Today’s episode is all about the game SeaFall, a 4x inspired Legacy game by the ingenious designer Rob Daviua. Despite the fact that Daviua is a living legend, we at SVR do not recommend SeaFall. It is our opinion that the game has too many flaws to provide a game experience we feel is up to the standards to which one should reasonably be able to hold someone largely responsible for the #1 rated game on BoardGameGeek.com.
Since this is a Legacy game played as an unfolding campaign THIS ENTIRE EPISODE IS A SPOILER. If you intend to play SeaFall at some point, DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE.
Having said that, the remainder of this blog post is safe and will not contain spoilers about Seafall.
In game design, it’s sometimes hard to avoid accidentally creating a wrong choice. In a well designed game, there are more than one path to success. Some may be more certain than others. Some may require more skill or luck. Some may be easier for a knowledgeable opponent to disrupt. Even so, if the game allows for more than one approach to winning the game, more than one approach should be a valid strategy.
Consider the game Cheaty Mages by Alderac Entertainment. In it, you have to select which (and how many) of a number of differently matched gladiators to bet on, then, as one of the titular cheaty mages, cheat to make that contender the winner. A number of different strategies are valid, partially based on your opponents’ presumed strategies, but mostly based on your own risk tolerance and nerve. Do you put all your eggs in one basket or spread out your bets for more of a guaranteed win? Do you bet on the long shot contender for maximum gold or the nearly sure thing to keep things easy for yourself? Do you misdirect by casting spells on unrelated competitors, or do you focus on your chosen champion and his threats? All of these are valid strategies with different chances of paying off depending on factors such as luck of the draw, risk tolerance and the temperament of your opponents.
Meanwhile, in the Civilization board game, the culture victory is far slower than the military, technology and economic victories, and, furthermore, a player focusing on it is vulnerable to an opponent who is striving to achieve the military victory. It only becomes viable if everyone is playing sub-optimal strategies. It can be an interesting wildcard approach to the game, but is not generally a viable strategy, especially if your opponents recognize it is your intent.
The Joining the Winning Team mission card in Arkham Horror (specifically, the Dunwich Horror expansion) is something of a source of ridicule. It’s already incredibly difficult to collect 4 allies, and 4 allies will go a very long way toward making your character an asset to a team of cooperating investigators. The card is generally regarded as a waste of cardboard and a burden to the Unique Items deck.
We might, in the future, do a full episode on what Monte Cook has referred to as “Ivory Tower Game Design” – the notion that a game is a set of rules and that the player should be rewarded for gaining mastery of those rules (which entails the recognition that some choices are going to be strictly better than others). There’s nothing wrong with games where some choices are sub-optimal to others, nor even where some choices are strictly worse than others. That’s not necessarily a design flaw (though it could be if a sub-optimal or strictly worse choice were automatically paired with a better one or if there was one choice that was always superior to all others, but I digress).
What is a design flaw is when a game has strategies, whether implicit or explicit, that appear viable, but ultimately – either due to obfuscation of information or simply interactions that aren’t readily apparent – are not. This is especially egregious when these strategic decisions are made without foreknowledge of how the game will be progressing within a set campaign framework – when you are making long-term decisions without an opportunity to know not only how those decisions will play out, but how the rules that govern those decisions will play out.
Crap! I forgot I wasn’t supposed to be blogging about SeaFall!