I hate Deus Ex Machina. The resolution of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle by the introduction of a highly unlikely occurrence. As a literary tool it is the cheapest and laziest crutch a writer can rely on. Unfortunately, it abounds everywhere in our world. To avoid the use of such a devise a creator is required to execute their work with incredible foresight. Every step must be meticulously planned. At times it’s tough to avoid, previous works are set in stone once they’ve gone to print. I hate such outcomes in gaming as much as I do anywhere else. Just like in writing gameplay elements must be crafted with excellent care to avoid it.
Grudgingly, there exists a need for these types of games; games where everyone is always in it and a single wild swing can decide the outcome at any turn. The mind not adept at solving board gaming’s particular problems will almost certainly loose in the absence of random balance. There can be great fun in games like Camel Up, where probably outcomes can be calculated but the results are never certain. The level playing field keep a whole group of individuals with diverse skillsets and abilities invested.
In miniature gaming I often believed that salvation should always feel ‘possible’ but unlikely. Many small rolls should determine a major outcome rather than a single “2+”. The claw back from the brink of destruction needs to feel incremental lest it feel cheap.
One of the best signs of a good game is when it ends and people still stare at the board, unable to pull themselves from the investment they just made. Reflecting over a game should invoke a sense of possibility. “What happened started many turns ago”, “If only I’d seen it I could have done this instead”, “NOW I see the benefit of that, next time I want to try that”. It should plant a desire of play the game again. These feelings only happen if the games systems are slowly and incrementally layered on top of each other and created a conclusion that made sense.
The end game catharsis does not happen after a card is flipped and the next player goes “Oh I guess I’ll just take that and win”, regardless of what went before. It does not happen when the final random number generator spits out a result that made every play prior to it meaningless. In those situations, there’s nothing to explore. The mechanics and decision that went before have been rendered meaningless by the gods of randomness that spewed forth from the game’s internal mechanisms.
The joy of gaming is control, it’s solving problems, it’s pattern recognition and it’s a social connection. All things at the very core of the human experience. Our brains are hard wired to take pleasure in pattern recognition, to a ridiculous extent. We’re coded to find beauty in symmetry. Most of all we want a sense of control. Systems that swing too abruptly or wildly take that control away from us. It’s a system where we don’t see the patterns, the beauty, the elegance. Even in loss there’s still the catharsis of untangling a web of beautiful systems. The unraveling of patterns, the connection of problems to solutions and the possibility that you might be able to use that next time to control things around you is something that can exist after every game, win or lose. It’s this joy that connects games to the core of what makes the human intellect so special.