Friday Question: What Game Is the Tensest?


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?

@Futurewolfie answers:
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.”

@FarmerLenny answers:
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.)

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

Discussion9 Comments

  1. I’d have to say BSG (who is the dirty cylon?? or, how do I kill all the stupid humans??), also Pandemic (but we’re nowhere near the black cubes – please don’t outbreak AGAIN!)

  2. Good Tension: Agricola. I love the end game where you have so little time and so much to do.

    Bad Tension: My group has had a huge, HUGE, argument over the “Cursed Thingy” card in Munchkin. To the point where we just removed it from our game. Diplomacy can also make you hate your friends.

  3. I haven’t played BSG, but it certainly seems tense. I haven’t seen the show–does that affect the game itself?

    Agricola is really tense, just because of the shortages! There’s no way you can do everything.

  4. No need to watch BSG before playing the game – the game is good enough on it’s own. My boss is addicted to the game, and has never watched the show (nor does he have interest in watching it). You just have to make sure that you’re ready to punch people in the face when they say “but in the show…”. It’s NOT the show, it’s a game.

  5. That’s pretty funny, Josh. I don’t really have any interest in the show either, but I’ve heard the game is great–mostly from people who love the show. 🙂

    What’s interesting is that this is a complete reversal from the SG-1 review you posted today (a licensed board game that trades on its source material rather than the quality of the game). And really, it is an anomaly to have a good licensed board game product. Or am I missing something? (I suppose I haven’t played Star Trek: Expeditions, but I’ve heard mixed reviews. And people like LOTR related stuff. Okay, I think I might be generalizing too much.)

  6. Yeah, I agree – way too many games cash in on the license, but don’t really bother making a good game. I think that FFG, since they bank on expansions, put more effort into making their titles something that they can cash in on multiple times (BSG has 2 expansions, LotR has who knows how many coming).

  7. I found BSG very tense, in a good way. A crowded game of Settlers or Ticket can get tense (there’s nowhere left for me to go!).

    Texas Hold-em, though, has produced the best heart-thumping thrills of my gaming life. Lots of good and bad tension.

  8. Bad tension: I think I’d have to say Munchkin has caused the most bad tension with my gaming groups. It has definitely caused the most arguments.

    I think I would agree with FarmerLenny that ambiguity in the rules is a huge source of tension. If a game is fun enough to invest your attention in, but then it betrays you with vagueness then you have a recipe for arguments. If a game isn’t doing something right then no one cares if its vague because you can settle it with rock, paper, scissors.

    Good tension: Definitely “The Resistance”. It has a beautiful blend of intrigue and deception, but does not turn into the shouting game that other “whodunnit” style games seem to. Could just be the groups I’ve played with, but I feel like there’s something to “The Resistance” that other games just lack.

  9. Bad tension: Perhaps not strictly a board game, but Magic the Gathering resulted in a ton of yelling arguments back in the day.

    Good tension: BS:G. It’s worth all the praise it gets. You don’t need to have seen the show to enjoy it at all.

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