Unforgiving games: newbies beware!
John Clark
Australia
Canberra
ACT
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BGG folks like to categorize themselves: Ameritrash and Eurotrash; Heavy and Light etc etc.

Another important distinction is Unforgiving vs Forgiving games.

Some people like games where early mistakes can be made up for later. These people like to be able to play a game for the first time and have a decent chance of winning, even if they are playing against more people who have played before. They claim that certain games have a 'runaway leader' problem or no 'catch-up mechanism'.

Others like games which greatly reward previous plays, and where an early mistake might be crucial to the final outcome. These people view a 'runaway leader' as a product of poor play from the others, and not a fault in game design.

I am strongly in the second category, but there are many people who are not. This is a list of 'unforgiving games'.

Add your own!

[note I am not including the really obvious total skill games like Chess]
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1. Board Game: Puerto Rico [Average Rating:8.08 Overall Rank:14]
John Clark
Australia
Canberra
ACT
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Comments on BGG - I agree with most of these comments, yet to me they are reason to give this game a HIGH rating, not a low one!

rating 2 - The game that I hated. Yea, yea, people claim that its pure genius because of the multi-tiered victory conditions etc etc etc. But I think is more likely multi-tiered manipulation of the experience players over the newer ones.

rating 2 - If you know the game and how the mechanics work, you win. It even says so on the website for the game. Otherwise you just wasted precious moments in your life starring at pretty colored wood. Only good thing about the game is that players can do things when it's not their turn. Highest rated but most anti-newbie game. If you're new and interested in this game, be prepared for an ass-whooping.

rating 2 - Very difficult to explain to beginners. Very little player interaction. Once you get behind, it's almost impossible to catch up. You just want it to end!
 
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2. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:254] [Average Rating:7.25 Unranked]
John Clark
Australia
Canberra
ACT
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Many people complain that the initial placement of the settlements decides the game. Well, if that is the case (and it isn't) then why don't you pick good spots? Yes, the game rewards people who pick good spots. People who pick silly spots pay a heavy price. Sounds like a good game to me! (Note that there is VERY few times when one player will have NO good options at all - it does happen rarely, but mostly it is just a cop-out for bad players)

rating 2.3 - It seems like the same thing always happens: the robber always visits the same spots, someone who had a bad starting position can never do well, and lastly whoever is close to winning the game will meet the demise of other players refusing to trade w/ him or her.

rating 2 - All the games ended the same: People who started in a strong position stayed there, with some minor exceptions. People who started in the middle or in poor positions stayed there as well. Not my idea of a good time investment.

rating 4 - If you have a bad position at the start of the game, you will sit two hours watching the others win. Great "fun".
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3. Board Game: Star Wars Customizable Card Game [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:1455]
 
John Clark
Australia
Canberra
ACT
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CCGs in general HEAVILY reward players who have committed time to building their deck and studied the current 'meta' (the other powerful decks around at the time). I know from bitter experience - mainly SWCCG - that if I don't put in the effort then I will get hosed.

Some will respond that CCGs also heavily reward players with lots of money. Yes and no. If you refuse to spend ANY money on cards then you will lose. However, once you have a certain 'critical mass' of cards then it does come down almost entirely to deckbuilding and playing skill.
 
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4. Board Game: San Juan [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:201]
John Clark
Australia
Canberra
ACT
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This might be an odd addition to the list, but I have found that I can completely hose newbies every time, and the crucial decisions happen reasonably early in the game - its just that often they don't realise until a lot later that they are out of it, he he. This is certainly a game where repeated playings will increase your skill.
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5. Board Game: Risk [Average Rating:5.58 Overall Rank:13372]
John Clark
Australia
Canberra
ACT
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I don't much like Risk (takes too long for what it is), but it also heavily punishes early errors, to the tune of being eliminated - the ultimate price!
 
