“Never get involved in a land war in Asia, and never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!” – A modified version of Vizzini’s final line in The Princes Bride.
Being of Sicilian heritage, the above quote would probably be my most used during gaming. It means in short that if you go after me my revenge will be long and bloody, so don’t do it or you’ll be sorry.
A few nights ago I got to play “Fire and Axe”, Asmodee’s new transvestite game. I say transvestite because that is essentially what it, a Euro game dressed up to look like AmeriTrash. Overall it was an OK game, I’d play it again but it did seem somewhat disposable, like much of what I have played of late. I guess I am going through bit of a board game lull, but that is a topic for another day.
At the beginning of the game I sent my ship out on it’s own to raid 2 towns so I could claim a card. Now at this stage of the game everyone was doing there own thing, up until it was time for me to raid the second town (which I had already softened up by trading with) when some dirty fucker playing yellow decided to sail his ship round to my area, raid the last town and nick the card I was working so hard to complete.
I was fuming, so I gave the prick the Malocchio (evil eye) and dropped my “don’t fuck with a Sicilian” line.
“Pfft, you can’t attack other players in this game so there is nothing you can do!” was the smarmy bastards reply.
“Oh really?” I smirked as I played a sea monster card on him. Unfortunately the stupid beast didn’t inflict a single casualty on him, marking my revenge as a failure. But I still had an ace up my sleave – a card that allowed me to attack another player’s settlement.
It wasn’t until near the end of the game when I got the chance to play this card on him (revenge is a dish best served cold after all.) By this stage most of the settlements were occupied and red looked like he was in the lead. So I sailed towards some red and yellow ports and *BANG*, hit the yellow one with a mad cackle.
You can guess what happened next, can’t you?
“Why are you attacking yellow for?” protested another player, “Red is in the lead, you have to attack him otherwise you are going to hand him the game!”
“But yellow fucked me over earlier on. Now is my chance for revenge!”
“No! You’re KINGMAKING!”
In other words I wasn’t playing a game involving a bunch of Vikings hell bent on revenge, but rather a bunch of victory point counting accountants who decided to go sailing. What a crock.
Kingmaking, which is making one or more moves that will hand another player the win, is regarded as one of the greatest of evils and blackest of sins when playing a game. But is that really fair? After all, don’t many people complain when games have artificial catch-up mechanisms to keep losers in the game? What is mandatory leader bashing (which is basically what you have to do to not be accused of kingmaking) if not a catch-up mechanism?
Certainly in most cases attacking the leader makes sense. After all it keeps the player who is your greatest threat from running so far ahead that you no longer have a chance to win. But should I be forced to do so by gaming etiquette? If a player is earning his victory by cutting a bloody swath through my territories, while another is earning his victories by leaving me alone, I don’t see why I should not target the guy who is putting my poor peasants to the sword just because he is a few VP behind the leader. In essence what I am doing is rewarding the player who managed to get into a winning position without damaging my standing. This means that to win a player either needs to tread carefully so as to piss off the least amount of other players on the table, or smash the players he is targeting so hard that they cannot mount an effective revenge later on. I see nothing wrong with that.
The other side to Kingmaking which is so important is the art of diplomacy. If you want to be kingmade, odds are you have to convince at least one other player to do it. Convincing another player to let you win the game at their expense is not an easy thing to do and requires an asp’s tongue, so I fail to see why a player who is skilled at manipulating others should not be allowed to win by doing so.
Finally from a thematic standpoint Kingmaking makes sense. After all aren’t all the houses in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series merely engaging in Kingmaking? Towards the dying days of World War 2, were the French supposed to start shooting at the Americans because they now had more victory points then the Germans? Should minor political parties not lend their support to the big ones even though they cannot win the primary vote? Kingmaking a part of human nature.
If a player is meant to have no further influence in a game once he or she reaches the point where they no longer have a chance of winning themselves, then the design of the game should have that player be eliminated. As most games do not, then I argue that those players have every right to kingmake, shaping their future as deciding who will lord over them and get bragging rights. After all no king ever forged his own crown.