Thursday, December 30, 2010

Games with the Best Replay Value

Games today often come with high price tags; gamers can feel somewhat disappointed when they play a new title only a few times before it becomes stale. For some, replay value stands high on their list of requirements for new game purchases.

Many board games have limited replay value. Gamers can mix play styles and participants to vary the action, but the base rules, elements, and goals remain the same. Similar problems accompany most traditional wargames, unless the game covers a wide scope of battle scenarios (see “Battle Games” below). Even collectible card games have limitations among deck combinations and opponents.

Several game genres deliver the best replay value for the game’s price:

Battle Games

Battle games like Memoir ’44, Battle Cry, and Battles of Napoleon create extended replay value by offering different engagements gamers can play. The rules contain a host of scenarios covering the most important clashes from a period; two players can replay numerous battles from the rulebook, create their own skirmishes, or find fan-designed engagements online, extending the game’s replay life beyond a basic two-player board game.

Battle games are extremely light versions of traditional wargames and miniature gaming, combining the most basic wargaming concepts with components and rules more suited to board gamers. Rules for these games seem very comprehensive, but overall gameplay isn’t any more complex than most Euro-style board games. Many come with a price tag higher than an individual board game, but they include everything needed to play a series of battles: high-quality components like full-color boards, cards, terrain tiles, illustrated rules abounding with examples, and detailed, sculpted plastic pieces portraying units on each side (much like miniature army men). These do not require additional work painting miniatures or crafting terrain like their miniature wargaming cousins. Some games (notably Memoir ’44) sell expansions to add new forces and terrain, further increasing replay possibilities.

Invest in a battle game from a period that interests the players; it’s a good way to learn about the history, technology, and tactics of the era through extended campaign play.

Why Not Miniatures Games? Miniatures games offer great replay opportunities, particularly when one considers the wealth of historical or hypothetical engagements to recreate; however, the buy-in for such games remains high, often including expensive rulebooks, army books, and miniatures, plus the time spent painting miniature and crafting terrain. Miniature wargames remain a great hobby, but require a bit too much cash, time, and effort for the casual gamer to undertake. For those wishing to check out this hobby, joining a game at a convention (and playing with someone else’s toys) is the best option.

Collectible Miniatures Games

Games like the Axis & Allies Miniatures Game and Axis & Allies: War at Sea provide great looking components and good replay value given the different combinations of forces one can muster. The basic sets include rules, maps boards, and units sufficient to play a few engagements, and booster packs add random components for all forces involved in World War II. An online community and product support offers a wealth of historical scenarios to play. Players can create customized forces from their armies to face off on different terrain maps using unit point values.

The rules are a little more complex than battle games, and they don’t always include scenarios, since by the games’ collectible natures, players don’t always have a common set of components to run battles. Most rules offer some objectives and victory conditions applicable to almost any engagement between different forces; online scenarios for historical battles often require players to posses specific units.

At first these games don’t seem to have the huge price tag of battle games, but as collectible miniatures games, players must buy booster packs to get a random selection of units to further enhance the basic set components. This can add up, especially when considering the random nature of booster packs; players never quite know if they’ll get the components they want. For instance, if players want to run tank battles in North Africa, they gamble that they’ll get  English and German tanks and not Russian infantry, French artillery, or American marines.

Roleplaying Games

Roleplaying games have the best replay value since, by their nature, they rely more on the participants’ imaginations rather than physical components one must purchase. With just the basic rulebooks good gamemasters can create their own scenarios and campaigns without additional supplements (though those can certainly enhance the play experience).

Although prices for basic rulebooks vary, at most they cost about the same as popular Euro-games. Roleplaying games cover the vast range of genres to interest players, often with mechanics ranging from moderate to complex. Most roleplaying games today have a wealth of online resources, from official support at publisher websites to fan sites with forums, PDF files, and unofficial optional rules.

Roleplaying games require a bit more work than most board games. Players must familiarize themselves with the game rules and universe, though choosing a familiar or licensed setting can help. Gamemasters must invest greater effort either in creating adventures or becoming well-versed in the setting to run off-the-cuff games.

Roleplaying games don’t fall into the familiar concept of games most average folks maintain; they expect boards and pieces, not books, character sheets, and funny looking dice, with action taking place through conversation and imagination. They require a bit more rules knowledge, character acting, and general openness to new gaming paradigms, but the replay value remains the highest of other games.