What Makes a Game Great?
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  1. #1
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    What Makes a Game Great?

    "Lifestyle games," games that are hobbies in themselves for players who rarely play anything else, are almost always great games: Diplomacy, Bridge, Chess, Magic: the Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons. But not all great games become lifestyle games. What makes a game "great"? Not good, not a flash-in-the-pan, rather an all-time great game?

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    A game is never "great" to everyone. Chess is a great game, but many gamers can't stand to play it (though a great many have tried). We can say the same for D&D or any other RPG.

    Longevity is important. Some will say a new game is "great", but we cannot tell until years have passed, no matter how much we like it when it comes out. Furthermore, not every great game is great by current "design standards", but it may still be a great game in terms of how it has affected people and the enjoyment it has given to people. "New" doesn't necessarily mean "good" and "old" doesn't mean "bad".

    Popularity is not a criterion. There are many popular tunes, movies, games, books, that disappear from our notice in a year or three. Great games continue to be loved year after year, just as great novels, movies, music are enjoyed perennially.

    If a game is one of hundreds that people might want to play, can it be a great game? No, it should stand out from the crowd. If you play a game just to kill time or socialize, then the fact that youre playing it certainly doesn't make it a great game, no matter how many times you play. Not "oh, yeah, I guess we can play that," it must be "I'd love to play that" - again and again. If you can spend your valuable time just to play this game or think about this game, not merely to socialize, when you have other things to do, then it may be a great game. If lots of people don't play it hundreds of hours each, over many years, can it be a great game?

    Great games often engender much discussion, and often a literature, about the fine points of good play. Chess, Bridge, Diplomacy are obvious examples.

    I'd say:
    if a game is played by a great many people
    who love to play it (they're not just passing time/killing time/playing to socialize)
    who play it for hundreds of hours (per person) over the years
    who can still enjoy it many years after it was first published
    who make variants that are fine games,
    then it's probably a great game.

    Monopoly is poorly-designed. It's certainly the most-sold commercial game. You can argue that it's usually played by default, because it's traditional, rather than because people truly want to play it. I'd say it's not a great game because it fails the "love to play it" test as well as the variants test.

    Which RPGs could be called great games? Comments?

    Reference Books: Hobby Games: the 100 Best and Family Games: the 100 Best, both edited by James Lowder.

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  2. #2
    The problem is, RPG's are still fairly new, so they mostly fail the "still enjoy it many years after it was first published" test.

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    While I think you could argue that Monopoly is not a great game, I think it would be folly. That many people absolutely can be wrong, but I'd say that when they've been purchasing that game at that rate for so long, there's got to be something to it.

    Just because *I* would rather stick forks in my eyes than play monopoly, doesn't mean it's not a great game.

    On the other hand, you asked which RPGs are great and I would say "Dungeons and Dragons". In fact, I would argue that D&D is the greatest game of all and nothing will ever come close.

    So clearly while I'm trying to be unbiased in my opinion of Monopoly, I am happy to be biased about D&D.
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    Empires in Arms is definitely a great game.

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    Axis & Allies, in all its various iterations, fits the bill, I think. I'm still playing my original Big Box edition, but now with my teenage son. The rest of the Big Box games ("Fortress America," "Broadsides and Boarding Parties," "Conquest of the Empire," and "Shogun") were also fun to play, but did not have the longevity or reprint/remake life of A&A. A&A was also made into a (albeit poor AI) computer game, as well.

  6. #6
    Longevity and commercial success is one thing, but so is social impact. I know it may seem a little clichd but I think it's a fact that the release of D&D literally changed the way in which people thought about gaming and it's possibilities.

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    Quote Originally Posted by uriel222 View Post
    The problem is, RPG's are still fairly new, so they mostly fail the "still enjoy it many years after it was first published" test.
    I've played D&D for 43 years in various incarnations... but would still happily sit down to the original (with Greyhawk please) no problem. I still play classic Traveller (again, with supplements), so that's 40 years. I didn't get started with Runequest until 1980 or 81... I homebrewed them all, enjoyed them still (and would still) enjoy them. I'd certainly say they all qualify, imho, as great games. Oh, add Empire of the Petal Throne to that mix, I just bought the new hardcover reprint of the original RPG set on Tekumel and I am planning on tortu... er inviting some friends to play it. Honestly, my only problem is not having enough time to play them all. I'm 58 (59 in a few days) and when I retire in a couple of years, the dice are going to fly
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    I would say that a RPG that created a hobby or lifestyle would qualify. By that definition, D&D and Vampire: The Masquerade qualify (as Vampire turned LARPing into something of a phenomenon).

    Though, perhaps another definition could be games that have a large, dedicated following and are known entities to non-gamers. In that case we would have to include Pathfinder.

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    Pathfinder is known to non-gamers? I'm not sure I'd agree with that.

    The problem with this definition is that so many board games do fit the bill. Game of Life is still played after decades, by many families, all over the world. Commercially an unbelievable success. But, a "great" game?

    And, the next question is, how long of a time frame are we looking at. Sure, D&D is 50 years old (or thereabouts), but, compared to many games, that's a flash in the pan. Euchre or Bridge is far, far more enduring. Does that make them "greater" games?

    And then we have the "great many people" line. What does that actually mean. The number of Magic players absolutely dwarfs D&D by an order of magnitude. Quite likely more people will play Monopoly this weekend than have ever played D&D. And, then, we get into video games as well. Something like Halo has more players on any given day than D&D will ever have. Counter Strike is enjoyed all over the world and it's 17 years old. According to Steam, 300000+ people are playing it every day. Is it a great game?

    Words like "great" are very nebulous and you can massage pretty much anything to being great.
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    Is Talisman a great game? I know it has avid haters as much as fans, but it meets all of those criteria:

    I'd say:
    if a game is played by a great many people
    who love to play it (they're not just passing time/killing time/playing to socialize)
    who play it for hundreds of hours (per person) over the years
    who can still enjoy it many years after it was first published
    who make variants that are fine games,
    then it's probably a great game.

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