Reaction and Recovery – A Short Diatribe About My Taste in Games

A few months ago Scott and I started to work on a project categorizing gamers. Essentially we wanted to come up with umbrella terms that scooped gamers into recognizable groups so that it would be easier to review a game and tell which groups we thought would enjoy it. It’s actually a fairly daunting process in that there are so many subtle variations and one does not wish to detract from any group by sliding them under an umbrella where they would not feel they belong. Still there are certainly different kinds of games out there and in general I would say we all tend toward liking certain groups of those games.

I would assume most people reading this blog know what I mean when I say Eurogame but I will give a brief description of my understanding of them. Generally when I think of Eurogames I think of Puerto Rico and its ilk. These games tend to be low on random events such as card draws or dice rolls and most of the randomness (or if you must, “uncontrolled events”) comes from other players’ decisions.

I am sure some would argue that other players’ decisions in a game such as Puerto Rico are not in fact “randomness” – or would use another word as I have – in the end these decisions effect you but are beyond your control and amount to much the same thing as rolling a die.

While their predictability lends you some preparedness in many situations, there are no guarantees (a player’s “bad” decision can help or hurt you) and the fact that you can look ahead and see everyone’s best moves ends up being one of my problems with this type of game. This has been a long-standing argument of mine and is one that you Eurogamers will probably find appalling.

At some point I hope to collect my arguments in such a way as to be able to express them adequately in the form of a post but for now I will leave you with the above.

Certainly there are some games that fall more solidly in the Eurogame category than others but I wanted to portray my general feeling of exactly what a Eurogame is. The reason for wanting this is to say that I am not the biggest fan of Eurogames.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I don’t hate Eurogames. I just feel that the dynamics of them are not for me. There are a couple reasons for this but one is that I have realized one thing I am pretty good at and often enjoy a lot is reaction and recovery. What I mean is that I like when a game has a mechanic that hurts the players in some way and their reaction to it and recovery from it can determine the outcome of the game.

I have noticed that I tend to be better at Magic drafts under two conditions. One is when the set first comes out and the other is when the card pool for the draft is incredibly bad.

I think that the first relates to strategy and my lack of putting together a good one. Later on, after a set has been out for a while, most people know what they can build and are thus better at it. I don’t think I am very good at that. What I am better at is taking what is there and forging it into something that is playable. To some degree this is what everyone is trying to do when a set is first being played.

Similarly when a card pool is very bad I tend to do well with it because I can usually find some way to make a playable deck even when I have absolute crap. Note: I have occasionally gotten crap when the card pool was not all that bad. As would be expected this generally results in a painful loss.

Another way that Magic relates to this is my overblown interest in removal. As I have said before I tend to enjoy playing decks with a lot of removal in them because I feel more in control of things. While removal is certainly important I am almost certain I over value it in a desire to be able to react to my opponent. In truth having threats is almost certainly better than being able to remove an opponent’s threats but removal relates better to my style.

I find it kind of funny that the power went off last night and I had forgotten to save this file but Word managed to “recover” it.

This interest in reaction and recovery has also bled into my game design. Most games I have tried to develop have had some kind of “event” mechanic that affects all players. I also tend to like the inclusion of Events in games by other designers and think that some games that have not included events could have benefited by their inclusion.

Briefly I should mention that many people dislike events or anything else where the game does something to you because of the “luck” factor. With the exception of Go and Chess (and probably a couple similar games) all games involve chance and randomness and I enjoy those games that allow you to manipulate and use that chance. Either betting with the odds or going big when you’re behind and need to take a chance.

So yeah, that’s about it. I’m still recovering from my surgery and I go back to work tomorrow. Oddly this may actually give me more time to write as I often work on posts over lunch. My Scion game will hopefully be starting soon so there may well be information about that up in the near future. Oh, if anyone has any ideas for categories of gamers, go ahead and shoot them out!


    It was commented to me off site that my opinion of other players actions in Puerto Rico being an element of randomness seems contradictory to my opinion that Chess has no randomness.

    The reason I don’t consider this to be a problem is that I meant my comment on “other players actions” to only refer to games with more than two players. In Magic duels for example the other players actions are not an element of randomness while in a three player game they are. (Magics randomness would be in card draws.)

    I know that a lot of people disagree with me on this idea, and that’s fine. I simply feel that when another player takes a job I need in Puerto Rico not to hurt me, but rather to benefit themselves and hurting me was only a byproduct, that this is a sort of randomness.

    Still, I doubt I am explaining any of this very well.

    Matt Says:

    OK I admit it, I was the one to make the comment to him. Basically this has been an on going discussion between Josh and I about what is random and what is not in games. Which is also part of an larger discussion of how much skill vs. luck determines the outcome of a game.

    While I agree that another person’s decision can’t be completely controlled (thus creating an air of randomness) it can be influenced in some way, thus it’s not a truely random event. You can’t influence dice or cards (unless your cheating) in a game, thus to me that’s what makes it random. That’s the basic breakdown of my side of the arguement.

    Scott Says:

    Influencing the actions of other players in a game might come about simply from the state of the game – your position places you in the lead but you overextended, hence another player attacks one of your territories. I would consider that to be a part of the game’s inherent strategy/play, plus a product of that player’s assessment and decision-making.

    Of course I might also influence that player when I throw in a comment, kibitzing if you will, and misdirect that player toward another course of action. Personally I do this quite often, on a small and subtle scale, in such a way that I’m not always aware I’m doing it.

    I think Josh, Matt, and your erstwhile cohorts quickly became wise to this and I eventually became attacked (in Risk, for example) whether I said anything or not… but my current gaming group hasn’t fully caught on yet 😉


    Sure, directly atacking another player in a game is not really what I mean though. I’m talking about games where a third party is vastly effected. Especially in a game like Puerto Rico where that effect can be both postive and negative. I could make a choice that is the best choice for me and HELP another player that is perhaps doing better than me and then HURT a player that is doing worse. These are the kinds of things that bother me.

    Scott Says:

    I may have used a more direct example, but the “kibitz as influencing player’s actions” could be applied to most other areas as well. I’m not saying it’s good or bad, though I do admit it’s something I tend do in multiplayer games (unless I’m deliberately watching my tongue).

    Now of course whether or not those other players listen to me, and whether or not they allow their decisions to be influenced by me (or anyone else), is sort of off to the side from the way in which their actions affect myself and the rest of the players.

    There’s also the question of whether you consider kibitzing to be part of the game; as a sort of meta-game activity it might not be included in the game’s design (and in fact a few games expressly forbid, or allow, it to occur).

    Strictly speaking, without considering that element of potential influence, the decisions and actions of another player are going to have an effect on you. They may materially alter your standing in the game, or might only have an indirect affect on your options or strategy. If you’re not in control of that action I suppose it could very well be, effectively, random to you.

    From what I can understand of Josh’s position it’s not ultimately whether the effect of another player’s actions are in fact random, but whether the source of “randomness” or “uncontrolled events” lies chiefly with the decisions of other players, or issues forth from the design of the game itself.

    Personally, I like my games to have some amount of built-in randomness that doesn’t rely on the players; Chess and Tic-Tac-Toe may be extreme examples, but Chess is probably more of interest to me for its classic iconic and cultural significance, and Tic-Tac-Toe is practically the epitome of boredom by predetermination of the best moves. Versus, say, Trump the Game which incorporates the randomness of cards, dice, and elements of memory on top of other players’ decisions and it gets more exciting (for me anyway). There’s certainly room for too much randomness (and too little skill) but I think I’ve said plenty.