I like broken games.
I will follow this up immediately by saying that I endeavor not to make a broken game. Indeed most of my waking moments are spent at this point ensuring that there is no glaring error I may have missed in Complicated Board Game the Card Game. And yet...
Jason and I were recently asked what makes a game memorable. The obvious answers would seem to be unique mechanics or a fun theme. And yet, when put on the spot and asked to recall games that I thought of as memorable, all that came to mind were the ones that didn’t quite work. I’m not talking about games that are unplayable of course, but games that displayed their craftsmanship on their sleeve. Games that aren’t quite perfect in unexpected ways or whose ambition actually trips them up a bit. Let me elaborate.
A while back Jason received a copy of Oddball Aeronauts by Maverick:Muse from Kickstarter. Now, if you haven’t sees this game you really should go look at it. The art is fantastic. I love weird combinations in style and this one is like a steam-punk red-wall from feudal Japan. It’s great, and the team that made it went above in beyond in producing a game that looks and feels high quality. However, when we pulled out the rulebook that first night we were dismayed to find its layout was almost cryptic in its complexity. There were too many pages for a little rulebook, it used strange terms invented for thematic purposes, and the text was interrupted in strange places. We played it probably a dozen times that night but I’m certain we did something unintended every single time. Much of this seemed due to strange layouts and wording, but some should be chalked up to our own illiteracy. The experience remains with me though because of the sheer amount of effort we put into trying to parse it out. I wanted to be sky pirate. I wanted to like this game. Eventually we found a video online of others playing it. We learned how to play it correctly and had a great time. But that first interaction with the confusing rules sticks with me in a positive way. It was fun, it was a challenge, and it now sits proudly on Jason’s shelf to be pulled down at will by the next daring gamer who wants to take a stab at it. (Edit: Evidently they also made a sequel this past March which I'll need to try and get a hold of)
Kings of Air and Steam from Tasty Minstrel Games is another receiver of my coveted broken stamp, though for a different reason. Kings of Air and Steam is, well, a complex board game. It’s got decks of cards, unique player handouts, and a boatload (blimp-load?) of little wooden bits. The mechanics are loads of fun and you wind up building an interactive little shipping network of goods and trains over the course of every game. I got this one while living out in Poughkeepsie on a summer-stock-work-cation. Because I was living in a small college town without a car I wound up playing this game a lot. A lot, a lot. In our playing we identified something shocking. The currency system of the game was broken! Now, it wasn’t game breaking broken of course. That would have been easy to pick up on. No, what was broken was the game's denominations of money. In all our games we had never seen anyone earn above 70$ or so, but the bills went up to 100$ notes. Naturally we thought we were failing somehow and playing less than optimal strategies. So we sat down and did the math out. We were shocked to find that even with perfect turns and a player earning the max they could without spending their hard earned fake cash, it seemed one could only barley cross the hundred dollar mark in a game. Meaning that you only might use just one of these gorgeous bills in any game you played, but it came with dozens in the box! Now these pieces may have been added in a better-safe-than-sorry kind of way, but it never sat right with me that this game came with pieces that had a good chance never to be used. It was a strange concept then, and a strange one to me now.
There are many more games like these. Errant pieces, strategies, and rules whose purpose I’ll never understand. But finding them is part of what makes games fun for me. They give their games a liveliness to them I can’t place and allow for stories that get passed between gaming groups and friends. If we can make a product even half as broken, I’ll consider Complicated Board Game the Card Game a resounding success.