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Thrower’s Tallies: Top Eight Designers


All the discussion about “great designers” that we had a couple of weeks ago left me dissatisfied. Rather than just throwing out names that I thought were good or great, I wanted to put some meat on those bones, some rigour to the process. It wasn’t hard to do. And I found the results startling.

We’re talking about my personal opinion here. What I wanted was a way of recognising people who had form for producing stellar games, regardless of how many games they’d actually produced. Now, I rate pretty harshly because I’m of the opinion that games are supposed to be good. Fun is what they’re for, so a game you’ve enjoyed is merely average. To earn a higher rating, it has to show me an impressive time.

Turns out that of the 400-odd games I’ve played, there were about 100 that merited that distinction. So I just went through them and listed their designers, to see how many times each name appeared. I listed game series with the same basic system, such as Commands & Colors, as just one game. Sorry Mr. Borg. But if I’m recognising innovation, it seemed the right thing to do.

The first surprise I got was how few names that turned out to be. Of those 100 there were just eight designers who appeared more than once. Four twice, and four three times. So I was right in speculating that having more than one truly great game to your name is a special achievement. It’s more than most designers achieve in their careers.

What really surprised me though were some of the names on each list. So, I took those four and four to be good and great designers respectively. Here they are, in no particular order within each group.

The Good

Reiner Knizia for Ra and Battle Line

I’m not going to dwell on this as we’ve been through most of it already. Suffice to say that I said Reiner Knizia is a very good designer in my book, and so he proved to be. Battle Line is about the best 30 minutes you’re going to have with two people and a strategy game. Ra remains a fascinating exercise in balancing chaos, tactics and social brinkmanship even nearly 20 years after its original release.

Eon for Cosmic Encounter and Dune

Eon would probably fit the “good designer” category of every Ameritrash fan on the planet, and I’m no exception. They pioneered the art of stripping away all the chrome and clunkiness from highly competetive and thematic titles, decades before it became de rigour. What’s left are masterpieces of spartan, replayable brutality that still evoke a rich sense of setting.

Rachel Simmons for Napoleon’s Triumph and Guns of Gettysburg

On reflection, this is no surprise at all. In fact Simmons really ought to have been in my original list of creative designers. She may only have three games to her name, but the remain some of the most innovative that I’ve ever played. It’s hard to trace their design heritage at all, beyond a brief nod to block wargames. Everyone should play a Simmons design at least once. Even if just to marvel at the freshness of the design, the attention to historical detail in so few rules.

Uwe Rosenberg for Bohnanza and Agricola

Sorry to shoot my load early, but this was the most unexpected name that came up. I haven’t played either game in a very long time, but looking back I did have a great time with both of them. Bohnanza is a fantastic yet uneasy blend of goofy family fun and pure ruthlessness. And while I disliked Agricola at first, it was for a long time the only decent worker placement game with a fun and well communicated theme. I came to really enjoy it in the end, and you can see its continuing influence in the genre even today.

The Great

Vlaada Chvatil for Mage Knight, Space Alert and Through the Ages

Going to gloss over this expected entry. Suffice to say that anyone who designed my picks for the best adventure game, the best co-op game and the best civ game ever is probably due a bit of genuflection. Sir, I salute you.

Corey Konieczka for X-Wing, Battlestar Galactica and Descent 2nd Edition

With Fantasy Flight’s stable of designers, it’s sometimes hard to know just how much who worked on what. So perhaps I’m being a little generous to Corey here, since he shares the billing on two of his games with other designers. But even then, I feel he deserves recognition for Battlestar Galactica. There’s yet to be a better use of the traitor mechanic, or semi-cooperative setup in my opinion. And it’s such a sweet balance of strategy and social mores.

Richard Garfield for Magic: the Gathering, Netrunner and King of Tokyo

This shocked me. It probably shouldn’t have. The thing is that I don’t play collectible card games all that much, so this wasn’t a name that floated to the top of my list when I was mulling over favourite picks. But when you stand back, you have to recognise the genius of a man who pretty much invented an entire hobby in its own right with Magic. Fantasy Flight are now doing their best to put Netrunner, an extraordinary lesson in emergent theme, into the same bracket. And King of Tokyo, one of my most-played games, is just gravy.

