Thursday, March 18, 2010

Self Analysis 101: What I Like In Games

Lately I've been thinking about why I like certain games more than others and I think I've come up with at least one reason I hadn't thought of before: I like building infrastructure. I thought I'd share this as a way to maybe help others to identify what it is that they like about games because the more you understand about this the easier it is to find games that you'll like.

After playing Finca at board game night a few weeks ago, I was wondering why I don't enjoy it as much as I enjoy playing Agricola. They are both farming games, so it isn't the theme. I tend to be more successful at Agricola, so that might be a factor, but that usually only comes up if I can't seem to ever win at a game, and I've won at Finca, so I don't think that's it. The game mechanics of Finca are fine and I enjoy playing it if someone else wants to, so it's not that it's a bad game.

Then I realized that I was building something in Agricola, but not in Finca. That got me to think that maybe I liked games where I built stuff, but I realized that building just anything didn't make it interesting for me. A game about building a skyscraper or a pyramid wouldn't necessarily catch my attention. Building up a company that builds skyscrapers, or a civilization that builds pyramids, now that will get my attention!

Building up a good infrastructure can be rewarding whether or not I actually win the game. In Agricola you're building a farm that produces crops and raises animals. You gather resources in order to build stuff. You're creating infrastructure. I think this is also why I like so many 4x games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) and civilization games. They usually involve building infrastructure. It also explains why I can lose interest in 4x games that are too focused on the combat, and why I tend to lose interest in real-time strategy (RTS) games so quickly, because while building your infrastructure is key to an RTS, the vast majority of the action is focused on combat, and that's not really what I'm playing the game for.

Taken further, I recognize that it's also one of the factors that attracts me to roleplaying. Over the years I've learned to appreciate the storytelling aspect of RPGs, but the development of a character in mechanical terms as you gain experience has also always been a big attraction: do things to improve your character so you can do more things, in other words, building infrastructure.

As I look at other games I've liked I see this as a pattern. It even applies to some of the wargames I used to play. I've always been a big fan of the Operational Combat Series (OCS) from The Gamers, although I haven't had the chance to break one out in years. The games are centered around combat, but you also have to manage the logistics to be successful. While the logistics model in those games is extremely simplified (actually they're probably appropriately modeled for the level of command the player represents, but that's something for another discussion), they do represent setting up a basic infrastructure before the player can take action.

Now that I recognize this trend in my tastes, I'll be keeping an eye out for games that include an infrastructure building element, and I suspect that I'll be more likely to identify games that I enjoy.

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