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Letters - October, 2003

Anthony Kam: Regarding Games for Two—since you seem to play 2-player games often, can you comment on which games have good variants for 2 players? My wife and I are always looking for good 2-player games. While all your 2-player game suggestions are nice, I already know about them.

In fact I am more interested in the game design question of how to apply a general "transformation" to create a 2-player game out of a multiplayer game (e.g. a normally 3-4 player game). There are two usual transformation techniques I am aware of - adding dummy players (who might or might not have automatic moves), and, having each player play multiple positions. I have read of 2-player variants based on these techniques for Acquire, San Marco, El Grande, Vinci, Web of Power, Puerto Rico, etc., and some of the variants are officially published as such. However, there is not much info on the web about how these variants play, i.e., whether they work well or not, because there are very few posted session reports on the variants. (The only consistent voice I remember is Mike Fitzgerald repeatedly praising the official Alea 2-player Puerto Rico variant.) Do either of you have experience in this area? Are there specific games which are more suitable to the add-dummy-player technique and others more suitable to the play-several-positions technique?

GGA - I personally do not have any experience playing multi-player games with only two. In some ways I'm fortunate in that I have many people with whom I can play games. So much so that it's a rare occasion when I get to play 2 player games at all. Since there are already so many wonderful games designed exclusively for this number I prefer to play them when the opportunity arises. 

Patrick Riley: The article [The Ultimate Tiebreaker] assumes ties are a problem to be solved. What is wrong with ties? Some games, most notably Cosmic Encounter, are designed to support and even encourage ties. I have seen games of Cosmic Encounter with N players end in ties of N-1 or even N players! If the enjoyment of games comes from playing and not winning, why do ties matter? I believe that all players should attempt to win—that is the challenge of the game. If ties occur too often or can be easily forced, then the challenge is lost and the game becomes stale. As the author admitted, ties in the games mentioned are so rare that this is not an issue. Having a game end in a tie does not make it a less enjoyable game—it simply means that two or more players met the challenge equally. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Eddy Richards: In his interesting article, Mark wrote:

"Some players in my current game group haven't had as much experience playing family strategy games as the previous group. When I introduced the idea of Game of the Month to them, I figured they'd reject the idea, preferring to play as many different games as possible. To my pleasant surprise, the reaction was just the opposite. They really appreciated the chance to "climb the learning curve" for these games instead of always being faced with something completely new."

This doesn't surprise me at all; in my experience people who are new to gaming or don't play that much like to play the same game several times in a row, whereas people who play a lot tend to prefer novelty. I can quite understand both viewpoints and can relate to them both. I usually opt for variety, but if for example I have enjoyed a game but done badly I often would like to play again to see if I can do better . It is also much harder for the "less frequent players" to learn or remember rules and understand how to play well (and most people prefer to play well). Having introduced a friend to gaming a number of years ago it is very noticeable how much quicker and better he is at picking up new games (he can never remember what any of the ones he has played are called, mind!).

I like Mark's idea, though it doesn't really apply to me as I don't play often enough in the same group to make it work. Though my wife and I do sometimes have a run at a game where we play the same thing consistently. Most recently this was 2 player Puerto Rico where we played every night for about 10 days, partly because we were having fun but partly to really explore the game's depth.

Jared Scarborough: I know I'm off by over a month, but have only just gotten back to David Shapiro's article, To Boldly Go, to read for a second time. I bookmarked the article and put off commenting until I had finished up Larry Levy's and my project, Pursuit of Happiness.

The second item involves the "missing" games; games that others feel should have been included.... Are there other games that should have been included? That is open for discussion.

A game genre that is arguably teetering on the edge of your criteria is Civilization and its off-shoots, including the many computer game versions—though I believe the idea for the latter may have predated the former.

I suppose the disqualifying factor would be sales, though I would be surprised if the numbers for Civilization's various incarnations weren't "significant".

But whether or not it crossed the 100,000 sales threshold, I would argue the genre deserves consideration because:

  1. Big Picture History. Can you think of a game prior to Civilization that dealt with history on such a grand scale? There's Diplomacy, granted, but I can't think of one with the grand sweep that Civilization has.
  2. May The Force.... Can you think of a game prior to Civilization that managed to so effectively commingle player self-interest and historical good? This is a concern usually reserved for the non-gamer, the reluctant player who doesn't want to fight, pillage, con, bilk, grind down and otherwise self assert. But what if each player was building civilization as we know it?
  3. The Children. Aside from the computer games (that I must admit I've never played) of the same name, Civilization has produced many variants (I spent a good deal of the early '90s running play-by-mail "unlimited" Civilization and GMing it at conventions) and children Age of Renaissance, Vinci and Manifest Destiny.

If there were a 2nd tier of candidates, I would nominate Civilization.

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