Christian Petersen for Twilight Imperium 3, Armada and Game of Thrones

I never think of Christian as a game designer, just as the CEO. It’s almost like my head can’t believe someone is capable of being both at once. And lord knows he’s had his differences with this site. With the exception of Armada, these aren’t easy games, either. I may never play either of his qualifying titles every again. Yet when you step back, that’s not a reason to exclude them: they’re still great games. And that makes Mr. Petersen a great designer.

Mage Knight: The Lost Legion Review

Mage Knight Lost Legion figures and box

Mage Knight Goldyx felt old and tired. He’d been to Atlantea several times, with comrades and without, but the effort of preparation, the length of the journey and the interminable waiting around for other Mage Knights once there had dulled his taste for adventure. Now he preferred to spend his days playing his magical game-tablet while toasting his feet before a fire.

One day, there was a knock on the door. Unused to company, and with legs stiff from long hours of inactivity, Goldyx irritably called for the visitor to enter. He was unsurprised to see Wolfhawk, newest of his order and about to set forth on her first Atlantean expedition.

Silently he gestured for her to sit on his magnificent copy of the Mage Knight’s collected law and lore, bound in dragon leather, embossed in gold and wrapped about with intricately wrought bronze clasps. Three feet thick and solid as a rock, he now used it for nothing more than a visitors chair.

She took off her full-face helmet and exhaled a sigh of relief. “Gets hot in there” she complained.

Goldyx nodded. “And yet it seems that the armourers have seen fit to leave all the vital organs in your midriff totally exposed” he observed.

“Yes” replied Wolfhawk, frowning slightly. “They said they had nothing else that fitted. But Tovak always seems to walk out with a full suit.”

Goldyx silently recalled that all the minions in the armourer’s department were men and rolled his eyes. “You’ve come for advice, then?” he rumbled. “It’s been a long time since I went to Atlantea.”

“Yes” replied Wolfhawk. “Things have changed, Goldyx, since you last went. Some new and powerful foe of legend, one General Volkare, has returned and is battling the mage knights.. We’ve explored much in the meantime and found new sites, new monsters, followers and treasure too. Atlantea is a much more varied place than it once was.”

Goldyx made the sort of acidly dismissive noise that only a dragon-kin can. “But” he said, gesturing vaguely toward the colossal book on which Wolfhawk perched uncomfortably, “no doubt our lords and masters have added to the law and lore that govern our conduct to cover these new situations?”

Wolfhawk nodded miserably. “Yes. I had to learn it all by heart before they would let me out of the academy. Chapters were added to deal with Volkare and some of the new allies and monsters. It took weeks.”

He whistled in sympathy. The lore and law was long enough without new material. “Don’t worry” he strove for words of comfort. “I know you, and your training. You move swiftly, and easily. It’s what you do best. There won’t be so much waiting around for you when you get to Atlantea like there was for me. Your time will come soon.”

Mage Knights need no sleep. They sat and talked long into the night, while the fire burned low in the grate and bathed the room in the dull orange of its dying embers. Wolfhawk shifted uncomfortably, partly due to her makeshift chair, and partly because in spite of the old Draconum’s obvious apathy, she itched with desire to get away on her first adventure.

Mage Knight lost legion in play

On a similar evening, about a month later, Goldyx was roused from his game-tablet by a frantic pounding on his cottage door. Alarmed that someone might damage the woodwork he leapt up from his easy chair and flung the portal open.

There stood Wolfhawk. But not the shy, slight woman he remembered from her last visit. This Wolfhawk was at once battered and bruised yet possessed of an extraordinary power and vitality. She almost pushed past her massive host in her impatience to reach his uncomfortable visitors chair. And then sat upon it with the air of someone who’s become used to sitting on cold, hard stone, if at all.

Startled, Goldyx remained standing at his open door as her tale came tumbling forth, almost as if a dam of silence had been finally breached, unable to contain the force of the story behind it. She told of the new troops of the Orc Khans, from gangs of snivelling goblins that could fell you with multiple weak attacks to massive catapults that hit hard but which could be dodged with movement instead of blocked.

She spoke of finding a horrific golem at the bottom of a dungeon, a fearsome foe that was immune to magic attacks, and yet could fling enormous balls of enchanted fire and ice when roused to fury. And if you could not block these and counter attack in turn, it was almost impossible to kill: missiles were next to useless against it.

The old tricks of combat that Goldyx had taught her that night, seemingly so long ago, were nigh-on useless now, it seemed. Everything needed to be more considered, more cunning. There were so many more options to consider before each action, and yet more things had become uncertain, unpredictable. New plans would have to be made, and some of them would have to deal with building yourself back up after ignominious defeat.

