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"Fun to play once"


Inspired by listening to podcast #90 (as well as NPI’s recent review of Gen7), I see a trend for games that seem really good on first play but turn out to be disappointing once one gets into the campaign.

And I wonder whether at least some game designers and publishers are focusing their effort into making games that will act that way, compared with a more even distribution between first play and repeated play, because in the current boardgame market an awful lot of the people who buy it are only ever going to play it once or twice anyway, so it won’t matter.

I’m not saying this is wrong of them; it’s a sensible way to act in a market with thousands of games competing for people’s attention. But I do think it may lead to more games that more serious players are less likely to enjoy.


I think it’s a lot about designers exploring the Legacy aspect while maintaining a reset-able game.

To be able to play say Gen7 and it takes a few minutes to set it back to Zero so you can start it again and have a short (ish) campaign again that will have some variation to it.

Its a little trial and error to see what people like and don’t like a bit, designers can have amazing ideas yet not amazing execution. While a game might not be great, it’s ideas could be, which that feedback allows them to work on improvements.

I don’t see these campaign style games taking over from “standard” games, but I see that there is a market for it, Gloomhaven and Pandemic/Risk Legacy have show that people are willing to play this once through and done games. It can be enjoyable to know you are “done” with a game.

I’m looking forward to future iterations of this style of game has to offer.


I’ve not yet listened to the podcast and am wondering whether they and you are talking about
A. campaign games that start great but become less fun with each new scenario,
B. about the fact that campaign games can feel ‘finished’ after one playthrough.

If it’s the former, I’m not sure how disimilar this is to non-campaign games that lose their shine after repeated plays, e.g. because players realize there’s not much variation and replayability.


In the podcast, as far as I remember, the “just once” came up because they played the party game Just One with a friend and afterwards the friend said the title was apt, because that particular friend was happy playing that game “just once.”

I think designers don’t really want to design a game that only sees one play just because the market is hella over saturated. I think they want to make the next Catan or Carcasonne or Monopoly, a game that is enduring and popular.

I think whether a game gets played more than once depends on the players of the game and what their tastes are. If someone likes a game, they’ll try to play it more than once. If it’s an enjoyable game to them, then that might be the only game they play for a period of time, as they try to master the ways to win and improve their strategy.

If the game flops for someone, they might only play it the once or twice, but maybe they pass the game on to someone else who might enjoy it multiple times.


They also were referencing the awesome time they had with the demo of gen 7 but each subsequent play was baaaad shit.


Along with the shine wearing off Blackout Hong Kong - so it’s not necessarily just campaign games.

I’m reminded of the way that barbecue for barbecuing contests has to have all its flavours and textures loaded into the first bite because that’s all a judge will take, and if you actually wanted to eat something you wouldn’t pick a contest winner.


I dunno, there are a lot of games I’ve liked the first time, but just became “full” and didn’t want to play it again. Of those games, I have wanted to play them again after the passage of time.

Mostly pick-up, super-simple games, or somehow getting me into a 7-course-meal of a game that can take 5-30 hours to play.

To spread out an analogy: Like getting an cold but melty ice-cream cone in the summer, or splurging for a show of Cirque Du Soleil. It’s awesome at the time, but you don’t want to do it again anytime too soon.

Eventually, though, I would pick those games up again in the right situation.


I feel this way about Mysterium and Colt Express. I love these games, but I tend to avoid replaying them too often.


Interesting theory. Seems to me that many people have many different ideas of what constitutes “replayability” in the first place. Some people want to see something “new” every game, i.e., in the form of sealed content, or just big decks with random draws. Some people want constant output of new content, as in CCGs and expansions. Other people (me!) just want a solid core design that rewards repeated play.

I imagine you are mostly thinking of any one or more of these designs done badly when you refer to “play once” design. I can’t imagine any publisher deliberately directing their efforts in that way. See, for example, the backlash against Seafall, a game that massively underperformed, if the endless ~$20 deeply discounted sales are anything to go by. Of course, you might argue that it also failed to engage from the first play, but it seemed to me that it was the broken and untested mid-late game unlocks that drew the most ire.

Endless expansion is the big money-spinner, of course, and sealed content tends to require a minimum time investment to pay off, even if limits total playtime. Solid design is simply really difficult to do.

I do agree that publishers are working hard to make first plays better, and I do agree that this trend can make games less good for those of us who can read and digest and understand a complex “traditional” rulebook. Learn-through-app and read-while-playing are two trends I am totally not on board with! Well, until I see one done right, of course.


The Fast Forward Friedman Friess games suffer from this- rather than play once to learn the rules then play again , they almost feel pointless to play when you actually know the rules


With regards to Gen 7, there seems to be a thread through many reviews I’ve heard of the game: everyone was excited at the premise, especially coming as the next Crossfire game after Dead of Winter; a legacy game with a compelling narrative and interesting idea; crushing disappointment that the core game wasn’t much fun and it didn’t get better as the game went on, it didn’t change or got WORSE. Games are subjective, obviously. The Dice Tower has mentioned multiple times that their first play of Time Stories, like for many folks, was an incredible experience. One of the TDT crew (Zee) said after the first play it would have been a 10/10 for him. Successive modules poisoned the well.

Some of that can be ‘the shine off the apple’, but in general I think this is more a question of failure to fulfill the game’s promise. When I first saw a friend playing ‘Quacks’, he told me, ‘Yeah, I think this is a winner; I really like it.’ I respected his opinion, so when my wife expressed interest, we got it. After the first play I wanted to immediately play again (like the boiz). Each successive play has only left me hungry for more (and I’ve played it 5 times in a MONTH, which is huge for me). While they mentioned ‘Just One’ only needing one play, they then immediately DID play it again and enjoy it again…they just didn’t feel the need to seek it out. And I don’t think that’s a design conceit, it just happened that they’d played it, gotten it’s measure and said ‘yeah, fine’.

