you just brought me dinner, try and touch me again and I’ll rip your knob off you creep!” Meanwhile her companion has a skeleton lifted over his head, one hand clearly having the poor old bag of bones by the balls, and is ready to smite him straight into his waiting buddies. Surely such a cover promises gaming fun never seen on planet earth before.

Now let’s open the box. Holy shit there is enough plastic in here to give all our girlfriends boob jobs bigger than Roseanne Barr! And there is dice in here too! We may as well go and rate this thing a 10 right now!

But let’s play the game first.

Hear that sound? That sound is my heart dropping through my ass in disappointment. And it’s all because of the mechanics.

First let’s take a look at the combat, because I love reading combat mechanics. In a game like this I imagine that the way the designer would tackle it is to have your hero be stronger than a skeleton and have an advantage in combat over it, but this would be balanced out by having the skeletons defeat you by sheer weight of numbers. Space hulk was like this, where the marines have guns to blow the aliens away, but the aliens have unlimited numbers to swamp the marines.

Instead, this is what the designer came up with: You roll a die, if it’s a 1-3 the skeleton hits you, if it’s a 4-6 you hit the skeleton. That’s about it. Apart from being really uninspiring, this mechanic doesn’t fit the vision of the game at all for me. Basically I have a 50% chance of beating a skeleton. Shouldn’t my guy, who was taking on 400 of the bastards on the cover, be given better odds then that? Apparently not.

But don’t fret, because after you beat that first skeleton you get to take him as a trophy, which you can later ‘spend’ to give a bonus to a failed combat roll, depending on the color of the skeleton. After a few turns it quickly becomes apparent that once you take down a few skeletons, taking down more becomes increasingly easier. And the more you take down, the stronger you get, so it’s in your interests to go after and collect them. But here is the thing – as well as moving your guy, you get to place and move skeletons on your turn as well, in any direction you like.

Starting to see where this is heading?

Instead of playing a game where I’m beating down hoards of encroaching skeletons, or running away from them, the game ends up having me have to chase skeletons that are running away from me; because that’s the only behavior my opponents will be giving them. So in the end the game becomes a really boring skeleton chasing game that makes me feel like I’m in a really boring episode of Scooby Doo, despite its apparently cool theme and plastic bits.

All because the mechanics are utter rubbish.

It doesn’t matter how good a game looks, smells or tastes, nor does it matter how many goodies you get inside the box. If the game mechanically is crap then it’s a bad game, pure and simple.

So yes, mechanics are important to AT games. In fact they are important to all game types really. Well, maybe not party games.


BradH said...

Nice article, Bonehead.

This is one of things that has always bugged me. On BGG it seems that all AT games are just "dolls houses" loaded with figures and pretty pictures, when quite blatantly, this is bollocks. We're not mentally retarded, so we don't just stare at the pretty pictures all the time. We're there to PLAY THE GAME DAMMIT!!!WE WOULDN'T LIKE THEM IF THEY WEREN'T FUN!

Anonymous said... got the gratuitously foul-mouthed Mr Skeletor!

I am out.

Thanks for playing.

Mr Skeletor said...

Hmm, I guess that means I won?

Ken Bradford said...

Right on, Mr. Skeletor. Right on. The best bits in the world cannot save a bad game.

Michael Barnes said...

Mr. Skeletor- high five.

Great article, works together nicely with Ken's about the "Bit Myth".

This Eurosnoot idea that mechanics don't matter to us is just another cheapshot way for them to trivialize and undermine any valid argument coming from the AT vanguard. OF COURSE mechanics matter, and lack of strong mechanics is what's driven many crap AT games into extinction (um...Steve Jackson springs to mind for some reason). The AT games that have really strong, fun, and thematic mechanics- and there are many- are the games that we really cherish.

But yeah, to say that AT games are all style over substance...just more bullshit to protect a generalized position. I still think the market economy system in SUPREMACY is better and simpler than anything similiar I've seen in a Eurogame.

Wargamer66 said...

Already losing anonymous readers, rock on!

That game sounds painful, and Zombies itself isn't a whole lot better. (havent played the variants though)

Anonymous said...

Hughthehand here.

Nice article Mr. Skeletor. Your Masters of the Universe was a good read, too. Keep it up.

I'm curious on what AT fans think of the game Mall of America. I do the website for JRG, and am good friends with the owner since my college days. Just letting you know ahead of time. Please don't let that deter you in what you say though. I am genuinely (sp?) interested. I personally think the game is a pile of crap, but then, I'm not an AT guy, and the theme would never appeal to me anyway. BUT I did have to play the damn thing, and I find it to be a clone of Escape From Colditz (sp), another game I think sucks ass.

If the game was redone, with AWESOME bits, what would you think then?

Anonymous said...

Dear God! I do the site, and I misspelled the fuckin' title of the game. MAUL OF AMERICA...not Mall. That might be a different game for all I know.

Mr Skeletor said...

Weird ain't it? I mean if you can't figure out how to simply avoid reading one contributers stuff on a blog site then their isn't much hope for you. Maybe he is the guy who was following me around and giving me the negative thumbs?
I'm still trying to figure out what game it was I playing with him. Eye Spy?

