Rhythm. When I re-listened to the Myriad Games Podcast on Core Worlds, this word popped out at me.
Many board games can have a great feel despite a complete lack of rhythm. Monopoly-style games, for example, represent a slow and inevitable arms race. Monopoly doesn’t have a rhythm so much as it has a tipping point, where the game breaks, and must end. Magic: the Gathering is built off of an engine which implies rhythm: You play one land per turn, then, tap those lands for more and more powerful cards as the game continues. But the point of most Collectible Card Games is to subvert the rhythm of the game. You want to find ways to ‘cheat’ the rhythm, advancing to stage five while your opponent is stuck on three. While a Dungeons and Dragons campaign can be built off the tenet of good rhythm, more often it represents a series of individual scenarios that accumulate into an adventure, in the same way that life can be seen as ‘just a bunch of things that happen to you’. These games are fun, so it’s clear that a game doesn’t need to have a good rhythm to be fun.
If you say, however, that a Deck Building Game has a strong rhythm, it’s a great complement. DBGs are built with a certain amount of given information (there’s a small selection of cards that will be in a person’s hand, and, presumably, many of those cards will be resources), and the entire genre is built around the idea of making your deck better and better as you move through the game. Despite these controls, when you play through Dominion or Thunderstone, for example, your game may result in a chain of meaningless turns, due to the players’ inability to overcome a hurdle, or the game might result in a romp, as the players smash through their decks and crush the scenario. For a genre filled with a limited number of controllable knobs, it’s an odd truism that many DBGs can’t play a more sophisticated tune than ‘More! More! More! More!’.
Core Worlds has a strong rhythm. What you do on turn three will be different than turn six. When you get to turn ten, the game is over. Count up your points. Each round in the game is meaningful, and the consequences of your actions are tangible. Early in the podcast, I teased Sara when she explained what Core Worlds is. She starts off by saying the game is complicated… which is a rough way to sell a game. When writing this mini review for Core Worlds, I also found this review on Amazon by M.P. Cummings:
“We’re somewhat new to card based tabletop games, so this was a great find. My girls (ages 8 and up) love playing, and since there are defined rounds, it doesn’t drag forever. Great game!”
That’s an excellent summation. Sara’s right: Core Worlds is a complicated game. But that doesn’t mean it’s hard to understand. That just means the game has breadth. You can play it many times, and still struggle to wrap your head around ‘the right strategy’.
But, hey, if you aren’t convinced, maybe you’d prefer to listen to the podcast?