Thursday, January 23, 2014

Classic Remix: The "Problem" With Toolkit Games

I originally wrote a version of this post in March of 2007 - that's right, nearly 7 years ago. In the intervening years, more toolkit games have joined my collection - but the same problem still remains.

It's pretty simple, really... all those lovely delectable options are intoxicating. If you're not careful, you can take a relatively elegant game & turn it into an overchromed monster.

I just want to take a few minutes of your precious time & bandwidth to comment on the whole "greatest strength/greatest weakness" dichotomy when it comes to certain game systems. And just so I'm not too vague here, I'm referring to some of my favorite games:
  • Memoir '44
  • Heroscape
  • Battlelore (1st edition - I haven't had a chance to play 2nd edition yet but I think it probably has the same potential for good & evil lurking there)
  • Tannhauser
  • Claustrophobia
And some of my eldest son's favorite games as well:
  • RoboRally
  • X-Wing
All of these systems have, at their core, a very simple combat system and a variety of unit types. (So far, so good.) Each game also has different types of terrain & objectives, depending on the scenario. (Still good.) These terrain types, unit types, various objectives & other rules can be combined in nearly limitless ways to create a stunning array of game experiences. (Excellent.) Hence, the moniker "toolkit games".

Yet it's at exactly this point that the wheels come off the proverbial apple cart... because far too often, we (and yes, I'm including myself here) become so enamored of all the special features that we want to make sure all of them are included in the same scenario. So you get Heroscape boards with lava & ice & castles & trees & roads & umpteen glyphs... or Memoir '44 scenarios with mountains & dams & mines & snipers & 10 different terrain types... or Battlelore battles with high-pointed War Councils & hordes of figures. Just because the options are there does not mean that they should all be included at once. (No more 200 point X-Wing battles, please.)

For me, the best way to avoid this tendency is to play primarily with playtested scenarios. For the majority of the aforementioned games, there is a great online community with ample resources of playtested scenarios.

So, whadda you think?

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