Wednesday, March 22, 2017

When do the choices become the same thing over and over again?

I had been planning on continuing my musings on rondels with Province, which uses perhaps the smallest and simplest version of what might qualify as a rondel. However, replaying it against the AI to refresh myself on it made my brain go in a different direction. 

I like Province. It is neat how it fits resource management and special powers into such a small package. When a small deck of cards is the basic format of micro games, it was cool seeing one that breaks out of that mold.

But... Province has some issues. I can get around the fact that it sure seems to have a first player bias by saying play the game twice and add up the scores. However, there are some serious replay issues.

Games of Province tend to play out the same, despite random bonus goals. And part of that is because of the intrinsic design of the game. Three of the eight buildings require prerequisite buildings. Which means things are going to get built in order. With only eight buildings total, that leads to predictable play.

And, let's be honest, any building which gives you an extra worker is particularly desirable so the three buildings that let you do that are going to be prime. If the first player doesn't build the camp on the first turn and get an extra worker right off the bat, that seems like cutting your own hamstrings.

And, in general, replay value and formulaic play is a big concern when it comes to micro games. A small number of components with a short playing time means games are going to have fewer choices and can mean fewer options with those choices.

Which doesn't mean being a micro game is a death sentence for long-term play. I have owned Pico Two for close to a decade and it has regular play while being just eleven cards. Games that have a string metagame elements, where the play each other, like Love Letter or Coup, also seem to have strong replay value.

(And, since I am an unabashed fan of Pack O Game, I'd say the variable set up most of the games has continued to give them new life in my experience. Not all of them (sorry, TKO) but enough that I think I will keep on getting serious value from those tiny games. I'll have to keep in playing them to be sure but I do want to keep on playing them)

Which opens up another question. How many times do you have to an a game for it to be worthwhile? How many times does it have to challenge you or entertain you? I admit that, since I've gotten into print-and-play more, it's easier for me to take a chance at a micro game since there's less investment. But it is still a big question. It is fun to dabble but you also want a foundation of strong games in your library.

I am still enjoying Province and I've definitely gotten my investment's worth out of it. I fear, in the long run, it may turn out to be more of a brave experiment than a diamond in the rough. But, no regrets.

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