Winter of 2016 was a somewhat unusual season of gaming for me. I played some new games and some older games that were new to me. Though I didn’t play any games that I ranked as truly great, there seemed to be more than the usual share of games that were Very Good — so many, in fact that I broke the category in two. Overall, it was certainly a strong season for gaming!
The Very Good
AquaSphere (2014). What a peculiar name, and it’s a peculiar theme too, with its board of a big underwater base. I think those two elements and the garish art put me off AquaSphere for a while, despite my love for Stefan Feld’s games. But, it turns out the theme is appropriate, because you’re programming robots. I actually ended up being pleasantly remindedof Nautilus (2003) — a game that I wanted to be much better than it actually was because of its fun underwater theme.
This is my quarterly listing of games that I played for the first time ever. As usual, I’m offering my own thoughts on these game, not a more general assessment of whether they’re good or not. If you like euros more than American games; if you prefer things on the casual-to-medium side of the spectrum; and if you don’t mind controlling some randomness, you might agree.
As you can see, I’ve labeled this the Season of Feld. It’s not that there were a lot of Stefan Feld games out this quarter; it’s that Christmas was just past, and I got Feld for Christmas. So, I got an opportunity to try out some older Feld games that I’d missed … and La Isla finally showed up in local stores too. Mind you, my Great games for the year were Feldless (but I liked the Feld I got).
Roll for the Galaxy (2014). While we first played this dice-game variant of Race for the Galaxy (2007), one of my friends asked, “Which is better, card play or dice play?” My answer was that dice games tend to be more viscerally exciting (when done well), while card games tend to allow for more depth. That suggests that a dice game could raise itself up to the next level if it combined the raw excitement of dice rolling with the depth of a game with more components … and Roll for the Galaxy is that game.
Game design can be influenced by many different fields. Among them, psychology is one of the most interesting, because it suggests ways that players might act that don’t necessarily go hand in hand with the actual mechanics presented in a game. Thus this week I’m kicking off the start of what I hope will become a series on psychology, with a look at loss aversion and gaming.
I found one of the best discussions of loss aversion at Usabilia, which describes loss aversion thus:
Loss aversion is a human characteristic that describes how people are intrinsically afraid of losses. When compared against each other people dislike losing more than they like winning. Thus losses loom larger than gains even though the value in monetary terms may be identical.
There isn’t much question on the existence of loss aversion. Instead, the modern scientific articles on the topic tend to focus more on why it occurs and what its boundaries on. I think some of those issues could be intriguing for a follow-up article, but for the moment I want to concentrate on the core of loss aversion as it applies to game design.
Last week, I got to play Die Burgen von Burgund (The Castles of Burgundy), alea Big Box #14. It’s yet another game by Stefan Feld and yet another Feld game that uses dice as part of its mechanical engine.
I wrote about game designer Stefan Feld just last year (part 1, part 2). At the time I found him to be one of the brightest rising stars in the eurogame field. A year later, I still hold by that assessment. In my personal gaming pantheon, he’s replaced Wolfgang Kramer as the designer who produces somewhat abstract medium-weight gamers’ games just for me. (Thanks Stefan!)
My discussions of dice games (part 1, part 2, part 3) date back a bit further to 2008, which was the last time we had a glut of dice games on the market. As I wrote at the time, there are quite a few interesting game mechanics that tie those dice games together … and also some ways that they differentiate themselves. Continue reading →
In my last column, The Games of Stefan Feld, Part One, I talked about the originality underlying Stefan Feld’s designs, highlighting four of his publications from 2005-2007. This time around I’m going to look at his more recent fare, from 2008-2010, and again discuss what I think makes them really stand out as innovative and original designs.
Though I’m discussing Stefan’s four most prominent designs from the period, if you’d like to talk about a game that I left out from 2008-2010, I invite you to make use of the comments, below. Continue reading →
Over the last several years, designer Stefan Feld has made a rather impressive emergence onto the Eurogame scene. However, unlike many designers he doesn’t seem to have any specific patterns of design that make his games readily recognizable. Instead, I’d say the common feature that all of Feld’s games share is their uncommonness. Each one tends to have unique elements that really stand out from the crowd.
Thus, in appreciation of his games, I’ve decided to write about his several most popular games and what makes them unique. This week I’m going to cover his four games that were published from 2005 to 2007. Continue reading →