Boxed Culture: Knocking You Down to Get Ahead

So I was talking to a friend recently about a game called Garden Dice. In the game you roll 4 dice and use the rolls to buy seeds, plant seeds, water seeds, and harvest plants. You gain victory points for harvesting plants and getting different collections of plants. The individual with the most victory points at the end of the game is the winner. The dice can also be used to place special tiles: a sundial and a bird. The sun dial is used to modify your seed placement. The bird is used to eat opponents’ seeds. These tiles can both be flipped to a scarecrow and a rabbit respectively. The scarecrow keeps birds away and the rabbit eats your opponents’ veggies. The game is fairly light and the randomness of the dice roils makes it slightly unpredictable, albeit entertaining when you roll really well.

A.K.A. Not  Farmville the Boardgame

A.K.A. Not Farmville the Board Game

Okay, now back to the friend I was talking to about Garden Dice. During the first (and only) game of this we had played, I tried to explore all the various options for dice usage. Using the bird turned out to be pretty fun as you could take your bird/rabbit off the board to steal opponents’ seeds/veggies. When we were discussing the game I expressed my “meh”-like feelings on it and was promptly accused of trying to “throw the game for other people.” This made me think about euro games that use “take that” mechanics. Where is the line drawn in a euro game that use these mechanics? Are you being a dick or are you just playing the game?

Garden Dice has a very “take that!” feel when you grab someone’s seed or plant. It doesn’t necessarily give you points or use the mechanics, but you can stop others from scoring. This to me felt like a valid strategy and if it was not, why would the game designers have kept it in? However, it is not in step with the rest of the game. It seems extra backstabby when you use it in that game. “I’m just planting my garden. OH SHIT, A BIRD! A F***ING BIRD, stealing my randomly rolled seeds!” It just doesn’t seem to fit in this game to be able to do that and it feels like it could make the game degenerate. I think this is because it doesn’t directly seem like it has an impact on the score of the game.

Who could be bitter about getting back-stabbed by that face like that!

Who could be bitter about getting back-stabbed by that face like that!

Some games implement “Take That” mechanics very, very well. Chaos in the Old World, for example, is a game that used it very well. Each race has an equal chance to score actual points as a direct result of using the “Take That” mechanics. If playing Khrone, the player actually scores off of killing the other players’ stuff. Boom! Right there, my default excuse is that I have to do this to win the game.

Don't worry, if we have more units than him we will win.....right?

Don’t worry, if we have more units than him we will win…..right?

Other games seem to have a longer reason for why using the “Take That” mechanic is a good move. Black Fleet, a game about pirates and merchants, give everyone control of a merchant vessel, a pirate vessel and a navy vessel. This game stilled the,”I Cannot Believe You Did That” factor by making it a common part of the game to be destroyed and also by giving you resources to buy victory points. It is only two steps removed from the scoring track. Easy to see why it needed to be done.

That Pirate Ship is an\bout to get Navy cannon'ed a question.

That Pirate Ship is about to get Navy cannon’ed a question.

Okay so is Garden Dice just a bad game since it seems all the other ones I have mentioned are using the “Take That” mechanics better? No, I would not say that. Games like Lords of Waterdeep and Yedo keep the “Take That” decisions very secret (i.e. having a hidden card in hand that will screw people over). On top of this, the cards  simply keep your opponents from using their plan. They do not even give you a direct benefit most of the time. Each player loses a resource, that is what some of them read. This leads to a more strategic, long term, deliberate feeling of betrayal. “Okay so you knew two turns ago I was going to try this and waited until now to play this?” It seems neigh unrecoverable when you have a set amount of actions a turn and you may or may not have it all be wasted.

I hope I am not the only one who views this as completely degenerate.

I hope I am not the only one who views this as completely degenerate.

So Garden Dice is not a bad game, but it is fairly random. Thus, I believe the designers kept the bird/rabbit in the game to add an aspect of balance to the randomness of the dice. If someone rolls high 3 turns in a row they could have a ton of great plants on the board. However, if I can steal them away or destroy them with a shitty dice turn then I don’t feel as useless and as far behind.

Games typically don’t have mechanics in them that are useless unless they are bad games. I also don’t think it is okay to view someone utilizing the “Take That” mechanics of a game as throwing the game. If there are options given to mess with other players, expect people to use them, even if you are not.

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