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Childhood Games, The Best and the Worst

Yes, Armor Games is into online gaming, but real life has it’s gaming moments too. There are many board and tabletop games that I love. These games are well crafted, relying on a good amount of strategy and learning to get good at them. But there are just some board games I play that make me question how they got popular in the first place…especially now that I am older and realize how game mechanics work. As a game developer, I have gained a lot of experience in what works and fails in gameplay, and seeing some of these games makes me a little bit awestruck.  Here are my least and most favorite board games, ever.

To start, the worst of the worst!

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5) Mouse Trap. It was really hard for me to put this game in my list because of all the nostalgia it invokes. This game revolves around building pieces of an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, which will eventually leads to the players getting trapped in the mouse trap at the end of the game. But when it comes down to it, do you even remember how to play this game? Of course not! You only bought it so you could put together the really cool mouse trap! I bet every child who ever got their hands on this game put the giant mouse trap together and didn’t think twice about playing the game. And quite frankly, the game was a cheese-collecting game and it was not that much fun.

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4) Perfection. This game only took off because it had some of the catchiest commercials ever made. Remember that era of the 90’s where all the commercials were just over-the-top, with neon shirts and  completely awesome theme songs? That’s right, this one had a fantastic commercial. However when it came down to it, the commercial was severely more fun than the game. Basically, there is a grid of holes of various shapes and your job was to find the pegs that match each of the holes before time is up. The timer was one of those really loud wretching plastic models that would count down. Once you reached the time limit, the entire board would pop up and dislodge all your fine work. So what does this leave me with? Angry, unaccomplished, and with a huge mess of pegs all over the place. And this game gets old once you beat it. I mean, its the same grid with the same pieces so you’ll eventually reach the point where difficulty will only go up if you cover your eyes or somehow tie your arms together.

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3) Triominos. Triominos is just as boring as it sounds. There are triangle shaped dominos that you must piece together to earn points. It’s okay, until you realize that no one in the room can come up with any sort of strategy to this game… it’s basically a “wait and hope for matches” game. The triominos are hard to match up because two corresponding corners must have the same exact numbers on them, in the correct order. Each person’s turn takes about 2 minutes, meaning that the game lasts forever when you have to place all the pieces. No one knows how to play, so the game takes an additional 20 minutes to explain the rules. By the end of the game, no one really cares who won, and no one is going to brag about their wins because winning Triominos doesn’t feel like winning. It’s a lose-lose in all respects.

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2) Candy Land. I really, really used to like Candy Land. The game is simple… pull random cards to advance to the next color, until you eventually reach the end of the board. But here is the killer… scattered across the board are special squares that you might be sent to if you draw the corresponding card. Really, your game could be over in 5 turns if you get the right cards in a row, because there is an “advance to right in front of the ending” card. There is also a card that takes you all the way to the beginning, which is just about the most evil thing you can do to your child. There is also this area called “Rainbow Road” (not Mario Kart in any form) at the beginning of the game that could instantly move a player about 1/3 of the way towards the end, and a really far distance in front of all the other players. So in the end, the game is really just a “keep drawing cards” game, with no real strategy beyond hoping to feel for the ice cream mountain card.

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1) Chutes and Ladders. Oh how I loathe this game. The game is a playing board with a 100 squares with ladders and chutes strewn across the board. As the player spins the spinner (same as rolling a dice), the player advances that many squares. If they reach a ladder, they advance up a few numbers. If they reach a chute, they slide back down to the bottom of a chute. Sounds fun right? WRONG. The game is a true game of luck. No player gets any advantage, because frankly its a random number generator advancing a player around a haphazard playground of failure. It’s not a game, because the winner of the game is determined by whatever the spinner says. There is no way for a player to interact and say “I am going to do this”, because basically the only choice is “spin this spinner.” And like Candy Land’s instatravel card mechanic, there are ladders and chutes that move the player to the very end or beginning of the game making the entire experience really annoying. I greatly frown upon a game in which the player has no input to the outcome! There is also a skewed moral building in the game… the bottom of ladders have pictures of kids doing good things, and at the top is their outcomes. Same for the bottom of slides, which all feature children crying or getting hurt. I don’t know about you, but this is completely backwards for me. I loved to ride down slides as a kid. Riding down the slide was the fun part… it was climbing the steep metal ladder to get to the slide that was terrible. And sometimes there was that kid at the top of the slide who wouldn’t let anyone pass, so you were stuck on that ladder for 5 minutes (recess is only 15 minutes, what a waste of time).  Really this game does just about everything wrong and invokes way too many poor childhood moments.

Now that we know the worst, here are some of the best board games ever conceived by mankind.

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5) Settlers of Catan. Most likely you have heard nothing or very little of this game, because it’s a pretty non-mainstream game. But with the recent Xbox360 version releasing, it is finally getting the recognition it deserves. It is quite a remarkable experience to play. The game is simple… try to earn points by building cities, towns, and collecting special cards. This is done by owning areas of land, then receiving resources to purchase buildings and cards from these lands. Different land areas are controlled by different dice values, and rolling a dice determines what resources are handed out each round. The gameplay is a lot of fun, because a lot of it relies on trading and one-upping other players. It is a very involved game, where everyone is playing every single round. A lot of games fail to be inclusive to all players, but in Catan everyone has a big part. And the game gets ruthless! It’s just too much fun.

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4) Cranium. Cranium is another fantastic game, because it relies on creativity and knowledge. Like Trivial Pursuit, players advance around a board when they achieve certain tasks. Each spot on the board is one of four colors, indicating four categories of cards. Each card category has the player involved in sculpting clay, doodling with their eyes closed, or many other skills. The game is really crazy sometimes, and relies on players to let their inhibitions go just for a while :). Besides, it is hilarious trying to get people to sculpt a can opener out of clay.

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3) Stratego. This game is nuts. There is so much strategy to the game that it you could spend hours trying to build the perfect army. The game is a 2-player capture the flag game, where each side builds a small army of hidden pieces to protect the flag. Players attack each other not knowing what pieces each player has, and a small battle occurs until someone finds a flag on either side. This game is just brilliant because the game actually has tactics, unlike many other games.

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2) Risk. I don’t need to explain Risk, because everyone who has played it has most likely loved it, unless they got their butt kicked by a seasoned player. Risk is about world domination, and any game that relies on world domination wins in my book. There is nothing better than amassing a large army and just terrorizing all the neighboring countries.

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1) Chess. You can’t beat chess. It’s one of those games that has no ceiling in difficulty, and you will always find a player better than you to beat. Chess is pure strategy, relying on outwitting your opponent and planning. The game can be as deep or shallow as you want it to be, and players choose what kind of player they are going to be. It does what any game should do… combining strategy, good gameplay, and solid rules that cannot be manipulated and twisted.

So those are my choices, agreement or disagreement?

Edit:  Monopoly should fit in here somewhere, but honestly, everyone hates me after I am done playing with them… they can’t stand the fact that I play ruthlessly.  Short a dollar?  Yeah, you better be paying me back with 500% interest per roll.

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