Top 5 Most Overrated Games

I was watching Dice Tower's Top 10x3 of most overrated tabletop games, and started thinking about the game *I* personally find overrated. The short list I came up with is rather unsurprising, but might act as a springboard for discussion. I say unsurprising because in a pique of uncharacteristic hipsterism, I usually went for the most well-known game in any given category. Seems like the mainstream tends to bug me. Note that when I started, I thought I might put some video games in the list, but given my weak gamer cred, I wound up sticking to games that can be played at the kitchen table.

5. Settlers of Catan
Yes, I'm gonna kill some sacred cows here. I don't disagree that Settlers was a trendsetter - most of the games I've chosen ARE! - and this isn't about games I necessarily DISLIKE, rather games people rate too highly, usually at the expense of better and more interesting games. Got that? Setting a trend secures your position in history, but others may follow that trend to the next evolution and outdo the original. So when it comes to Catan, well, why would I play that when someone I know has Small Worlds? Not that I need an excuse to refuse a game. I just don't find resource management games particularly interesting and almost any storyline is more interesting to me than trading in wood, stone and wool. The map is boring. The cards minuscule. I just don't get it.

4. Loups-Garous (Werewolves)

Or its full name, Les Loups-garous de Thiercelieux (The Werewolves of Millers Hollow). It seemed a revelation in party games when it first came out (and we were among the first to play in North America thanks to a French connection), but over time, it's become a tabletop plague. It's so awkward! Somebody needs to be moderator and can't really play. Some go way overboard so they can have fun and spin long-winded stories when you just want to get on with it. Players have to close their eyes or bow their heads to prevent cheating. Killed players just mill around the room, bored. Never mind the social havoc from players who feel slighted, sidelined or unloved. It's a rare game for large groups, but the novelty wore off early for me. Now, I can't keep in my dismissive groan when it's invoked.

3. Dungeons & Dragons
In the role-playing game category, it's got to be D&D. After all, a lot of gamers don't just rate it highly, it's the only RPG that rates AT ALL! And I hate that. I once had a bad experience after founding a university RPG club where gamers could meet. I owned and wanted to play different games; I didn't get any new players, only smirks. The game's market penetration is so deep, many gamers will never play anything else, or even know other options are available. It makes recruitment to other campaigns difficult, and can even create behaviors that are incompatible with other gaming styles. And I don't care which edition we're talking about, there are games that do whatever D&D does better. More realistic mechanics, simpler, more detailed, more fun, more clever, more flexible, more thematically coherent, less expensive, prettier... And plenty more genres than sword & sorcery. Too many gamers needlessly limit themselves to the Kleenex of role-playing games.

2. Magic: The Gathering
Same deal with the Collectible Card Game genre. Magic started the fad, but it's little more, in my view, than a jumped-up card game of War. My 8 of clubs beats your 6 of hearts, but with generic fantasy monsters. I started playing with everyone else, and very quickly sold off my cards to invest in CCGs like Star Trek and Illuminati that had an actual narrative. If Magic hadn't been first and came out today instead, I don't think it would make much of a splash. It's too generic, too much of a numbers game, and the tapping mechanic over which Wizards of the Coast went to court to protect? Please.

1. Cards Against Humanity

Apples to Apples for horrible people, I find Cards Against Humanity incredibly distasteful and facile. It's meant to be coarse and funny, but fails in my opinion because it tries to do all the work for you. With Apples to Apples, which run on the same idea without the Holocaust and porn jokes, with a rotating judge choosing a favorite among the options offered by other players, there's nothing stopping a horrible player from making the cards say horrible things. But he's got to work at it, and everyone's imagination has to come into play. With CAH, it's all horrible and in your face, and that drains the comedy out of it. It's also not as strategic or social a game, because the judge is expected to choose the most horrible option, and some cards are just more horrible than others. It wasn't your choice of a card that made it exceptional, just luck of the draw. If the judge DOESN'T pick the most horrible option, it's a let down. I've experienced it. I also find the idea of filling in multiple blanks, as often happens, to be really awkward. I don't think a lot of work went into the expansions either. The Canadian expansion has some of the same cards with the numbers filed off (like putting a Canadian city or a Canadian TV channel in place of the American original). Lame.

Well, that's my list. What's yours? Obviously, I stuck to geekier games and steered clear of the absolute mainstream. Honorable mentions go to every damn card game I've ever played (you know, with the regular 52-card deck), and the granddaddy of all boring games everyone has on their closet shelf, Monopoly. You don't need me to tell you those are pretty terrible despite their ubiquity. But you can go that road if you like. Comments section is that-a-way.


Jayunderscorezero said...

Agreed agreed agreed agreed agreed!! Especially with CAH for exactly the reasons you state. And I always make sure to sit out of Werewolf games, too.

I'm still a fan of Settlers, though. I recently introduced it to some friends of mine who've been huge board game fans for years and had somehow never played it and they loved it.

Siskoid said...

And I knew that was the one I'd get the most push-back from. It's not a bad game by any means, just too highly estimated.

Cory said...

I like Catan as an entry level board game, when you're teaching friends that not everything is Monopoly. Once the ideas inside it click with folk, you're free to move on to more exotic fare.

D&D. yes, a thousand times yes. Talk about a game that does all your imagining for you. The only that has rescued that for me is Community.

I haven't played Magic since the middle 90's and got bored with it very quickly. I've never played Werewolves so no opinion there.

I can't say i've ever had a bad time playing CAH. Perhaps i'm one of the awful people the game is geared toward. But it never ends in anything less than chortles and guffaws around my table, so in that case i have to give it a mission: accomplished.

