While it's fresh in my mind, I just wanted to make a note about a couple of games I played today. I had a nice day at OxCon in Oxford today, and the day was dominated by two fairly heavy games that ran for about 3 hours each. I don't get to play bigger games often, so it is interesting when they come up.
The first was Svea Rike, a game from the late 90's, covering the fortunes of noble families in Sweden over 300 years from the 16th to 19th centuries. The game has some really interesting features, with game play switching between two different modes of play depending on whether the country is at peace or at war with one of its neighbours, this state being determined randomly at the start of each round. The rules are remarkably straightforward and play actually zips along quite nicely so the fairly lengthy play time didn't seem to drag. There is a lot to think about, with a few possible paths to victory and interesting twists in the way wars resolve. However, the game relies on many forms of random chance: the overall events taking place on each turn, card flips to determine the strength of an enemy (non-player) army and dice rolling to resolve the conflict, plus event cards that players can use to manipulate play. It is the event cards that prevented me from really enjoying the game as much as I would have otherwise: many of them are, either directly or indirectly, "take that!" attacks on other players, and some can swing the game massively, while others are just utterly irrelevant.
I would really like to see Svea Rike reworked with a lot of attention paid to rethinking the event deck. Constrained a little bit, the game could be something really special. Mind you, from comments and forum threads I have seen, I know that some people totally love the chaos of the event deck. My argument would be that these factors can be a lot of fun in a 30 minute game, but when the game runs for 3 hours, they just get in the way and can be frustrating.
The other game was Mac Gerdts' Imperial 2030, which is a complex worldwide conflict where players are financial illuminati, manipulating the actions of 6 world powers for personal gain. The interesting thing here is that who controls each of the major nations changes as the game progresses: in our 4-player game, one player spent a chunk of the game controlling three of the nations -- and he did not actually end up winning! This is a massively complex game with so many factors and moving parts in play, but it is one where clever game design has reigned all this in so that none of the individual mechanisms are at all complicated, and just about all the rules you need to know are written on one side of a player aid card, about A6 in size.
I am coming to the conclusion (rather later than many others, it would seem) that Mac Gerdts is a bleeding genius. The other one of his games that I have played, Concordia, is another huge heap of complex interacting systems held together in such a way that it only takes a few minutes to explain all the rules, and from then the mechanisms of the game are just perfectly straightforward and intuitive, so you stop worrying about them and spend all your time trying to execute a decent strategy. (Note to self: I really need to play more of his games.)
So, what do I take away from all this? Well, there are several of the mechanisms in Svea Rike that I would like to experiment with, and the way the game offers simple, interlocking systems is really rather neat. And in the case of Imperial 2030, I just aspire to the craftsmanship Gerdts shows in making the very complex very accessible.