Tuesday, July 19, 2016

MK Q&A: What do you look for when making a game purchase decision?


This week on MK Tabletop Talk we answer another MK Q&A. This one was tough! 

What do you look for when making a game purchase decision?

I must first point out that this answer is in response to the question, as worded! So before you say something is wrong, keep in mind the question is what I look for in making a purchase decision on a new Tabletop Game, not what the definitive list of qualifications are. With so many varying interests, opinions and personal preferences, there really can not be a "definitive" list. So here is my personal input!
We are going to skip right over the basic stuff like the way a game is marketed, because that has very little to do with the game itself. The box can make the game look great but still be a dud when it hits the table. The description on the back does little more to help. Most of the time it is just flavor text written to fit the theme of the game to further entice you to buy. I personally have a few things I look for specifically knowing what my gamer life is like as well as few things that grab me right away based on my own preferences.

Play Style 

What I look for in the play style stems from the life I live as a Tabletop Gamer. First question I have is how many players? Whenever I get the chance to sit down for a game it is always either just myself and the wife, or a group of four or more friends. The most common of these would actually be five or six people. So when I look to see how many players it supports I look for a minimum of 2 with an upper cap of six-plus.
Next I look at the actual style of play. I love Risk. At one point I owned four different versions of it including Basic, 40th Anniversary Edition, Lord of the Rings Edition and a Star Wars Edition in Spanish. While I love Risk, my wife does not. I have been able to play Risk a total of two times in the last fourteen years. I now own only the 40th Anniversary Edition. Why buy a game that is heavy strategy if you are the only one who will want to play? 
I find that using more than one style within the game play invites more interest from different players. Strategy with a Luck element? It is awesome knowing that you could have a flawless strategy and be set to win the game in one or two more moves, only to draw a card that destroys your army and makes you scramble to survive the next few rounds. These mixed style games are fun! For me, knowing that I will get to play the game (hopefully often) has a huge place in deciding if I will add it to my shelf or not. 


Again I must look at the game not only for myself, but for those whom I will sit down to play with. I have played D&D since the original version was the only option. I now play Pathfinder, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, FATE & many other RPG Tabletop games. Most of these have complex rule systems that require a certain level of understanding, math and situational rules/options. To me the complexity of the game is not always a deterrent. That being said, if it even pretends to look confusing or like it needs complete focus, my wife instantly begins to lose interest.
We have found a solid middle ground for this as well! While it is never a guarantee that she will want to learn a new game, if the rules seem tough, but the game play is easy she is willing to give it a try. Best example? Munchkin from Steve Jackson Games
When I first tried to teach my wife Munchkin, we were sitting with her mother around our kitchen table. I was accused of making up the rules as we went along so that I could win. I hadn't played in years. I had read the rules out loud and was trying to now play the game as if they knew the rules (mistake number one). We never quite got through more than a turn or two before I recollected the cards and sent the game back into the game cabinet for a few more years. The next time we broke it out (with some convincing and a bribe or two) I instead did a play-through teaching. Not only did it make much more sense to the new players, but the ease of play became more apparent than the complexity of the rules. We now own almost every version of Munchkin on the market, and enjoy playing them all.


How long does it take to play? The game most likely to hit the table in my life plays in an hour or less (not including RPGs). Generally fifteen to forty-five minutes is the "sweet spot". This seems to be the preferred game length within my group of Tabletop Gamers. It is easy to pop in or out of a game if you know there will be another one coming soon. This helps my wife and I take turns playing as we tend to our two girls who are both currently under three. It makes it easier for someone to show up late and still get to play. It makes it worthwhile for the person who can only come for the first hour or two of play. It also helps to keep the group interested as the game will change and if you don't like the current choice, it won't last all night!
I own and have wanted to play Firefly: The Board Game for quite some time. The main reason I always look at average playtime now is due to this purchase. One night, all of us being Firefly fans (truly, who isn't?) the level of interest was large! I grabbed the game out of the cabinet, placed it on the table & double-checked the number of players to see if it could support the big group we had... that is when we noticed the average game time ...two hours. Toss rules complexity with everyone learning the game into the mix and we were looking at a three to four hour sitting just to see if we liked the game. It is sad to say that this game will not likely be played anytime soon and I wasted money and am using prime game storage space on it all because I failed to look at the time it takes to play.

Personal Preferences

Despite all of the elements that I have mentioned above, there are a few things a game can offer or include that draw me in instantly. This section of the answer is solely the Dork within me making the rest of me shut up because...
Theme: Yes, I wanted and purchased Firefly: The Board Game because it was Firefly. Themes are one sure way to draw me in. I am a true Dork in that way. I love almost everything superhero. I own Sentinels of the Multiverse, almost in its entirety. The chosen theme can follow a specific show or just be set within the same category. Dark Matter, Star Trek and Firefly are all considered to be Sci-Fi, and carry different approaches to one theme. Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and Xena: Warrior Princess all occupy the Fantasy world, but are three very different stories. Placing any game with an obvious theme in front of your players gives them not just a game, but it offers an experience. Consider it an interactive storytelling device. I like that in a game.
Miniatures: I am a sucker for minis. This probably goes back to my young gaming days. My first Tabletop RPG introduced me to miniatures like never seen before. Little figures that don't just represent a player or a villain, but actually look like them! I love the visual component. It helps to further draw you into this story you and your friends have sat down to enjoy. I will openly admit that it is not a necessity. Board Games didn't really do minis back then. The closest you got (outside of color) to a noticeable difference in player pieces was either Monopoly, or the standing cardboard cut-out kids you get in games like Chutes & Ladders. My how times have changed! Such amazing art going into the pieces these days.
I like them not only because they add visual appeal. I truly enjoy moving the pieces around like the pieces on a chess board. I like that the position and placement to mean something. I was a huge fan of Heroscape for this very reason. I have backed a Kickstarter or two because of the mechanical use of quality miniatures. Dark Souls The Board Game was the most recent. (Side note: can't wait to get a hold of it, review to follow)
Co-Operative Play: This has become one of my absolute favorite play-styles for Tabletop Games. If the rules are a bit more complex, players are more willing to learn because you are not playing competitively. The "Over-competitive" player card is nullified. They can be as into winning the game as they like without making the folks wonder why they agreed to play in the first place. 
There is something to be said for a group working toward a common goal. People become more engaged. You are just as happy to see another player succeed as you are yourself. When you take a hit that sets you back, everyone feels it. The whole idea of win or lose together, gets me all warm and fuzzy inside. Even if the game looks cheaply produced, doesn't have any noticeable theme and might even just be a bad knock-off of another game, if you add a co-op play variation, you have my attention.

Play style. Complexity. Time. As far as the basics go, that is what I look for. 
Personal preferences? Theme. Miniatures. Co-Operative Play.
So there you have it. 
Until next time... Game On!

What do you look for in a game? Is there something that you can't pass up when it is included? Maybe something that turns you away from a game instantly? We want to hear all about it!