Variant: Are there bad mechanics, or just bad games?
When I attended Strategicon, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with a number of game designers. At one Q&A session, Kevin Wilson, co-designer of Elder Sign as well as a host of other games, stated that there were no bad mechanics, just bad games to use them in. Immediately, my mind leapt to the “roll and move” staple of so many non-fun games. I mean, if ever there was a bad mechanic then that would be it: no individual determination, outcome totally in the hands of the dice, no choices to make. Bleh.
But Mr. Wilson then gave the following example: Chutes and Ladders, or Snakes and Ladders for non-U.S. types. But, instead of playing it the traditional way, we introduce a new variant. At the beginning of the game, each player is assigned a color secretly. They want that color to be the one to get to the end. When a player rolls the die, they can move any of the pawns. So the game becomes more about deduction and deception than about roll and move. While I still don’t know how much I’d enjoy the game, the dramatic improvement is readily apparent. Suddenly, roll and move isn’t so objectionable.
Still, I’m not so sure we can say that no mechanic is a bad one. I’m thinking specifically about player elimination. In general, if a game has player elimination then I don’t want to play it. It’s absolutely no fun to sit out while everyone else plays a game. Especially if that means being bored for any length of time. And while I enjoy Bang! and Werewolves, it’s usually despite that mechanic, not because of it. In those games I can usually excuse it by saying, “Well, the game moves fast enough.” But the mechanic itself is always a negative.
What about you? Is there a mechanic that you think is always bad? Or is every mechanic a good one and you can enlighten me (as Wilson did with roll-and-move) about player elimination?