The other night I got to play some good, tense games with my friend Cary. It's amazing how something as simple as a game with just cards, bits and a handful of rules can have such an affect on you. Your blood starts flowing and you get an almost euphoric feeling. Like I'm feeling right now after playing several tough games.
Tension is probably the biggest draw for me in a game - the tensest games are the ones I seen to remember and enjoy the most. Every move you make seems crucial. You can't let your guard down one bit or it will be the end of the game for you. You are engaged and focused on the game throughout.
What kind of elements seem to make a game tense for me? I'd say its a handful of things:
- The ability to plan ahead and make a clever move that surprises your opponent.
- The ability to quickly turn the tables then have it turned right back on you again.
- Racing to meet certain conditions in a set period of time (not just 'time' itself, but in the depletion of cards or resources)
- Multiple possible paths to victory.
- Auctions where every auction has value in it, either for what's in the auction or for the need to prevent someone ELSE from getting what's in it (or at least making them pay the price).
- Brinkmanship - taking a chance and putting yourself out on a limb in the hopes of achieving a goal before others can stop you (hopefully)
- Tight two-player games (this isn't crucial for me, but I love head-to-head competition and find it the most interesting in games. Don't get me wrong, multi-player games can also be tense and terrific at those higher numbers, but 2-player to me is where it's really at.
- Power Grid - As you get closer and closer to the end game you have to decide when you can pull the trigger to end it and hope you can power more cities than anyone else. Also, the auctions throughout keep you on your toes the whole game looking for the right combination of power plants.
- El Grande - High tension occurs every round in fighting over the action cards and getting what you want. Every time another scoring round occurs it ratchets up the tension, especially when cubes are pulled from the Castille and placed on the board.
- Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries - With 2 players this map can be ruthless - and the more tickets you draw the more difficult it gets. You have your tickets you're trying to get, you have a limited number of trains, and you have routes that have a certain amount of risk required to complete them (ferries)
- Yspahan- This game is very tight and that alone gets the tension going. You are also fighting for points/control in a number of ways. You must balance control of the souks with control of the camel train and, at the same time, try to get buildings built with resources. The resources are valuable for a variety of uses so you must manage them carefully and try to get the best use out of them.
- Tikal - This game naturally ramps up the tension as the game progresses - the board begins to fill and you can see the end drawing closer and closer. Jockeying for position around the temples, trying to be in a good position before scoring rounds, and optimizing the use of your action points to eek out points all keep the game tight and in constant contention.
- Haggis - With the constant threat of being bombed by the other opponent and not knowing whether they have a secret bomb it was brings the tension in this game up. Plus, you are racing to shed all of your cards before the other player(s). The scores can swing wildly from hand to hand but the win often comes down to the final hand or two.
Now go play a game filled with tension and get that blood flowing...