Low-Interaction Games

“Dude, it’s your turn.” Rick is staring at me from across the table.

Huh? My brain freezes. Where are we? I was munching on a cookie and thinking about whether or not I had remembered to close the garage door after leaving the house earlier in the evening. Oh…right. Power Grid. I run my hands across my face, blink a few times, and glance at the power plant market. It takes a few seconds before I can fully re-focus on the game and concentrate on playing. These moments happen to the best of gamers–fatigue, stress, or distractions can pull our minds away from the game in front of us. But sometimes the blame for the momentary lapse in concentration lies not with us, but the game we’re playing. I call them low-interaction games.

Power Grid is perhaps the worst offender in my collection. An average game runs 90-180 minutes without much direct interaction between players with the exception of power plant auctions. There’s also a lot of mental math, which kills table talk as each player tries to figure out how he or she can spend money in the wisest fashion. There are many things I like about the game, but if I want to interact with people, it’s strictly through off-topic conversation, which lengthens the playing time. I sometimes find myself glancing at the board and thinking, Are we still playing this? Shouldn’t it be over by now?

Another low-interaction game is Ticket to Ride, which is not so much a communal  game as several solitaire games. I’m trying to fill in my tickets, you’re filling in yours on another end of the map, and there’s  terrible excitement if a player (heaven forbid!) snatches up a key section of a route before someone else. However, this game plays more quickly than Power Grid, so it’s not as bad.

A third game that comes to mind is Carcassonne, which I’ve been playing a lot recently. Gameplay is very intuitive, though there’s not much direct interaction. People are usually only directly competing if they are trying to out-do each other with farmers, or trying to connect up two cities. However, the “beer and pretzels” nature of the game is such that we can hold a conversation while playing. The game is so simple it can take a backseat while we talk about anything under the sun. And the 30-45 minute playing time means I’m never staring at the table wondering, When is this going to be over?

Since really getting into board games two years ago, I’ve learned that low-interaction games aren’t exciting for me unless they are simple and short. Conquest of Paradise is an example of a game that, while interesting in its theme, drove me up a wall. The game ends just as you are ready to interact with othe1r players (i.e., raid their villages, burn down their huts, and take their freaking yams–mwahaha!). I prefer to be playing games where the auctioning/trading/fighting is fast and furious, and people are engaged most or all of the time in what’s going on in the game (or if they’re not, they can carry on a conversation because the simplicity of the game allows for it).

This realization makes me wish Board Game Geek would include an “interaction rating” in each game profile. We’re in a recession, every dollar is precious, and I don’t want to waste my hard-earned cash purchasing games that don’t have lots of player to player wheeling and dealing or pillaging and looting. If I wanted a low-interaction game, I’d fire up FreeCell on my computer.

Are there games that you love/hate because of the low or high level of interaction? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear about them.

6 Responses to Low-Interaction Games

  1. Rick says:

    I think the worst offenders are “party” games with low interaction (these are really “group” games). I’m looking at you, Scattergories.

    Trival Pursuit and other Q&A games suffer from this as well. Wits and Wagers at least has the betting interaction.

    Scrabble, Boggle, Upwords, Quiddler and other word games also crush any chance of conversation.

    Hmmm… I think I could go on for a while on this…

  2. Bob Probst says:

    I think we’re of different minds here. I find Powergrid to be very interactive. Auctions are a major part of the game. Additionally, there’s always lots of tension over resource buying. Should I double up on a resource to force other players to pay more? and building involves cutting people off, increasing your income and balancing this against turn order. There’s always decisions to be made that impact other players.

    There are games, on the other hand, that play like multiplayer solitaire. Ticket is one of those and Agricola is definitely one of those. Yes, you can take a resource before another person by claiming turn order but almost all of the time you are going to choose a worker placement that is optimal for you vs one that will hurt another player.

    Dominion is another. Yes, there are attack cards but you’re really just playing your own deck, creating your own engine. It’s rare that you buy something so that another player won’t, you buy attacks because they are optimal to YOUR strategy, not to affect others’.

    I am a fan of interactive game play: Who’s the Boss, Bohnanza, El Grande, Tigris & Euphrates, Modern Art and several wargames are on that list. But so is Power Grid.

    • Russ says:

      I would say there is a difference between Dominion and Power Grid, at least from what I’ve experienced. Dominion it is pretty quick to look at your hand and determine your play, leaving plenty of time for social interaction. Power Grid, it seem like some people really get caught up in planning play and the social interaction is lost.

      This is obviously quite different than gameplay interaction.

    • John says:

      Bob, thanks for your comment. As some commentators over at BGG have pointed out, perhaps a distinction needs to be made between “direct” and “indirect” interaction. Power Grid still feels a bit too indirect for my taste. This might be because I’ve grown up playing more wargames, where almost every move tends to lead to direct interaction. Euros, it seems, are much more of a mixed bag interaction-wise.

      I hope you’re enjoying the blog–please continue to read and comment!

  3. manyhighways says:

    John, you make some good points in this entry. I think that one of the things that makes Settlers of Catan such a great game is the high level of interaction between players when it comes to trading for resources.

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