It is time; time to finish why the rubric.

In my previous post: Why The Rubric Part 1 I explained briefly why we use a rubric and I broke down the first half of my rubric; visuals, skill/luck and pacing. Now it is time to get real with the serious issues the world wants to know; Theme/Immersion, mechanics and fun.  Now let us face it many have posed the question, “shouldn’t how fun the game is be the only factor.” and as promised in part 1; that will be addressed today. Without further adieu, however, let us jump into the rubric!

If you read part I you may recall me explaining in the skill/luck spectrum it is not one vs the other it is seeking a balance; this is similar yet different. Theme asks; does the game fit the given theme or does it need more flavor while immersion asks; did I feel like I was in the game or was I merely a guy moving pawns around a board.  Some games, such Noueni and Blokus, survive without a theme; granted they aren’t the first games I would go to for a night of fun as I am a theme fiend.  I find many games struggle at making me feel like I am playing a themed game; rather I am abiding by a set of mechanics; and personally I find I have a much more enjoyable time when I am immersed in the experience.  It is for this reason I love games that draw me in; games such as The Arkham series; where you feel dread around every corner as well as an upcoming review, Zombie House, in which you feel the worry and anticipation as player actions are resolved. While other games leave a bitter taste in my mouth as I ask; “does this really have anything to do with pirates or did they just put a pirate on the cover to make a few more sales?”

Let us face it; a game’s enjoyment comes down to the interaction of the mechanics; and each player finds some mechanics more enjoyable than others. I have many friends who love the worker placement mechanic and many others who hate that same mechanic; I am personally on a journey from the latter ot the former (as noted in my precious blog: Ameritrash Anonymous). I personally love mechanics that merge strategy and luck; such as deciding combat via a roll of a die after applying some modifiers or card drafting in the manner of dominion; in which you strategically build and purge your deck yet rely on the luck of the draw.  When mechanics are utilized in new and creative ways in another bonus in my book; nothing irritates me more than playing a game that is simply a rehashing of old mechanics; especially when used the exact same way as utilized in a previous game (look at Sean’s reviews of Love Letter compared to The Advertising Game for an example of this.) So when I rate a game’s mechanics I am looking to say are the mechanics being used in a new and creative way and do they interact well together?

The time is here my friends; to attempt to bring some minor understanding to why fun is a factor of my scoring and not the end all be all. When I play a game I am seeking enjoyment and one can argue I am splitting hairs in differentiating between fun and enjoyment; arguable perhaps I need to use or create a new word for the definition I will be using; but let me explain. I see fun as the present action; I am currently having fun writing this article.  But I see enjoyment as the culmination of a total experience in a positive emotional memory. Were I to be writing this article while my next door neighbor’s child was crying loudly and my upstairs neighbor was practicing his tap dance routine I would finish the article and leave for a bit of peace and tell my friends over coffee that it not a fun time. I had fun writing the article; but the environment leached the enjoyment and made the memory be on of terror not one of joy.  The same goes for our gaming experiences. When we do our reviews we are playing in controlled conditions; temperature is comfortable and the ambient noise is non distracting; the environment is neutral (in so far as we can control it) so that the dominating factor to our enjoyment is the game is the game itself.  Thus as we play a game we can focus on all the elements of a game and thus make an informed decision on how we felt about the game. The fun rating is thus: was the game fun during the time it was played; was the emotion while playing pleasant. That is a mere factor in the enjoyment of the game.

Final Score
The final score thus comes down to our total enjoyment of the game. Yes fun is a factor; but a fun game can be made unplayable by poor visuals, mediocre pacing, lack of immersion, and unbalanced skill/luck and poor mechanical utilization.  From my experience many of these elements are loosely tied; but that may be a topic for another post.  But I can take a fun game and ruin it for you.  Take Catan for example; I enjoy Catan; it is a fabulous getaway game.  Now imagine the tile art made it difficult to distinguish between pasture(sheep)/forest(wood) and every other turn people must ask; is that wood or sheep? Or what if the cards were designed in a manner that the text is hardly readable. The game’s playability deteriorates greatly, the play is unaffected; the rules stand as it; the game would be just as ‘fun’ but would be less enjoyable. Once one has memorized the cards and mastered differentiating the difference between the tiles it is the exact same as Catan as we know it; but I would wager a great number of fewer players would invest the time and energy to get to a point where that would be a possibility.

Granted this is merely my view and opinion.  I would love to hear yours in a non-debative, non-judgemental manner. Let us not seek to convince everyone else that our personal way of rating a game is better than everyone else’s but rather let us accept that everyone plays, views and rate’s games differently and that we thus should seek to understand what our gaming friends seek and enjoy in a game so we may thus find those games that will lead to the maximum enjoyment of all gamers present.

Sow what factors are crucial in how you view a game?  Think about it next time you are rating a game on the BGG; why are you giving that game that score?  Where you wowed by the art style? Amazed at a revolutionary mechanic? Or possibly appalled at the difficulty of navigating a rule book.

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