Games are meant to be a medium for fun social get-togethers with friends, family, and sometimes even strangers. Still, every once in a while you run into that game that causes a lot of tension between players, whether it be from savage player interactions, intense and complex rules, or sometimes just poorly-worded or unplaytested games. Some games just end up causing more trouble than fun. Which leads to today’s question: Which game causes the most tension? And if you’d like to take it in another direction, which game causes the most good tension, the kind of situations that keep you on the edge of your seat?
I’ve found that most bad tension comes from arguing over poorly-worded rules, whether something is worded confusingly or not explained completely, or in some cases because something is just missing. I’ve also experienced some tension when a game becomes imbalanced, leaving someone out of the fun. I’m looking at you, MUNCHKIN. As a note, I enjoy Munchkin but sometimes the luck of the draw, especially when combined with inexperience, results in one of the players not having enough power to do anything useful.
Arkham Horror, being the epic desperate-fight-against-evil that it is, brings on the tension in a good way – that’s part of what makes the game fun. Last Night On Earth is also a fun-high-tension game, especially when you’re down to the last item you need to escape but the zombies are flooding in… And some games, such as Incan Gold, thrive entirely on the tension of “should I stay or should I go now.”
The game that has probably caused the most fights in my life is, surprisingly, the Christian collectible card game Redemption. Redemption was meant to be a nicer, less demonic version of Magic: The Gathering. It succeeded in being less fun, but it wasn’t a good alternative. The rules were poorly written, and the wording of the special text on the cards was not streamlined, so we were never quite sure what some cards did. If I played the card, I wanted the definition that was best for me and worst for my opponent. Of course, even in the same game, if my opponent played that card, I argued for its being much weaker. We were playing with cards that depicted the fruits of the Spirit, but these were not exactly exhibited among the players during gameplay. This is why the Star Wars CCG saved my junior high and high school friendships.
As far as good tension is concerned, I’d say the winner here is either Pandemic or The Resistance. Both games succeed in making the players feel on edge the entire game. I love both games for the atmosphere they create, though sometimes you need a break afterward. (Agricola does a good job at creating tension, too–how will I feed my family?! That’s probably third on the good-tension list.)