Welcome to Tabletop Tastes: My Favorite Flavors in Board Games! Here, we’ll be exploring board game tastes and preferences starting with the spicy flavor of tension.

We all have our own preferences for how to have a good time.  Some prefer to savor the peaceful moments of serenity, while others hunger for the rowdy and wild.  For many, our appetite consists of a wide spectrum that allows room for variety and mood.

Hobby gamers likewise have their own individual palates for tabletop games.  The more games they sample, the further their taste buds develop. With enough exposure, one can begin to recognize a pattern between their experiences.  The bitter taste of a dud becomes repulsively discernible, and the sweet familiar aroma of a hit can reach the nostrils of hype before a cardboard box even hits the table.

After basking in many blasts and enduring some busts myself, I’ve begun to identify what exactly makes one game sing and another game flop for me.  The most recent board game taste I’ve acquired, or perhaps more fittingly discovered, is that of objective tension.

Spicy – Tension of Objectives

I love when a game provides a framework that allows for spicy tension.  This framework can take many forms…

  • The end-game elimination of the highest overall bidder in Q.E.
  • The suspense of needing to remove your opponent’s disc from the board while strategically placing your own in Crokinole
  • The round-ending emergence of the third dragon card from the draw pile of Ethnos
  • The game-ending placement of a player’s sixth star in Scythe
  • The anticipation of drawing the perfect tile in Carcassonne
  • The pressure of earning more points in your weakest category of Tigris & Euphrates.
A Crokinole board, from Crokinolegameboards.com

To me, games that completely lack tension feel less like games and more like activities.  There’s nothing wrong with gathering a group of friends for a tension-free activity, as such things can foster creativity, strengthen relationships, and make memories… but none of those things are unique to gaming.  Indeed, the thing that sets a game apart from most other activities is the tension.

Now on the surface, it may seem like a game requires player interaction in order to have tension.  How can the rope be taut if there is no tug of war? Well, it’s funny, because I didn’t notice my preference for tension until I recognized it in one of the most solitaire genres of all: the Roll & Write.

I discovered my need for tension after trying Cartographers and coming away underwhelmed from the experience.  This is a solid game that has received plenty of positive buzz from many gamers that I usually agree with. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed trying the most popular roll & write style games from Railroad Ink to Welcome To, from That’s Pretty Clever to On Tour.  Cartographers appeared to have all the right ingredients plus even more: some player interaction, variable scoring objectives, variable setup, etc. Coming into the game, I figured these unique elements would make it stand out among other great games in the genre, but my hopes were dashed after giving it a go.

On Tour, from Boardgametables.com

What do Railroad Ink, Welcome To, That’s Pretty Clever, and On Tour all have that Cartographers doesn’t?  I believe the answer is: TENSION.

Railroad Ink, Welcome To, and On Tour all have the tension of pushing your luck, adapting your strategy, and straining for the “just one more” of objectives or bonuses.  This tension is palpable thanks to the balance between obvious risks and tempting benefits. That’s Pretty Clever has the tension of selecting one die for yourself while giving up other dice to your opponents, of deciding when to save or spend your abilities, of being enticed to do everything.

Cartographers somehow lacks this similar tension. It trades tension for a continual stream of points across a too wide canvas of options and possibilities.  Where players quickly understand what to predict, what to bet on, and what to desperately hope for in the above mentioned games, Cartographers was too random and unknown for us to really take risks or bask in payoffs.  I don’t mean to put down a clearly well-made game. But, I’m always interested in defining and discovering the reasons why a game does or doesn’t work for me. Ask me about any of my top 50 games, and I’ll describe to you the fiery tension it provides.  I might also be able to tell you about memorable wins and salty losses with family members or friends, especially if the game is highly interactive.

Click on to explore the next episode of Tabletop Tastes: Salty Player Interaction

Looking for more tension-filled games? Check out one of these:

  • Cooperative Tension: Mysterium, The Mind, Hanabi
  • Bluffing Tension: Skull, Tortuga 1667, Treasure Island
  • Dexterity Tension: KLASK, Junk Art, Men at Work
  • Quick-Thinking Tension: Trophies, Magic Maze, Insider
  • Strategic Tension: Brass: Birmingham, Viticulture, El Grande
  • Conflict Tension: Inis, Root, Pax Pamir (Second Edition)
  • Deduction Tension: Love Letter, Cryptid, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong
  • Racing Tension: The Quest for El Dorado, Downforce, Clank!
  • 2-player Tension: Jaipur, Combo Fighter, Onitama
  • Push Your Luck Tension: Ra, King of Tokyo, The Quacks of Quedlinburg

Tell us about your tabletop tastes!

What are your favorite tension-filled games? Do you like the spicy heat that tension can provide, or do you prefer a cool, chill experience? Comment below!

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