She whispered of new troops, skills and buildings. Of how she had clambered across walls and got lost in labyrinths never before seen or charted. Of how she’d learned from an ancient monk, alone in the library of an isolated monastery, a dreadful ritual of blood that would leave her wounded but with new and undreamed of powers. Of powerful familiars that needed a constant supply of mana to survive, and would otherwise collapse into dust.

But mostly she spoke of Volkare. Mighty, mysterious Volkare. Of how his rampages across Atlantea, either in search of cities to conquer and control before the Mage Knights got there, or in search of the very portal the Knights used to get to the continent, made solo or co-operative missions much more interesting, challenging and exciting. She stated flatly that the extra law and lore she’d had to slave over for so many long, dark nights, was a worthwhile tradeoff for reducing the tedious burden of overseeing a fake Mage Knight to help cover your tracks.

Goldyx looked doubtful. But Wolfhawk would not be swayed from her subject. When she mentioned Volkare a baleful light blazed in the wide, shining eyes beneath the helm. He was a dreadful enemy, surrounded by an army of his own, quite capable of levelling a city. Or an experienced Mage Knight. Each time she had challenged him and failed. In spite of her newfound power and hard-won wisdom about this new and wonderful world of Atlantea, she had failed. And the failure burned in her like a canker.

“Goldyx” she said, breathlessly, “I want to beat him. I need to beat him. And to do it, I must have your help.” She looked at him imploringly.

Goldyx stood a long while, it seemed. He first met Wolfhawks’ beseeching gaze, then turned to look out the open door. Soft hills rolled off into the gathering dusk, a distant one crowned in fire and smoke. Far away on the horizon there was twinkle that might have been the first star, or the gateway to Atlantea. It had been a long, long time.

“No.” He said finally. “No, I will not go with you. Companionship was never my style.”

Wolfhawk looked momentarily furious, then her shoulders slumped in defeat. She stood, and left without another word, visibly trembling with anger and disappointment.

Goldyx closed the door behind her. He would not help her defeat Volkare. The Law and Lore was still a pain in his scaly behind. It still took so much time to prepare, to journey, to explore that he would hate to share the glory. But maybe, just maybe, it was worth all that effort if he could go alongside her, and defeat Volkare first, before she got there.

Bill’s Top 10 Boardgames of 2012

Once again it’s that time where I lay out my picks for the best boardgames of the year. Keep in mind that this isn’t the “best games of 2012” but rather the best games I played over the past year or so. Boardgames, being the beautiful hobby that it is, tend to age better than, say, a 10 year old PC game. I loved High Heat Baseball to death back in the day but I’m not breaking out the Sammy Sosa classic anytime soon.

So here we go: a list of my personal 10 from 2012. My list is certified to be better than anything Barnes posts because everyone knows he likes terrible games.

You can trust me. Also, I won’t add any of our own games on the list because that would be a clear violation of some kind of rule.

Last year’s list can be found here. Looking back I still recommend most of those games even though I think I overrated the Blood Bowl card game and A Few Acres of Snow has run its course.

So let’s get to it.

#10. Catacombs

I was going to put Eclipse in this spot but then I remembered I don’t like Eclipse as much as nearly everyone else, so Catacombs it is. Catacombs is a “dexterity” game — a fairly common genre with games like Crokinole and PitchCar being the staples. In Catacombs you are still flicking disks around but the disks represent baddies in a dungeon or a hero trying to wipe them out. There is a surprising amount of stuff going on in this game and if you like flicking games then Catacombs just plain works. I play this with my family and while not a regular on the table, I do enjoy it even though I am awful at it. Need someone to miss with a point blank magic missile? I’m your guy. It does offer some hilarious moments like when a warrior kills a handful of sekeltons with one awesome flick.

#9. Clash of Cultures

I haven’t played this enough to really make a call on it — but I did play it and immediately afterward wanted to play it again. The search for a great “civ” game that doesn’t take half a day is one of the industry’s white whales and CoC does a pretty damn good job in pulling it off. This is from the same designer as Merchants & Marauders, which is a nice early pedigree. This comes out I think next week — keep an eye on it and if it’s as good as I think it is, it’ll be a regular on the table.


