Design Gone Too Far

Recently (a few weeks back) I played Eclipse and Terre Mystica. Both respected games. In fact, both are top 10 games on BGG. Both are also pretty new.

I have a problem with these games, but I should be clear that these thoughts stem from a limited amount of gameplay. There is a chance things get better with time, but right now, these two seem to be missing the point somewhat.

Lets start with Terra Mystica. We played it twice. First I played the hobbits and then the giants. In both case, even though I didn’t have any game experience, once I sort of understood the rules, I knew exactly what I should do. The game isn’t long in the sense of turns, but I shouldn’t be able to do this. There just should be more variance or more choices. Right now, the game doesn’t offer much of a challenge, if most of my turns are just playing out a plan I formed before the game even really started and not having to evolve the plan at any point.

Eclipse, on the other hand, felt like it was all about seizing the opportunities. I couldn’t plan anything. Each round was just testing the waters. It felt a bit like push-your-luck game but with way too many pieces. I won the game, but I didn’t feel like I earned the win in any way. It just happened, because I had better luck with exploration and my neighbor couldn’t get the technology he needed to make a surprise attack. That’s it. Just blind luck with only very shallow decision making.

This was the simpler version where everyone plays humans. There’s a more complex version with alien races. The problem with that is that since the alien races have specialties, they are even more dependent on luck. Whereas humans can get pretty good benefits from all planets, these aliens need a very specific set of circumstances to thrive. Since they can’t really build those circumstances without the key components, they are much more subject to the underside of variance.

Perhaps this isn’t even new. Maybe the older games managed to hide it better, but do I do like to feel I have some sort of control, like I have to think on my feet. Many games give me this feeling. At least if my decisionmaking isn’t that important, let the game end quickly. If I have poor draw in MtG, at least I don’t have to wait for two hours to see the game to its end.

Partly this is due to the lack of interaction. Terra Mystica often favors trying to stay out of other players business, because others will benefit from you building next to them. In Eclipse, you can fight other players, but that’s unproductive, slow and expensive, and therefore a poor tactic which should only be resorted to when no other options exist.

Apparently the designers have taken certains lessons from earlier games to heart, but have just gone too far. You need both some control and some variance to be a good game.

(Note: Before actually playing Eclipse, I was proud Finns could produce such a well-received game. I kept thinking whether I should actually write this, but then again, it would be disingenuous to talk only about the Danish(?) game which only highlights part of the problem.)

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