Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Worst Game in the World Award!

It's been far too long since I complained about games on the Internet. To rectify this grievous breach of proper online conduct, I present to you the Worst Game in the World Award! Celebrating the most misguided blunders in the name of personal amusement, a recipient of the WGITWA needs to fail so comprehensively that it is not only uninteresting, but actively infuriating.

The results are in! Imagine a drumroll, then click “Read More” once you are sufficiently excited.

The Worst Game in the World Award goes to...


Seriously S&L. What the hell? Who ever thought you were interesting? Has anyone ever been amused by you? Let's break down all the myriad ways in which you fail.

The players might as well not show up – There are no decisions to be made in Snakes and Ladders. You roll the dice, advance your squares, check to see if you a) landed on something special or b) won. Then you're done. That's it. Short of loading your dice, it's impossible to play Snakes and Ladders well. Winning carries with it no sense of accomplishment, only a sense of despair that this is the best thing you could do with your afternoon. In this sense, S&L is barely better than a slot machine, in that it isn't actively trying to steal from you, but that's about all you can say in its defence. WGITWA runners-up Parcheesi and Pop-O-Matic Trouble at least have a token gesture toward player input making a difference.

Even if I show up, the other players might as well not be there – There's no psychology or interaction to the game. I can't affect other players, aside from taunting their bad die rolls. This complaint is subtly different to the first. Both Monopoly and backgammon have a similar roll-and-move setup, yet my actions in those games can change the game for my opponents, at least creating the illusion of competition.

Even then, it's not fair – Despite being essentially random, the first player has a distinct advantage. Admittedly, that edge is mitigated over 100 squares (an even worse game than S&L would be S&L with fewer spaces), but the fact remains that Rock-Paper-Scissors and coin-flipping provide a better play environment.

What the hell is going on, and why should I care? Who is this pawn supposed to be? Why can he or she only move in quantities dictated by the dice? Who left all these snakes lying around? All these ladders? Why do snakes make me move backwards? Are they scary? Or slippery? If they're slippery, why did the game-guy try to climb them? Why can't he stop his move part way and climb a ladder? What happens at Square 100, and why is it so important that I get there first? NO SATISFACTORY ANSWERS ARE PROVIDED. Monopoly is made tolerable partially by imagining what sort of ruthless capitalist you portray. A slumlord? A rail baron? Hoity-toity old money? Even Candyland makes an effort toward setting and characterization. And it's not like it's Go or Blokus with an intentionally minimalist approach. It's just mystifying, and not in a good way.

Nothing ever changes – Not entirely true. On this metric, S&L manages to score one point out of a maximum of... let's say 900. Gameplay at the end is almost identical to gameplay at the beginning. Depending on the board setup (aside: is there a traditional, 'tournament-legal' board for S&L, or do all the hack manufacturers make their own?), all that changes turn-to-turn is the potential for massive gains and/or losses. At the beginning, you can only make gains, and near the end, you can only make losses. Aside from that, there's an agonizingly long slog through the mid-game where both are possible. The lack of player input (point #1) means that these changes, while extant, don't actually affect players of the game.

Despite the utter mindlessness of this article, I do believe there are one or two things we can take away from it. One might evaluate games that aren't intended for three-year-olds on a sort of metric based on how little like Snakes and Ladders they are. When designing a game, ask yourself if player input matters for their own success, for the success or failure of others, if it's fair, if it's even attempts to have a narrative, and if gameplay changes or remains the same. Here's an interesting thought: roleplaying games start with four out of five already taken care of...

1 comment:

  1. This is an AMAZING! Post. Seriously, I absolutely loved it. I can even picture you explaining it to me in person and then stop briefly because Erin just brought in a bowl of guacamole and chips.