The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Fixed Fun Games & Heckmeck im Bratwurmeck

Many Euro games take three or four players. Sometimes up to two or five. Few Euros play with six or more. There are many reasons (or at least, there are many theories) as to why this is so, but I think one reason is that the games have a fixed amount of fun.

When Alhambra came out (two years ago), the reaction at the Gathering split — about half loved it, half hated it. It quickly became apparent how many people played often dictated the feeling. More players means less fun.

Usually, it’s because you sit around during other players’ turns. So the game takes the same amount of time, but you get to do less. The fun dilutes. These are ‘fixed fun’ games.
Diplomacy doesn’t dilute. Add or remove a player and you may change the balance (or variant), but each player gets the same amount of time to play.

This isn’t a binary “Fixed vs non-fixed” choice; there’s an elasticity of fun (as compared to number of players). In Puerto Rico, you lose control with players, but not as badly as Alhambra. Most games are in the middle, and designs that have fixed fun would be well advised to keep to lower limits. Struggle of Empires leans towards the “fixed” column, but mitigates by taking away an action round.

Heckmeck im Bratwurmeck, Knizia’s dice game, is a fixed fun game. I played it with four players, and loved it. Basically, you roll dice and keep all dice showing a single number, re-rolling the rest. But you can’t keep a number you rolled before. Also, the dice show worms (as well as 1-5), and you need to keep at least one worm (worms are valued at 5). If you have a value higher than the lowest available tile (which run 21-36), you can claim it. If you have the value equal to each player’s most recently claimed tile, you steal it. If you crap out and have at least one tile, you return it (and sometimes remove the highest tile from the game). When no unclaimed tiles remain, you score (each tile shows 1-4 worms, which are points).

The reason I mention that it’s a fixed fun game is that the box lists 2-7 players. Guess what you get to do when it’s not your turn? Nothing. Ok, you get to watch dice tumbling across the table. I’m surprised that anyone who played with six or seven liked the game, but apparently some still thought it was OK. With seven, the game takes an hour (because one of the two ‘timers’ in the game only functions when I player craps out and has a tile). But with 2-4, the game takes half as long, and each player gets more time with the dice.

I played Heckmeck twice, and will buy a copy (after the move). It’s a cute filler, nothing more. But I’d never dream of playing with a crowd.

Written by taogaming

April 18, 2005 at 4:52 pm

Posted in Reviews

Tagged with , ,

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