#8. Omen: Reign of War

Now out of print and hard to find, Omen is another 2-player card game from John Clowdus, designer of Innovation. It plays in 30 minutes and is full of tough choices as you try to capture cities with ancient soldiers, oracles, and beasts while trying to please the Greek gods. I just love this guy’s work, and the art on this one, unlike Innovation, is top notch.


#7. Mage Knight Board Game

Mage Knight should be ranked higher. It’s such a wonderfully designed game after you get past its initial “holy shit” learning curve. It tells a compelling story, plays great solo, and is an example of outside the box thinking that has proven successful. Mage Knight has sold a ton if units and for such an obtuse game that is quite remarkable. But I never get to play it anymore. It’s terribly hard to teach and is definitely not for everyone and getting it to the table is tough. But I love the game regardless.


#6. Mice and Mystics

This is basically D&D re-themed with mice, rats, spiders, and centipedes. This story driven game is one of THE best family games I have ever played. Will I break this out with my regular group? I doubt it. But playing it with a 12 year old who likes smacking cockroaches with a sword? Yep. You play “chapters” which are tied together in a storybook which is read aloud during each session. You really are playing a story and not just a “scenario” which gives the game a great sense of cause and effect. You have choices to make during a chapter and it feels like a miniatures game of choose your own adventure. You play this co-op which I usually hate but here it works and if you have kids who love adventure stories I can’t recommend it enough. I hate tying “ages” to games like this but it’s not really a “kid’s game” because you do need some tactical thinking and games do last at least an hour so I wouldn’t being this out with small kids — but maybe 10+? Absolutely.


#5. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

Do you like Star Wars? The Non-Jar-Jar era Star Wars? Do you like the idea of a fairly simple game of dogfighting between an X-Wing and a TIE Fighter with pre-painted miniatures that look freaking awesome? If there has ever been a game that sells itself, this is it. The only drawback is the price. You really do need to buy more than what comes in the base game to see this reach its full potential but I defy a Star Wars fan to play this and not immediately want to play it again. You will also undoubtedly hear movie quotes flying during each game.

“Don’t get cocky, kid!”

“I can’t shake ’em!”

“Stay on target!”

“I have you now…”

(the game doesn’t come with that cool Death Star map, that’s a custom job, but how awesome is that?)

#4. 1812: The Invasion of Canada

One of my favorite lite-wargames of all time, if not my #1 favorite. I love this game. How many games of this ilk can you literally teach in 10 minutes and yet find so much depth in its actual gameplay? I have watched this played by the publisher at a convention and witnessed moves I never dreamed of trying — it’s such a brilliant game that only falls flat with those not into wargames due to its era.

The war of 1812 just isn’t considered a sexy war.

But if you want to play a deceptively simple game — and I encourage you to try and get the full compliment of 5-players so you have a player playing each of the American Regulars, American Militia, the Redcoats, the Canadian Militia and the Native Americans — then I strongly advise giving this a look. It’s fast, easy to teach, and will have everyone at the table engaged during every single turn. Doesn’t get much better than that.


#3. Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery

I have to confess — I have played this one time. One glorious time. The game ended prematurely around 2AM and I was so tired I could barely function but I know this — Spartacus has so much of what I like in boardgames in one crazy package it’s impossible for me to ignore it here. Bribes, open trading, negotiation, backstabs, decapitation…

You play as a prestigious House in Ancient Home and you buy and trade slaves and gladiators and try to become the most influential House. It has die rolling, kick you in the teeth card play — there is literally a card called “Jupiter’s Cock” — yeah it’s an M rated game. It’s unlike anything I have ever played and while it’s not a game for those who despise any level of confrontation or luck in their boardgaming, for the rest of us, this simply HAS to be part of your library.

#2. Cosmic Encounter

Yeah, it has taken me this long to play this classic. Don’t ask me why but I finally played it quite a bit this past year and it’s as awesome as everyone told me it was. So much as been written about Cosmic that I really can’t say much about it that hasn’t already been said but sitting at a table with my buddies Billy Baroo, Mace, and Kenny during Abner Con earlier this year was one of my gaming highlights of 2012. This is timeless and should be in the library of anyone who plays boardgames.


#1. Hansa Teutonica

So this year’s list is full of classic “Ameritrash” designs like Cosmic, Spartacus, X-Wing, and the best game I played in 2012 was…a Eurogame about..wait what IS it about?

