Everyone (I assume, but go with me here) has at least one memorable game session – a play of a game that sticks in your memory and comes up years later as a “remember that time when…”. There are plenty of games, very good games that I am happy to play, that do not create memorable play sessions. You play, you win or lose, you have fun but no lasting memory is formed. But there are other games that seem to have the right stuff to make a permanent impression in your grey matter. For me, here’s what makes the difference:
Games with Narratives
I have very strong memories of a session of Battlestar Galactica (with one of the expansions) that I played at BGG.Con. I was the president and a cylon and several turns into the game the player to my right was able to look at my loyalty card and see my secret. He tried to ‘out me’ but I feigned surprise that he would misrepresent what he saw. In the next couple of turns, before he had an opportunity to act on what he had learned, we managed to get to Kobol and then I capitalized on an opportunity to execute my snoopy neighbor. This would have been extremely suspicious behavior except for the lucky fact that he had picked up a cylon loyalty card when we reached Kobol and now I looked trustworthy. My fellow players continued to trust me right up until we were a single decision away from human victory and I chose the “wrong” thing. I can still picture the shocked expression on the faces of the other players as I brought down the Galactica.
The narrative in Battlestar Galactica is strong.
YOU HAVE A ROLE, A GOAL AND YOU JUST MIGHT BE A MOLE.
Add in a bit of random chance to create some dramatic reversals of fortune and you’ve got the potential for memorable gaming. Other titles like Betrayal at House on the Hill, Dead of Winter and Tales of the Arabian Nights (really more narrative than game) work this narrative angle as well.
Sessions with Narratives
Power Grid doesn’t have roles, traitors or story paragraphs and (while I disagree) has been described by some as playing a spreadsheet. Despite this I have a vivid memory of a session of Power Grid played years ago where the competition for power plants and the end-game jockeying for position was epic. All of this culminated in a tie for victory, broken by most remaining money which came down to a difference of $1.
To me, Power Grid is a good game that I enjoy playing in most situations, and love playing with the right group. Get the right group dynamics going and a wide range of games have the potential to be memorable (although I’ve yet to hear anyone’s epic Othello story). This group is often those people at the other table that are getting stares from surrounding tables ranging from envy to annoyance. If this isn’t your regular game group you probably can’t force it – asking fellow players to be more “memorable” may have unintended consequences.
What games or situations have created memorable gaming experiences for you?