Broken Games

A few days ago, my wife and I played a game of Aquadukt, which is a game that I had picked up a while ago, but had never played. I had been hesitant to play it, because I was pretty sure the game was broken.

When I say I thought the game was broken, I don’t mean that I thought that some of the pieces were damaged, but rather that I felt that there was something fundamentally wrong with the game mechanics.

In Aquadukt, players build up communities across the board. A player’s final score is determined by the number of houses that he or she has built that are supplied with water. Now on a particular turn, a player may do one of three things:

  1. Build up to three houses
  2. Dig a well
  3. Build one or two canals

In order to build a house, a player must roll a die that generates a number from one to 20 (d20 for you RPG types) and then must choose to build a house in an open section of the board that matches the number rolled, or choose not to build. If you roll a number for a section that is completely filled, then you just reroll, and this was what I thought was broken. I thought that you could end up rolling and rolling until you finally were able to build inside a free section. Well, this was never an issue in our two-player game. Maybe it would have been a problem with four players, but it never happened in our game.

So I guess it’s not broken, but that got me thinking about what it means when we say a game is broken. BoardGameGeek has this definition for broken:

adj. (usually applied to a game) Having problems that result in a disappointing play experience. A game might be considered broken if even poor play can lead to a victory, if it frequently ends in a stalemate, or if one strategy invariably wins. (See also solvable)

If this is the how we define a game that is broken, then if a game sucks, does that mean it’s broken? If that’s the case, then some games will be broken for some players and not for others. A friend of mine played Archaeology: The Card Game and said that it was broken. Now he is an uber-gamer, but I like that game. Is he wrong? Am I wrong? Is Aquadukt broken or does it just suck?

I would really like to hear what you think broken means, and give me an example of a game that you think is broken.

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