“The players act as traders trying to get victory points for building a network of offices”

Well now doesn’t that sound thrilling!

In fact here’s a quote from a review posted at BGG:

What if you took the most boring looking box art imaginable and combined it with the least inspiring and most sleep provoking board in the history of modern gaming? Tag on a completely listless theme and you have 2-5 players sitting around placing cubes with no regard to what they’re actually supposedly doing. We’re traders? Really? We could just as easily be 5 alien races pushing spaceships around claiming routes to planets. No-one would know the difference. Except the board might have a little more color.

This is how I feel, too. And yet, like this reviewer, I love Hansa Teutonica. It has what I look for in all of my Euro designs — I don’t mind some brain burning and I don’t mind games where people study the board and ponder the best move. I don’t need all of my games to be “rip roaring” like a game of Spartacus. I love all types of games from King of Tokyo and Warriors of God — to games like Hansa Teutonica and this is one of the best Euros I have in my collection. There’s a high degree of “Euro nut punching” which means this is anything but “multiplayer solitaire” which I normally hate in my games. This is a cutthroat design which forces players to stop the plans of the other players — sometimes sacrificing your own goal. Sure the theme is pasted on somewhat and the setting is so incredibly dry..but I have yet to show this to someone who didn’t like it and I’ll never turn down a game, which can’t be said for every game I like in my library

So there you have it, another year with a lot of cardboard and plastic being pushed around a table. Too many games, not enough time.

So Barnes..what say you?

Cracked LCD: Fun-First Design


In last week’s review of Abaddon, I very nearly undermined years of trying to write “serious” board games criticism. I attacked certain aspects of it before giving in to its “fun-first” design. Did you see what I did there? I more or less stated that the art and design part of games is irrelevant if you’re having fun. Noted Metacritic rabble-rouser Tom Chick believes that you can’t write about “fun” because it’s so subjective and that is true, but if we as critics are not writing about fun as part of the experience of games are we failing to speak to the core intent of the medium? Are designers that are developing games where mechanics, process, and depth are the focus betraying the purpose of playing them?

Abaddon isn’t a great design. It’s rudimentary, basic, and it’s a stick figure drawing compared to the baroque masterwork represented by something like Mage Knight or Labyrinth: War on Terror. I loved those two very complex games, and they were my picks for Game of the Year in 2011 and 2010 respectively. But in playing a game like Abaddon or other games that focus more on that notoriously subjective and to some indefinable quality of fun, I wonder if we’re actually getting closer to a state of pure intent and the essential purpose of the games medium.

Games are- well, they should be- fun. We play them with friends and family to have a good time, to enjoy ourselves, to laugh, and to interact using the game as a social centerpiece. If you’re playing games for any other reason, as I’ve always said, then you’re doing it wrong. Of course, what that fun happens to be is where it gets hazy. I do have fun playing Mage Knight and Labyrinth, but it’s very different than the fun I have playing Abaddon. The fun I have with those games is from the sense of discovery of strategic routes through the mechanics, how the mechanics describe setting and concept, and in the hobbyist notion of drilling down through layers of depth to get at those nuggets of entertainment. With Abaddon- and other games like Magical Athelete, Talisman, Chaostle, and the Really Nasty Horse Racing Game- that fun is much more at a surface level, not buried beneath rules and process. You don’t have to work at being the kid on the back of the box cheering.

It strikes me that there is a clear distinction between “fun-first” design and those designs where elaboration of detail and coordination of mechanics- in some ways the true technical artistry of game creation- are the primary focus. This division can extend to explaining one of the chief differences between so-called “casual” and “hardcore” games. In a “casual” game, you may have a single mechanic and the intent is to entertain and engage the audience without demanding commitment or that drilling-down action through layers of systemic rules. “Hardcore” games insist that the player work for the fun, and in fact that process of working for the fun often is the fun. The question becomes which of these kinds of games is fun to you at the time you’re playing them. I’ve come to always ask myself when playing any game, before any other consideration “am I having fun doing this?”

As much as I love Mage Knight, Labyrinth, Starcraft, Magic Realm, and other often terrifyingly complicated games, invariably the ones that my games gang always go back to are the ones that are the fun-first designs. We may talk a lot about wanting to play Here I Stand, but what we really want to play is more Cosmic Encounter and King of Tokyo. Because in games like that, the fun rises to the top almost immediately and there’s no buy-in or lead-in to get to it. I’ve come to treasure game designs that respect my time and practically guarantee that my table is going to have a good time. Fun-first designs also seem to favor heavy interaction, metagaming, and socialization, which is what I’m looking for when I get together with my friends for a game night.

