In a senseless quest to create lexicon for the hobby of board gaming that can be used by everyone (or more likely just me this one time), I was thinking the other day about “brick wall” games. A brick wall game is one that you keep trying in the empty hope that it will one day crack open and be what you hope it could. To people who don’t spend so much time playing games in then first place, this seems like a ridiculous pursuit. Nonetheless it happens a lot. Part of it might be because of the general hoopla that comes with major titles. There’s a tendency to think that not liking a game is more a problem with the person. To some extent that’s true, but it’s easy to second guess yourself and assume that you just don’t “get” it yet.
Last week I sat down to play Lost Cities with my wife. I did this for a lot of different reasons, because I love her and she likes it being just two of them. But I actually recommended that we give it another shot, which is weird because I’m pretty sure I hate that game. It’s got the worst kind of risk-assessment, one where you can’t be sure of anything before hand. In a weird way I have always felt more in control in a crapshoot like Talisman, where I at least can gauge the relative risks of my actions. But numerous games of Lost Cities never did yield that insight, so I gave up on ever liking it much.
But when it comes to things like probability and mathematics, I really don’t trust my own judgement. I play almost everything entirely from the gut, and I refused to believe that legendary designer Reiner Knizia would ever design and release something that felt so off-kilter. Combine that with a recently renewed interest in his games (I just got Tigris & Euphrates and Taj Mahal in a trade), and I thought it was due for another spin. In preparation, I went ahead and read up on some of the probabilities involved in what is a very simple two-player game. That sounds silly, but if I was going to at least appreciate my experience I needed to get some bearings.
I had a particularly good game of it, winning all three hands. So I guess my study of the game paid off. And I will say, I came away from the experience a little more appreciative of what it tries to do. But would I say that I like Lost Cities? Well, not really. At this point I think my assessment is somewhere in the realm of “indifferent respect”. I’d be more willing to play it now, but there are still a couple little things that bug me to death about it. I don’t like the way that every card has one single use, and then becomes useless. It happens to a huge percentage of the cards, and it’s not a problem so much as just something that irritates me. I also am not a fan of the scoring, which I find to be oddly complicated for such an elemental game. Besides that, we played a game of Knizia’s Battle Line, sort of a sister game to Lost Cities. That’s a far superior game, eliminating most of what I don’t like about Lost Cities while leaving in all of the tension and tough decisions.
But it was at least nice to feel that brick wall crack just a little under the repeated bashing to my head. Maybe someday I’ll be writing an entry about how I’ve totally come around on Lost Cities. The hobby would be weak indeed if we didn’t allow ourselves to change our minds. Maybe I’ll try it with other turkeys on my list sometime. But not 7 Wonders. Screw that game.