Intro to modern boardgaming 1: The Take-That Game
by Gil Hova
I’ll start with a genre that’s easy to play and easy to recognize.
A take-that game is a light, chaotic card game where players directly attack one another through cardplay. Take-that games usually feature a lighthearted, humorous theme, and they’re often enjoyed by newcomers to the game hobby, before they become crusty, cynical bastards like me.
What’s good about take-that games is that they have a low barrier to entry. The games themselves are usually packaged in tiny tuckboxes, and their rules are often short and easy to learn, with most of the intricate stuff printed straight on the cards.
With most take-that games, you can teach people how to play the game by simply telling them how to win, how many cards to draw, how many cards to play, and what the hand limit is. They’ll pick everything else up from the text on the cards.
Take-that games almost always have hysterical cards and rules. From “The Kneepads of Allure” in Munchkin, to Pookie the Rabbit in Red Dragon Inn, to the rule in Chez Geek that states that any die roll of 6 during Nookie is Really Good Nookie, and cancels one Sleep card from all other players, the best part of a take-that game is going through all the cards and having a good chuckle.
Finally, take-that games are very flexible, so there’s a wide range of themes out there, from swordfighting to escaping an alien ship.
What’s bad about a take-that game is that for a lot of gamers, they’re just not a whole lot of fun anymore.
I’ll speak for myself. One of the things I love about gaming is spending several turns building up a solid plan for victory. There are some games where I don’t even care if I won. I feel great if I came up with a plan, executed it, and did well.
That doesn’t happen in a take-that game. Sure, you can usually plan ahead a little, because you have a hand of cards. But that strategy that took you three turns to execute can probably be wiped out by a single card from your opponent. Too bad, huh?
And that’s going to keep happening in the game, with the game leader constantly getting hammered by the other players. The game won’t wheeze to a finish until it gets to a point where one player has the cards to win, and no one has the cards to stop him.
This isn’t fun to me for a lot of reasons. First, I feel that the game isn’t decided by clever cardplay, but lucky timing. You didn’t get that winning card mix because you worked for it. You were just in the right place at the right time. It feels cheap.
Second, it takes so damn long to get there! Most take-that games drastically overstay their welcome. This is because there’s nothing that moves the game to its end.
Take Munchkin, arguably the king of take-that games for the past few years. You win by having your character reach Level 10. But since any character can gain or lose levels, you can go backwards. There’s nothing that forces the game to end. It just drags on and on and on.
This is a bit of a sin in modern boardgaming. The best games are engineered to take as long as necessary, and no longer. Who has time for a 15-minute game that can take 1 hour to play, when there are 15-minute games that take 15 minutes?
You might recognize some of these gaming problems. You might even be nodding your head, recalling that terrible night your friend/relative/s.o. forced you to play that terrible game.
If so, rest assured that that’s not how all board games are. They get better.
However, you may never have played these games before. In that case, I’m torn. On one hand, I find these games deeply, fundamentally un-fun. I don’t feel like I can recommend them in good faith.
On the other hand, we were all young once. There’s something innocent about these games, a return to basics that I kind of envy.
Who am I to tell you to skip a childhood? If you’ve never played these games before, give one a try.
I can guarantee that at least one card will give you at least one good belly laugh.