Joel Eddy from DriveThruReview recently posted on his Facebook page one simple question:
“If a game sucks, who cares if it’s innovative?”
Taking into consideration the subjective nature of whether a game “sucks” or not, where do you fall on this question? Is there still value to creating games that are not fun or don’t work properly if the thought behind the design (whether artistic or mechanical) pushes the boundaries of the hobby? Should a game like this be redeemed in the media (reviewers, awards, etc.) for its innovation, or should the “fun-factor” trump?
Imagine if breakthrough games like 7 Wonders, Dominion, Shadows over Camelot, Magic the Gathering, Love Letter or TIME Stories “sucked.” Where would we be? (I fully realize that some people believe they do suck!)
There’s always value in pushing the boundaries of what can be done, but I feel that such concepts should be left in the prototype stages if they can’t meet the basic requirements of being a functional and enjoyable game. Of course, what you define as ‘functional and enjoyable’ is always up for debate, but an innovative game *needs* to be more than just different, in my mind, to be worthy of praise. I’ll take World of Yo-Ho as an example for this one – it’s ‘innovative’ in that you use an app on your cellphone to represent your ship and playing piece on the board, but I feel that it’s clunky and cumbersome, as well as merely being a gimmick rather than an essential part of the game as is the app in Alchemists.
I am always happy to see something new in a game. Innovation is a wonderful thing and crazy new mechanics are always a great way to pique interest in the game you’re putting out. The game you’re putting out, though, needs to be more than just “hey, look at my new mechanic!” If a new innovative concept in your game is convoluted and hard to understand to the point of affecting gameplay, that isn’t good. Or if the way that a game has been super-creatively designed really doesn’t actually have any bearing on gameplay and it isn’t integrated well at all, then who cares?
For me, if a game is not enjoyable or interesting, I don’t care whether or not the designer is breaking board game barriers and just blowing people’s minds. And if the game doesn’t work then I also don’t care. I generally feel that if a game sucks, it sucks. But I think that depends on who you ask and that’s okay – not everyone likes everything. Don’t try to tell me that I have to love something because of this neat new thing it does, even if the game is broken and crappy as a whole. I think that innovation should be applauded in the community, but acknowledgement should still be made when a game isn’t good. Take T.I.M.E. Stories: it is innovative and clever and cool (in my opinion). It does some new things and makes for a different kind of gaming experience. That doesn’t mean it’s without its cons, though, and the community has been sure to point them out, despite the wonderful things that the game brings to the table. It might win awards (or have won awards, I don’t know), but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect, which I think can be said for every game that’s award-winning. The fun-factor will always be a major consideration when it comes to deciding what I would like to play, but that’s not how everyone approaches gaming and I don’t think that either element, enjoyment or innovation, can really trump the other entirely.
As has been demonstrated throughout history, innovation is what keeps us moving forward, but many of the greatest innovations are built from the remnants of less successful ideas. In my mind, the goal of a game is to provide fun or entertainment for the player, so an unsuccessful game would be one that fails to do so. Considering both points together, I find value in games that fail to provide enjoyment, but still manage to provide something unique. Initial failings can provide the inspiration or backbone for great things to follow, whether by picking out the interesting pieces and reapplying them, or by working with a failed system to make it work.
When evaluating games and considering their worth in time or money, it is important to consider the innovative aspects of the title. No, I don’t think that positive recommendations should be made for unenjoyable games just because they’re unique in some aspect, but innovation is definitely a quality that can make a game more fun, and thus more worthwhile.
Please feel free to discuss in the comments below!