Mr Skeletor said...

Never played it so I don't know, sorry Hugh.
I'll be sure to read up on Tom Vasels' review of it though.
OHHHH I can't believe I went there! I'm terrible, anonymous was right.
Anyway thanks for the compliments.

BradH said...

I appreciate that Zombies!!! is far from perfect, but I will always have a soft spot for it as it got me back into boardgaming after a long hiatus. The expansions do improve it, but not enough to warrant purchasing them if you didn't like the original.

teknomerk said...

Bulleye, Mr. Skeletor. Pretty components are a game enhancer, not the GAME. If the mechanics (and a bit of theme) are not designed well, then I don't waste my time with it.

Speaking of SJG, I agree -- cheap components, lame mechanics and high prices = no sell to me. For example, I really wanted to like Ogre, but the CRT chart to calculate odds drives me nuts! I've just grown past that kind of system.

Peregrine said...

As compared to Zombies, which I agree sucks, I got to play Asmodee's Mall of Horror last weekend, and really enjoyed it. Yes, zombies are attacking, and yes it takes place in a mall, but there's some really fun stuff here, especially with the full six players. Your character tokens hide out in various rooms of the mall, and zombies slowly pile up. You can hold them off if you have more people than zombies, but since one of your characters must move each turn, the zombies will eventually outnumber you. Then all people in the room must vote on who is cast out for the zombies to eat! Quite a fun little game.

Michael Barnes said...

Hey Jeremy, glad to see you here...

I remember picking up MAUL OF AMERICA in the gameshop I used to go was this huge box that weighed about as much as three sheets of paper. I wondered if anything was even in it. I never played it, but I'm a sucker for anything remotely zombie related...I've heard nothing kind about it, but if it's like COLDITZ...well, I really like COLDITZ.

ZOMBIES isn't too's completely stupid and there are some really idiotic mechanics but it's fun and kinda sleazy in a Lucio Fulci way.

Ken Bradford said...

Mall of Horror has by far been one of my best surprises of recent memory. Excellent, excellent game.

BradH said...

I agree that SJGames is far from perfect, but "Frag" is fun in its own Beer 'N' Pretzels way.

Dennis Ugolini said...

Rather than take the extreme case of a *horrible* game, let's consider the following:

1. Junta -- very long, somewhat at the mercy of whether you draw decent vote/assassin cards, and if a few people decide that you are going to be the Admiral for life, then sorry buddy, you are the Admiral for life.

2. Nuclear War -- you can be eliminated before ever taking an action, the initial population draw is as important to deciding the winner as everything that comes after, and often there is no winner at all.

3. History of the World -- 80% of the game is spent waiting for other people to move & roll dice, and Britain wins more than half the time even with the new rules.

That being said, I *love* these games -- I'd put Junta in my top 10, and I'm introducing a new group to Nuclear War tonight. But why do I love them? Because the first two are freakin' hysterical, and among my favorite gaming memories, while for HotW, I love the feeling of the sweep of history it gives me. And these feelings are in spite of the mechanics -- Nuclear War would still be fun if people had a little more population, enough to survive turn 1, and HotW would still be exciting if Britain were toned down to 12-14 armies (still the most in Epoch VII).

So is it not reasonable to say that I love these games because the theme, and the mood they create, is more important than mechanics?

- Uethym

BradH said...

Britain wins more than half the time even with the new rules.


Michael Barnes said...

Otheym makes a good point...sometimes crappy games with piss-poor mechanics are fun when played with the right folks and the right spirit. It goes back to what I say when I mean that gaming is a unique medium because it's a collective group of end users that really complete the product.

BTW, NUCLEAR WAR has great mechanics! OK, it sucks to be out the first round but thems' the breaks in global thermonuclear warfare.

Michael Barnes said...

Hey guys, just to clarify...Jeremy brought up MAUL OF AMERICA, which is an older JRG title...some of y'all are talking about MALL OF HORROR, which is the more recent Asmodee one.

Check out the difference on the Leading Boardgame Site.

teknomerk said...

2. Nuclear War -- you can be eliminated before ever taking an action, the initial population draw is as important to deciding the winner as everything that comes after, and often there is no winner at all.

We use a house rule for Nuclear War to even out the randomness of the population draw. Two of each players pop cards is a 25M value, then the rest are random draw. It really stank when 3 of 3 games a player drew all 1M & 2M cards.

alanppolak said...

Couldn't agree more with the original post. Made me think of Puerto Rico, which is apparently fantastic, but in no way makes me want to play. So..... I'm a plantation owner? To me the theme and the mechanics go hand in hand. Although I will overlook bad mechanics if it's such a cool game otherwise. you can always use house rules to fix bad rules. I always liken it to movies; if the sets and costumes are great and the editing top notch, but you just don't give a damn about the story, then see/play something else.Totall agree that gaming is a group experience. It's the people you play with that make a game. Play it i the right spirit and it is fantastic. Thats why I love Zombies!!. Its a classic beer and pretzels game.

Anonymous said...

well i guess im a little peaved that midevil didnt work... oh well.

Anonymous said...


I had a maul once that was so cool, I named it Juan. I was going to get another, but I realized, if you've seen Juan, you've seen a maul.