Siskoid said...

Hey, I'm a horrible person too. My whole group has a very twisted sense of humor. I just think it CAH does all the work for us. If I'm to be twisted, I want to do the twisting. If that makes sense.

Siskoid said...

Oh, and I like your point about Catan being a good entry game. Many of these are, in fact (D&D, Magic, Loup garou). What depresses me is that many gamers don't then move from the doorway. They stay at the entry level and don't want to try anything else.

Peder said...

Agreed that Catan is good for entry level. It's too dice oriented to be fun long term. Too many phases of the game when a long string of dice rolls does nothing for you and you literally have nothing that you can do. Gets boring fast.
But it gets a foot in the door and lets you move on to the good stuff. Useful for that.

Martin Léger said...

Loup-Garoux is one of those games (like many) depends on the group. I've played with groups where there is too much meta-gaming going on, showing facts and what the player would do and not the character. But I've also been with groups where the pure charisma of the person can rile up an entire room and pure mob mentality comes into play (Simon Ouellet was notorious for that).

With the right room, and maybe a few drinks, Loup-Garoux can be fantastic. But I agree, more often than not it sucks. Especially if you are knocked out first.

Jeff R. said...

I think I'd put Talisman and Munchkin into any top five I'd make. Probably above Settlers (because I don't know any game with a more robust and meaningful trading system) and Magic (which is a far deeper game than you're thinking, and absolutely would have still dominated if both Decipher Star Trek and INWO had a six month head start on them.)

Simon said...

I'm going to second Jeff R. on this. The usual knock against Magic:tG is that it's too complicated, with too many wonky interlocking mechanics, which is a symptom of the bigger problem with the game: its business model requires a constant stream of new sets and expansions, and consequently requires players to keep investing season after season to remain competitive, or even to find a casual game. These are serious problems, but very different problems from the game being a hopped-version of War.

JDJarvis said...

I'm a D&D fanatic but even i'll admit the influence and hold it has is ridiculous. I don't care if there are other games that do the same thing better or not, they do in fact do things differently and a change of pace and exploring a different set of rules is fun. I'vew played D&D campaigns that last half a decade or longer, I've never played another RPG campaign anywhere near as long. I managed to play Gammaworld for a year and a half of weekly sessions and that was a rarity most other rpg campaigns don't makes it past a half dozen sessions.

Anonymous said...

And the top 5 most UNDERrated games are...?

Siskoid said...

I wonder if I have enough gamer cred to do that list justice.

Martin said...

The thing with games like Werewolves, D&D and CAH is that they're good with the right people and the right execution. It's fun with fun people, basically. But those are the most mainstream games of their genre, someone who wants to try different things can easily find games if he makes a little research.

Pout said...

Agreed on all points and yet, I still enjoy playing these games whenever I can convince people to play them if only because at least it means we're not sitting around a living room listening to a bad guitar player/singer.

'Cept for CAH. Can't stand that game at all.

Siskoid said...

Oh well, if all things are equal, somebody playing guitar at a party is the most overrated thing of all!

Anonymous said...

Haha, you dissed Settlers of Catan!

I have to side with SoC being a very good entry game, and if you're playing ANY board game right, it's the fellowship with the other players that makes it the most fun. But maybe it's just me; I don't even play to win. I tend to have more fun issuing proclamations as the Potentate of Anonyvania, and will trade sheep or other needed materials with other settlers in exchange for a fresh bottle of soda.

Siskoid said...

I wanted to grab your attention by slaying a sacred cow. Seems like it worked.

jdh417 said...

D&D has always been the bastard love child of wargames and fantasy stories. There are so many questionable mechanics, like AC, alignment, and hit points.

Given that 4e was incompatible with the preceding versions, the problem with it was that they didn't go all the way with it. They should have made it a whole new game with new mechanics.

Unfortunately, WOTC's interpretation would been a miniatures wargame with a collectible card element and an subscription online element, but at least it would have been different. It would have also killed the brand and perhaps lead to a better game taking over.

If your players won't play any other game, it's not you, it's not D&D, it's your players, they're lame. Get new players.

Jeremy Patrick said...

A popular post for comments!

1. Setters: Have to agree that it's a great entry-level game to get people beyond Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, or Monopoly. I even persuaded the in-laws to play it, and they liked it! I agree with you that, in the abstract, the premise is completely boring (wheat, brick, blah!), but it works because everybody can be involved every turn through the trading mechanic. That's a big step up for some people, who don't have the patience for 20 minute turns of Scrabble like I do . . .

2. I've only played Werewolves a couple of times. It was fun, but the lawyer in me kept not wanting to accuse anyone due to lack of evidence . . .

3. I think the flaw you've identified in D&D is exactly right. I really enjoy the game, and am presently running a long campaign, but it is *so* hard to recruit or transition players away from it and get them to try the wonderful variety of other systems and genres out there. Any game that does not have frequent combat, a levelling mechanic, and loot is seen as suspicious in many eyes. I know, I know, "just get new players", but that's hard to do when your players have become friends in and out of the campaign.

4. Never played Magic; personal rule is that any game that you do better at if you spend more money is off the table for me.

5. Never played or heard of the last one!

Siskoid said...

jdh: And "over-rating" is entirely a player problem. I found new adherents to the RPG club rated the game so highly, they excluded any other possibility (I won a few over eventually). Obviously, this has nothing to do with my current crop of players who love variety as much as I do.

Patrick: Sometimes I like to throw one in there just to see who's still reading. I knew it would be comment-bait, and I'm happy to read dissenting opinions.

And I love you #2, that's hilarious.


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