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6. Board Game: Age of Steam [Average Rating:7.70 Overall Rank:96]
Joakim Björklund
Finland
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Overtext?! We don't need no stinking overtext! Oh wait...
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Overtext?! We don't need no stinking overtext! Oh wait...
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Age of Steam can be very tough on new players. Small mistakes in the beginning can be worked around if you know what you're doing, but big mistakes in the beginning can easily cost you the game. New players are often too passive when bidding, build too few tracks, don't increase their engine enough (this happens often), or are afraid to issue shares. When you combine those you can easily lose to a more experienced player. I've also noticed that new players sometimes have a difficult time understanding the victory point system.
 
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7. Board Game: Paths of Glory [Average Rating:8.02 Overall Rank:88]
Philip Thomas
United Kingdom
London
London
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Paths of Glory does forgive some mistakes- it is possible to recover from a bad position if the problem is lots of armies in the eliminated box or enemy troops at the gates of your capital.

However, there is a species of mistake which is not forgiven, namely allowing your opponent to put your armies Out of Supply. Out of Supply units cannot move or fight and are permanently eliminated at end of turn. If you allow 3 or more Armies to be eliminated in this way you are in serious trouble. The worst form this takes is the Fall of France, in which the German Armies suceed in cutting the French troops on the front line off from London and (in extreme cases) wipe out the whole French army. I have seen this happen at least twice, both very early in the game, and normally the hapless French player resigns more or less immediately. A less extreme version can happend in the Eastern Front where the Russians can get cut off, but this tends to be mid or late game and is mitigated because the Russians were going to leave the war sooner or later anyway.
 
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8. Board Game: Domaine [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:596]
Wouter Cordewiner
Belgium
Gent (Zwijnaarde)
Oost-Vlaanderen
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Talking about unforgiving games. Domaine (Löwenherz/Leeuwenhart) is really brutal for new players. If you don't know the flow of the game, you'll almost certainly going to loose. Great game though
 
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9. Board Game: Caylus [Average Rating:7.85 Overall Rank:40]
Chris
United States
Cheektowaga
New York
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Very unforgiving. 1 small error in the beginning of the "Game" and like most other Euros your stuck sitting around watching other people "Play".

I like your list so far but I have to say I am in the first category. I like a game where a new player can play and have a good time even if they make a mistake. I kind of think it is selfish to drag someone along in a game the have NO chance of winning just so that someone can say they won. IMHO one of the biggest downfalls of The Euro game.
 
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10. Board Game: The Princes of Florence [Average Rating:7.58 Overall Rank:102]
Thomas Eager
United States
Portland
Oregon
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"A Book should serve as the Ax for the frozen sea within us."-- KAFKA
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ninja This one, to me, is the epitome of unforgiving. One slip, and you're done. ninja
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11. Board Game: Antiquity [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:232]
Paul McKinney
United States
Houston
Texas
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When mentioning unforgiving games this one comes to mind. Playing this to me one always has the feeling of an impending disaster about to happen. It feels like walking on a tightrope where one slip an you could be a gonner.
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12. Board Game: Rommel in the Desert [Average Rating:7.52 Overall Rank:959]
Steffan O'Sullivan
United States
Plymouth
NH
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"To be honorable and just is our only defense against men without honor or justice." -Diogenes of Sinope
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“I can't bring myself to say, 'Well, I guess I'll be toddling along.' It isn't that I can't toddle. It's just that I can't guess I'll toddle.” ― Robert Benchley
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One thoughtless turn and your whole army is out of supply. Game over! Play again, this time protecting your supply lines ...
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13. Board Game: O Zoo le Mio [Average Rating:6.63 Overall Rank:1290]
Flying Arrow
United States
Pennsylvania
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If you don't keep the tile counts relatively even, you will have a tough time with this game.
 
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14. Board Game: Hey, That's My Fish! [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:631]
John Farrell
Australia
Rozelle
New South Wales
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Buster Keaton from 'Go West'
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By the time the newbie realises this is not a game about grabbing the 3 point fish, he's on an ice floe all by himself, floating off into the distance. There are maybe a dozen moves that count in this game, then it's all mopping up.
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15. Board Game: Bonaparte at Marengo [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:1071]
Was George Orwell an Optimist?
United States
Corvallis
Oregon
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Losing the Austrian artillery is probably the worst possibility, but there are a lot of ways to go wrong in BaM.
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