Wednesday, February 01, 2023
Sequels and replayability
In May, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom comes out, the successor of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. So I am currently playing Breath of the Wild again on my Switch, not sure if it is my third or fourth playthrough overall. And while Breath of the Wild is certainly a game you can replay and enjoy after not playing it for a year or two, I quickly realized a flaw in my reasoning: Playing Breath of the Wild doesn't really do much to prepare me for Tears of the Kingdom. Well, it would if I would concentrate on getting better at combat, learning how to reliably flurry rush or do similar moves that are likely to be present in the next game as well. But I don't fight more than absolutely necessary in Breath of the Wild; and pressing three buttons simultaneously on a controller and at exactly the right moment is not something I will ever be good at.
Breath of the Wild is a game about exploring a large open world. Finding everything, knowing where everything is, being able to use that knowledge to your advantage for example to upgrade your armor, that is the essence of mastering the game. If Tears of the Kingdom uses the exact game mechanics, but a completely new world, the mastery of Breath of the Wild simply doesn't transfer. Which in a way is good, because the exploration and finding out where everything is, is a major part of the fun of the game.
In the world of board games, people all over the world are currently receiving Frosthaven, the sequel to Gloomhaven, and the highest funded gaming project on Kickstarter at 13 million dollars, not counting late pledges. I didn't back it, and I don't plan on buying it, except if it comes out as a digital version (Gloomhaven Digital is my preferred version of the game). And conceptually it is the exact opposite of a sequel than Tears of the Kingdom is: If you are very good at playing Gloomhaven, that will very much translate to you having an easier time in Frosthaven. Yes, you will play with new characters in new scenarios; but most of the people who bought Frosthaven haven't played all the characters and played through all the scenarios in Gloomhaven.
Gloomhaven is more of a puzzle, the challenge is to learn how to use your cards in the most efficient way, so that your dwindling supply of cards lasts until the end of the scenario. Once you have understood the long-term consequences of burning cards, you have understood that the only good way to play is to start softly, and keep your big burn combos for the end of the scenario. And that doesn't change, regardless of whether you are playing Gloomhaven or Frosthaven, and regardless of which character you play in which scenario. Once you are good at Gloomhaven card management, another -haven game is just more of the same. My wife and me never finished Gloomhaven, because we got to the point where we had mastered the game after 20 or so scenarios, and applying that mastery over and over to different scenarios and different characters wasn't all that much fun to us. At least not in the board game version, where the fun of playing a scenario is paid for very dearly with the extremely high effort of setting up the game and putting it back into the box afterwards.
Besides playing with my wife, I have been playing board games once or twice per month with a group of 4 players overall. Besides a few games of Scythe and Return to Dark Tower, we mostly played legacy games: We finished Clank!: Legacy – Acquisitions Incorporated, and are currently halfway through Charterstone, another legacy game. And while I actually bought a Charterstone recharge pack, which would allow me to reset the game and play it again, chances are that I won't. Both Clank!: Legacy and Charterstone seem to be reasonably well designed in that the length of the full campaign corresponds about to how much you'll want to play a game before wanting to play something completely different. So while putting stickers on your game, or tearing up cards, or other ways of permanently changing your game might feel weird to some boardgamers, I very much like legacy games. I have far too many games that I haven't played often enough to be bored of them. Reaching the end of a legacy game is a nice point of closure, and the fact that you *can't* replay it (unless you buy a recharge pack or second copy, or play the final version without legacy elements) is a feature, not a flaw.
For me, that is the ideal situation: I arrive at the end of a campaign, regardless of whether it is a board game or a video game, and the length of the campaign corresponds to the length of time the game was fun for. Unfortunately that rarely happens. There are both games in which the fun ran out before I reached the end, and I stopped playing because the final part seemed like just too much of a grind to me; and games where I finished the campaign and then started over with different options and choices, and only stopped playing somewhere in the middle of the second or third playthrough. What games did you play where you reached the end of the campaign and said "that was just the right length, I liked playing this much, but don't want to play more than that!"?