I’m not sure how someone could frontload a game to be super-appealing on the first play and not subsequent plays except for a legacy game and…why would they bother to specifically engineer that? If they put that much thought into it, they’d make a great game on purpose, instead. I don’t think the makers of Gen 7 set out to make a game that’s been so poorly received…they thought the opposite, I’d wager. But even great authors, filmmakers and musicians sometimes stumble; gamemakers aren’t any different, I’m sure. If Gen 7 works out to be Plaid Hat’s ‘Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark’, well…better luck next time. (note: the infamous Spider-Man play was made by a lot of very creative people, most of whom were either very successful at other things or even at Brodway, just not THIS TIME).


I think more often than not the “misfires” that some designers/publishers put out are, perhaps, a disconnect with how they know the previous game intricately versus how the community, their audience, perceives the previous game.

Was Dead of Winter a success for all the same reasons the original designer thought it would be? Probably not because I’m positive that no game is successful in every way the designer thinks it will be; if that were the case, there would be games that were, in every way, stellar without little bits sticking out that fans and critics point out despite their love of the game.


This is an interesting thought that I’m sure is true for many works of art.
In the case of the Crossroads system, I wonder why none of the designers of DoW did a new game using the system, and Plaid Hat instead published one by a video game designer with no apparent previous experience in board game design.
Maybe a fallout or creative differences between publisher and original designers?


Death of the author, man.

The issue with the Crossroads mechanism is it’s not a mechanism a game hangs off. It’s a great idea, but it’s largely added flavour text. It can’t make a bad game into a good game, so Gen7 being bad doesn’t really have any bearing on the quality of Crossroads as a mechanism. I’m surprised Dead of Winter even named itself a “CROSSROADS GAME”, it’s such a little side show to the main event.


To be clear, Gen7 is by the same publisher, but not the same designer, so there’s that. My response there is based on the idea that a designer would intentionally make a game super-exciting on the first play to entice people, but essentially ONLY on the first play (as if the dev of Gen7 intentionally made the game seem better than it was to get it sold). As for the dev being ignorant of why a game succeeded, if that were the primary issue, they’d had a few years between releases to find out what people found compelling (and did release an expansion and companion game to some success, so they didn’t seem to fail in that respect). Which isn’t to say that you don’t have a valid point, but I think it’s complicated. Uwe Rosenberg, for example, has released numerous games that are similar, but they still need to be different enough to justify buying them. I enjoy Cottage Garden, but while it’s different enough, Indian Summer wasn’t as successful when I got it to the table; Spring Meadow never even got bought by me. Feast for Odin, Glass Road, Nusford (and very shortly, Reykholt) all are very similar and successful (illustrating Rosenberg knows his formula fairly well), but also must be different enough or else why buy it?

There are a lot of designers out there who have multiple games in the same space mechanically, conceptually or both. So I think some of the big names know what people like about their work: dudes like Steve Finn, Tim Fowers, Uwe Rosenberg, Stefan Feld, Shem Phillips and others have an audience that will buy whatever they produce, for example. I’d have to think about some games that have failed for misreading their audience: I think Scott Almes has a hit/miss ratio, particularly in the Tiny Epic space. Tiny Epic Western and Tiny Epic Zombies feel out of whack compared to some of his other games, for example, and I think that’s a result of shoe-horning a game into a framework that wasn’t good for it. But i’m not sure if that’s misunderstanding the audience or being overly dedicated to a design philosophy.


Did he though? Hardcore Uwe fans will buy everything, but most people won’t buy Agricola AND Caverna or all three of the Garden trilogy because they are too similar. The garden trilogy seems to be evidence the publisher will let Uwe release whatever the hell he likes!

I’d be interested to see the sales figures of Patchwork and the Garden trilogy. There was a definite drop off of hype/interest. Did that fourth game really make it’s worth? Was it people who had already bought the other three, or was it newcomers who would have happily bought any of the other (very similar games) if Summer Wotsit didn’t exist? Those are pretty much impossible questions.


Isaac Vega works for Plaid Hat and I’m pretty sure they’re still on good terms with John Gilmour. I think both designers are just busy with other projects.


I thought I saw a Dice Tower interview with one of them a few years ago where he talked about possible future crossroads games - that’s why I was astonished to hear the news about Gen7’s designer. But yeah, I guess they are busy with other projects and maybe just didn’t come up with an idea for a XRoads game that they thought good enough to develop.


They ran a poll for the next Crossroads game a few years back, and Sci-fi won. Some of the other themes are quite cool, like a summer camp. I’m curious whether that meant they had an idea for a game and wanted to let fans choose what skin to fit on it, or they had several completely different games and were deciding which one to concentrate on developing further.

Edit:. The ranking of the poll is here.

  1. Lost in Space
  2. Feudal Japan
  3. Deep Underground
  4. Summer Camp


Yeah, those are questions that we’d need a lot of data we’re not going to get to be able to answer. What were their sales expectations? How well did they sell? And so on. Given that Uwe has published games with multiple publishers and many games like Agricola and Caverna are on their second or third editions, clearly he sells. At the same time, I’m pretty sure the drop-off on that trilogy indicates that people don’t just buy his games blindly…and as a dedicated fan, I can attest to that. I haven’t gone back to Agricola and Caverna…I have Feast for Odin, Glass Road, Nusfjord and soon Reykholt. I don’t need to pick those games up, as well. How that applies to others, I can’t say.