|A division of game-flavour that just struck me; I think of it as the thermochemistry of the game.|
Most popular games, I think, are exothermic - like an exothermic chemical reaction, once the gamestate has started reacting to the players, the reaction will tend to accelerate until the fuel is consumed and the game is over. The game that triggered the whole observation is Babel, where once a player has started to win, the game utterly collapses in favour of that player. The same thing, to a degree, happens with many popular games. Consider Chess or Stratego - if you lose a powerful piece, the rest of your pieces pretty much inevitably follow. In Go or Abalone, if your opponent gets a firm grip of the board, your score plummets, and as your score plummets your grip on the board weakens, and it gets easier and easier for your opponent to maintain or even increase their lead. Monopoly is perhaps one of the most obviously exothermic games there is. Risk is quite exothermic, though that your greater number of units are spread more widely dissipates the effect somewhat. Magic:TG is mostly quite exothermic, which is lessened a little by the "erase everything" cards. To a lesser degree, Shogi and Rithmomachia are exothermic, but their design is such that reversing the 'reaction' is much more feasible.
An endothermic game, then, is one where as you get closer to winning, it gets more difficult to maintain your lead. This is the case with many games where more than two players are involved, especially where trading is a factor. In Settlers of Catan, for example, people will generally refuse to trade with a player who is close to winning, or at least require a better exchange rate from them. I'm not sure Settlers is endothermic, though, since a player in a winning position generally has more income and options from the game itself, enough to make up for the reduced trading options. Icehouse has potential for a similar 'trade' handicap against whoever seems to be winning, and has no comparable exothermic tendencies. Canasta and Cheat are both endothermic, Canasta because the winning player has a more difficult time entering a round, and Cheat because the winning player has fewer options for play and less complete information to work with. Splat is mostly neither, but has slight endothermic tendencies when a player gets close to victory - it is possible for their opponent to bring the game almost back to parity by winning a single 'endgame' round.
Then there's my favourite flavour - the games that are neither exothermic nor endothermic. Scrabble is a fine example - it's no easier to get more points when you're winning than it is to get points when you're losing. Same goes for Alphabetix, Carcassonne, 6 Nimmt, Boggle, Ricochet Robots and Set. Note, that's not to say that you're just as likely to win when you're losing - the person with the lead is always more likely to win - but rather that the chance of increasing a lead is always the same as the chance of closing that lead (given equally competent opponents). With some of these games it's still possible, despite the lack of distortion, for a game to be a foregone conclusion - in Set, for example, once a player scores their thirteenth or fourteenth point there aren't enough points left in the game for the result to be turned around. The difference from an exothermic game, though, is that when the player has twelve points, even if the other player has none, there's still a perfectly good chance of losing even without playing ineptly, if the opponent plays well.
My preference, then, is towards games that are not at all thermochemical; failing that, I prefer a game to be endothermic rather than exothermic. Exothermic games are so often a completely foregone conclusion a few turns in, but still require playing out 'just in case', and the playing out is often extremely tedious and pointless.
To illustrate this point, imagine two world-class chess players, playing chess, but with one of their rooks taken away at the beginning - it's just not worth playing the game at all with the handicap. With two world-class Set players on the other hand (if such a thing existed), one given a five point handicap (which is more than equivalent to a rook handicap), there's no reason to assume that the advantaged player will win. You'd still bet on them, though.
To further clarify, this isn't necessarily the effect of a random factor - none of Set, Ricochet Robots or Boggle has a random factor per-se (there are random factors but the two players are always on a precisely even playing field). [17:20] [7 comments]