Of course, a lot of what makes a fun-first design work- or a mechanics-first design for that matter- is how your group receives and enacts it. A table of six people that have all learned Here I Stand backwards and forwards is going to have a much shorter rules-to-fun distance than a table of six newbies. A table of milquetoast wallflowers is likely going to shun a rowdy, raucous fun-first design like Ca$h and Gun$. A rowdy bunch of drunk trash-talkers isn’t going to get anywhere near whatever fun there is in a Phil Eklund game. Subjectivity crashes the party again.

Regardless, I think that there are clear identifiers that separate these kinds of games. Other than the issue of experiential subjectivity (after all, some people somehow find Princes of Florence fun), there is a potential schism that presents itself in approaching how to critically evaluate these games. It’s hard to apply the same critical rigor and valuation that can be used to quantify what makes a game like Magic Realm or Up Front great to simpler, fun-first fare like Bohnanza or Heroscape. It’s like writing about an ABBA pop song and describing it in terms more suited to a Steve Reich composition or trying to evaluate the films of Lars Von Triers with those of Zack Snyder as the comparative fulcrum.

I don’t think that this means that we can’t speak and write intelligently or academically about gaming’s fun-first “pop” games, nor does it necessarily devalue the importance of the larger, more technical designs. But I do question which of these approaches to design are closer to getting at the core potential of games as a medium. I also question whether games truly have the capacity to be not “fun” in the same way that challenging or difficult music and films are, yet still demonstrate the value of the game format as an expressive media. No one gets together with five friends to sit around a game for six hours to contemplate death, drug addiction, infidelity, or the morality of war. Can games truly express these things without the veneer of fun, or does the medium fall apart when fun is not the focus at some stage in the experience? Or is the “fun-first” design that strips away the medium’s barriers and rigorous processes and entertains the purer, more culturally relevant expression of the games format?

I don’t have a complete answer. It’s not a simple question of genre or classification, and it’s not merely a “casual” contra “hardcore” argument. It’s a fundamental discrepancy at the heart of game design and game criticism. Take for example a game like Lords of Waterdeep. It’s abstract and derivative. Critically, it should fail- if we’re examining it under the assumption that its design goals are to tell a Dungeons & Dragons story, innovate the worker placement genre, or offer a fresh take on hybridizing American and European styles. However, if we approach the game as a fun-first design that has an agenda of stripping away rules, process, and inaccessibility it emerges as a successful game. In a field with Caylus, Agricola, and Dungeon Lords it fails. In a field with the D&D Adventure System games or classic German family games it works.

And then there’s the narrative issue. I’ve long argued that theme, setting, and story are critical points of valuation in assessing a design, even if those things are present only at the highest or most perfunctory level. Yet a game like Sackson’s classic Can’t Stop, which is just about rolling dice and pushing your luck, emerges as a totally successful fun-first design. Likewise, an example could be made of any number of simple dexterity games and those classic German family games that are not focused on expressing narratives because they’re pushing the “fun” aspect to the front. There’s a German game from 1982 called Millionenspiel that’s really just about betting where a pawn will land on a track (shades of roulette) and it’s one of the most fun and dramatic games I’ve ever played- and it tells absolutely no story and features zero sense of setting. Touching on Lords of Waterdeep again, nobody is fooled into thinking that the game “feels” like sending adventurers out to fight beholders- I hope. But in this example, the D&D window-dressing, nomenclature, and setting- no matter how lightly applied or how little story is told- is leveraged itself along with simplistic mechanics to generate and abet the fun-first concept, particularly for fans of the property.

It appears that identifying which games are “fun-first” and which are not is in some ways a matter of managing expectations and appropriately receiving the designer or designers’ intent. You don’t go into a film called “The Sorrow and the Pity” and expect a rollicking good time. You also don’t go into a game called “King of Tokyo” and expect brain-burning efficiency puzzles and gaming in quiet solitude. As the critical standards for writing and discussing games are more or less an ad-hoc, any-amateur-can-play free-for-all, it strikes me that those engaging in reviews or analysis should have a clear sense of when a game is simply telling you to have fun and enjoy yourself, and when it’s telling you to pay attention to its mechanics or process.