Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What makes a game fun?

What is it that makes a game fun? What is it that make you push your models around til the bloody end? What is it that makes you throw in the towel at a lost game? What is it that leaves you with sour grapes?

What a cliche, but it is a matter of ABCs.
Enjoyment comes from Automony, Belonging, and Competence.

Autonomy has everything to do with creating a sandbox for people to do what they want. In a sandbox, you can create things. You can build a sand-castle, dig a network of trenches for your GI Joes (I used to love doing that!) and whatever you can imagine, you can do it!

40k has this down well enough. The codices are a little restrictive, but the allies rules helps break the molds into which each army is cast. You make your own army lists, characters, some people create their own themes, others create the baddest lists they can. You can get heavily into the modeling and painting. You can create something that is entirely yours. It's all about autonomy.

Belonging is achieved by the game being a niche-hobby. You, me, everyone who purchases a Citadel kits immediately becomes part of an exclusive community of gamers. painters, players, etc. It's all our own. Events like Adepticon, Games Day and local tournaments all help build this community to which you are a crucial part. Personally I don't want 40k to ever go mainstream. I love our community of nerds, closet nerds, dudes, smelly or not, guys who get excited about space marines and weird orifices on blue-skinned foreheads.

Competence is just as important. In order for people to enjoy an activity, they have to feel competent. If not competent, they have to feel there is progress in that area and that someday soon, they'll have the competence to enjoy the game. For me, I spend a lot more time painting and converting than I do playing and I think this is partly because I feel competent as a painter, but less so as a player.

What I've noticed in myself and some of my friends, is that as soon as they start feeling incompetent in the game, it becomes less fun. Have you ever had an opponent become sullen at losing? Have you yourself ever felt down, bad, sullen or unhappy after being soundedly beaten? You know what I am talking about I am sure. It's those games where nothing goes right. Your dice suck, you have trouble causing any damage on the opponent. It ends with your army wiped out and his army nearly at full starting the game goes on and you've clearly lost, your opponent keeps pressing the attack. Sometimes your response is to feel incompetent. You feel powerless in the game. Soon it comes to a point where you no longer enjoy playing - especially when you are on a losing streak.

Am I totally off base here?

It happened to me. *After NOVA Open 2009, I decided I would no longer attend tournaments. I lost twice out of four games at that event. My first loss was ridiculously close. It was against a pretty hard-core IG army and we just pummeled each other throughout the game, but he eventually got the upper hand and pulled out a win. This game was awesome! I lost, but I felt competent. I could feel the power of the Tau Empire as my crisis suits flamed guardsmen and my railguns wreck vehicles with single volleys.

My next loss was a complete rout. I was playing against a very good player, Nick Nanvati and he simply tabled me with his Demon army. He killed every last model in my army by Turn 4 I believe, maybe 5. I could barely scratch his guys. I don't even think I got 1 kill point. The loss really crushed me. It really induced a feeling of incompetence. This coupled with the ridiculous wait for a new codex and I was done.
 I know I've been on the other end. I've crushed people before - and I can see their enjoyment dropping towards the end when my army is fully intact and their is a sad reminders of what it once was.

I guess what I am saying is, be mindful of your opponents feeling of competence. Avoid tabling your opponents if at all possible. If you have redundancy in your list, then feed those units to your opponent and vice versus. Let him get some jabs in before you strike the killing blow.

Why I need to ask YOU to do this? Because GW has produced some pretty bad rules for a lot of armies. If we get to a point where the armies are balanced better, then you probably won't have to restrain yourselves much. 

*But I actually ended up attending two more tournaments in 2010, which only solidified my decision to back away from the tournament scene.


Lo-Pan said...

I'm my own most critical judge. If I fail on my own, I get over it pretty quickly, although it does impact my enjoyment of that particular game a bit. I don't think absolute "competence" is required to enjoy the game. We were all (and some still are...) learners. It's more important, in my opinion, for the learned to teach the uninitiated or unsure.

On the opposite side of the scale are the "overly competent". I've never had a truly unenjoyable game against a friendly opponent, but playing against a sour-faced, WAAC, argumentative, power gaming, or hyper-competitve D-bag player fills me with absolute dread.

Black Matt said...

Nice words

Pedro_Zuñiga said...

I don't feel power gamers unenjoyable, instead you can learn very much from theirs.

But argumentative or twisters of rules player are very, very assholes guys in every aspect, so stop being friends is the best solution.

As we said here in Spain: "En la mesa y en el juego se conoce al caballero". A strick translation would be a knight is known as he manners in the table and in the game.

Good hunt!

Pete W said...

Well said and well described. I think I'm moving into a more creative and less competitive gaming group, which is making me feel more free to build a slightly more inventive and fun army.

Pete :-)

Mech Dude said...

IMO blow out games are never fun even when you're giving the beating. I don't mind taking a loss as long as there's some good interplay during the game and it feels like there's decisions being made and that both people are having fun.

What was always drew me to Gw games when I started was the narritive elements. Space Hulk and Mordheim are far and away my favorite games because even if the games went poorly you were motivated by the story and working on the characters and making cool customizations for them.

That's one of the things I always felt made their games great and sadly they stepped away from that over the 5-10 years.

There's a few exceptions, I drool over the possibilities that stuff like killteam wants to offer, but it's not particuarly well developed.

6h ed allies has so much potential at recapturing some of that older style story magic which I like and was honstely surprised to see woven back into the game.

It does concern me that they seem to be pushing to end bits selling which IMO walks hand in hand with storytelling and if you take away easy acess for players to mod their favorite hereos then it just removes a lot of the soul from the game.

When they got rid of the offical bits program it was a huge blow, and if they try and stamp out ebay sales it'll be a shame as the hobby aspect is probably 90% of the fun for me nowdays.

nelsonus said...

I loved mordheim for that reason too. Knowing that I didn't play much, I was going to make mistakes and lose a lot of games. But having characters that I converted and made backstories for, made it so much more fun. Even if half your force got stomped out and the mission was impossible to win, you could still create great moments by individual accomplishments and a great sub-stories.
That scales up with 40k armies, but you lose a lot of the individuality, and the sub-stories aren't as fun when you can have a great fight on a flank, but then your unit gets ripped to shreds from across the board heavy guns.

Kill teams has the potential, but it usually comes down to people trying to find the most deadly combination rather than 200 points of a converted cool kill team.