I didn’t play too many new tabletop games this past week because my daughter Season left for Mexico to assist with sea turtle conservation. She’s settled and made new friends. Here’s a picture of one of her new friends.
Okay, that’s a gecko that sneaked into her room. Anyway, we broke out a lot of older, classic games before we said farewell. We played more than one session of Liverpool Rummy and Wa-Hoo. Season likes Boss Monster and we played that a few times too. I’ve reviewed a lot of these games already so I won’t do that here, but I’ll dig deeper into why I don’t mind playing Wa-Hoo, while I can’t stand Sorry! in the “Behind the Game” segment; the two games are almost the same, except for one important game mechanism.
Instead, let’s tackle a large game I’ve been meaning to discuss for a while. The game has so much going on that I was too intimidated to cover it in a full review.
I’m not going to go into too much detail with specific gameplay with Mage Knight—there’s too much to cover—but I’ll list the various game mechanisms with hyperlinks to definitions of those mechanisms.
Yep. That’s a lot going on for one game, and the above list only scratches the surface. If you’re new to tabletop gaming, don’t start with Mage Knight. Begin with other games that use the various game mechanisms listed above as sort of a scaffold learning approach before tackling this beast.
Mage Knight, the board game, delves deeper into the world Mage Knight, the collectible miniatures game, created. Players can team up together to bring peace to the land or they can battle each other for dominance. I prefer competitive play, but the cooperative modes are great and that’s how my gaming group likes to play—that is if I can get Mage Knight to the table. Most of the time, I play Mage Knight by myself, and fortunately, solo play is solid.
The game’s complexity and length keep Mage Knight from hitting the table as much as I would like. It takes two to four hours to play a game. Now I know I may receive some backlash from saying this, but the game isn’t as much complex (the individual parts merging to form something new, intricate, and exciting) as there are a lot of things going on and rules to keep straight. The reason why I played Mage Knight a couple of weeks ago was that I found my memory of the game’s rules had turned fuzzy.
I still like Mage Knight a lot. It deserves the praise and high marks it gets on sites like boardgamegeek (8.1 and rated in the top ten games overall as of this write-up), but I don’t see people playing this game. I’m sure folks will correct me and say that they play Mage Knight all the time, but I’ve been to numerous local gaming conventions—Omaha and its greater surrounding area has a wealth of game cons—and I never see this game on a table. There are other games of similar length and complexity at these events, but I’ve never seen Mage Knight on a schedule or playing surface. Does everyone who likes this game play the solo version like me? I’m not sure. If you’re ever in the Omaha area, I’d be happy to bring my copy of Mage Knight to one of the many game shops in the area and play a game.
I will add that I’m a Vlaada Chvatil fanboy, so I may be biased, but Mage Knight has enough going on that you’ll find some aspect or aspects that you’ll love. My favorites are choosing which cards you’ll discard to gain movement or combat bonuses and which ones you’ll use for their effect, and how you share the dice pool with the other players. But you’re also likely to find an aspect or two that you aren’t too crazy about. My main sticky point is the game’s combat system: too clunky and mathematical at times. There’s a reason Mage Knight gets a lot of praise, it’s earned it. If you’re interested in an epic fantasy board game, you should check it out.
Behind the Game
The tabletop game for this week uses a mountain of mechanisms. A gaming experience can be affected if even one mechanism is out of whack and that may be what happened when Sorry! traded dice rolling for a deck of cards.
I’m not alone in the tabletop gaming community for my disdain of Sorry!. I’ve already went on a tirade about Sorry! in the past and cited that it lost the tactile goodness of dice rolling, but it goes deeper than that. By trading dice for a deck of cards, Sorry! shifted game play from deploying the competence of dice rolling to the deterministic approach of cards. Most people prefer competence.
Let’s play a game. Well, let’s play two games. In both games, you pick even or odd numbers and win $5 if a traditional die shows the number type you chose and win nothing if the die doesn’t show the number type you picked. The difference between these two games comes with who gets to roll the die.
In the first game you get to roll the die. In the second game I rolled a die in a cup before you showed up and reveal the die’s result after you make your choice. Now, there’s no way for me to cheat you in the second game, even if I doctored the roll, because I don’t know if you’ll pick even or odd, but most people would prefer the first game. In fact, during a questionnaire given out by University of Alabama sociologist students, folks were given this choice and two thirds of them picked the first game. Mathematically there’s no difference between the two games because players named their number type. Your expectation of winning is the same, but this comes back to the concept of competence.
In 1991, Tversky and Heath proposed the framework of competence. The short of it, as it pertains to gaming, is that people prefer games where they have a higher level of competence. Now, this type of competence doesn’t use the standard definition. Competence in this sense means what you can know about a situation versus what can ever be known about a situation. And this is where we get back to Sorry! versus Parcheesi, Ludo, and Wa-Hoo.
Someone could know which order Sorry’s cards are in. I’m not saying someone’s cheating and they know the order, but the potential is there for someone to know the order of the cards. No one can ever know which number will be rolled on a die until after the die rests, which yields a higher level of competence.
The deck of cards in the game of Sorry! functions like a die that has already been rolled and the result is hidden from the player, while Parcheesi, Ludo, and Wa-Hoo empower players with rolling their own dice. If you aren’t getting the roll you want, give the die some backspin or different English. Will it work? Probably not, but gamers like to have their fate in their own hands—or they like to think that their fate is in their own hands.
I’ll have to get to the game table more often this next week, but until next we meet, thanks for reading.