What's the right amount of conflict in a game?
15 second version: What's the right amount of conflict to make a good game? Enough to leave you itching for an immediate rematch but not so much that you're fishing the components out from under the cupboards for weeks.
Personally, I'm not a fan of co-operative games. I don't know why, and I know they're a huge pull for a lot of people, but there's something I find unsatisfying about not having an ultimate winner (yes I know we all won, but who actually _won_??) I've played and enjoyed Dead of Winter, Mysterium and others, and I find them interesting, atmospheric and they certainly capture my imagination, but I always feel like there's something missing if I don't get to pit myself against the other players, or keep score, or have a reigning champion within the group (even if it's only for half an hour until the next game); and in case you're wondering, I am okay with losing, but I do like a good contest along the way :-)
At the other end of the scale, I judge that if some of my co-players (particularly, but not only, those under the age of 10) throw all the game pieces across the kitchen towards the end of the game, or start screaming uncontrollably that they hate me, then the game has probably got too much conflict. You would perhaps expect this to be the case with any 'Take That' game but in my experience it doesn't work like that. Unstable Unicorns always has us swearing at each other and stalking angrily away at the end. But other games like Kingdomino, Quirkle and Potion Explosion are made by the pivotal moment when someone stitches someone else up at the key moment. And we all growl and snarl but are friends afterwards.
All of which got me to thinking, what's the right amount of conflict in a game? Just like a good story, I believe you have to have a certain amount of conflict to make a good game. Beyond that, it depends on the stability of your co-players. If like mine, your friends are erratic and unpredictable, the wrong game could ruin the whole evening. As such, here are some guidelines to get you to that sweet spot. I should add that all of these have happened at game sessions I've taken part in in the past year (but I won't say which, if any, were me...)
- Are your co-players reading a book in between turns, or building a human pyramid out of their meeples?
- Have your co-players wandered off mid-game to go and check their phone or do a job?
- Has anyone stolen anyone else's meeples/tokens/coins to try and make things a bit more interesting?
- Are any of the players hugging each other?
- Are any of the players saying 'thanks', without having been brought beer or snacks?
- Have you just passed Go, collected a wedge or turned over a matching pair of cards?
...if so, you have TOO LITTLE CONFLICT in your game. Throw a Dorito at the player opposite you immediately. Conversely:
- Has anyone just left the table in tears?
- Are most of the game pieces scattered across the room, on fire or embedded within players' faces?
- Are any of the players rolling around the floor with windmill arms and pulsating veins in their temple?
- Is anyone saying "Let's all calm down and play a nice game of Hate"?
...if so, you have TOO MUCH CONFLICT in your game. Put the kettle on, open a window and put some Dido on Spotify to settle everyone down, and fetch your emergency copy of 'Pop to the Shops' (the fun game of shopping for 2-4 players) to restore order.
What's the worst example you've had of too much conflict in a game?