*kh.... huuhhh* "LUKE.... I AM YOUR FATHER."
And just like that, all of Star Wars was ruined for me by the age of four. I hadn't even seen any of the movies yet, but by 1989, this was such a commonly said phrase in American culture that any chance of me being surprised by the most important revelation of the trilogy was lost forever. I still don't revere the movies nearly as much as those of you in your thirties and beyond, and I think this is one of the main reasons. I don't like knowing what's going to happen before it does. Suspense is cool stuff.
The same goes for me and books. At some point during high school, I stopped reading Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series around book 6. Not at the end of the book. Just the middle somewhere. I lost the bookmark. I came back a few months later and tried to find my place. I read a few pages and though "hey, I read this part, BORING." Then I moved on to eventually find out where I had left off. It didn't take me very long to decide that the rest was boring too, but the original point stands- I don't like reading the same thing twice- that combination of déjà vu and wasting my time combines to make me want to do something new.
The pattern continues in video games. From the ages of about 8 to 14, I played a ton of JRPG's. I'd almost unilaterally play them one time each. In some cases, like for Final Fantasy III (or VI in Japan), I got to the point where all I had to do was beat the final boss, and then I left the game alone for about 3 months. I didn't want to end it. It would be over then; I'd know the ending. Meanwhile, Chrono Trigger ended up being my most replayed RPG of all time, because it had multiple endings and a genuine sense that your actions in the game helped shape the future of their world, and unlike many later games which were very open-ended, you also still experienced a cohesive story including characters that you actually cared about.
Aside from RPG's, my second favorite genre was fighting games: Street Fighter 2, Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat, Soul Blade, etc... These kinds of games were always intense and satisfying right down to the last sliver of life. You could always turn it around.
So what does this have to do with this place, the fortress of Ameritrash?
I find that I appreciate the same thing in board games. As soon as I know the outcome (who's going to win) I want the game to end quickly so I can play something else, or play the same game again, looking for a rematch. In a really bizarre way, I'm drawn to AT, not because of their theming or cool components, but largely because their mechanics create situations I enjoy and wish to repeat. Although I somewhat enjoy Power Grid, what really bugs me about it is how stale the end-game feels. After many intense auctions and warring over the energy markets, the game becomes a deterministic affair where one or two players have the capacity to win, and the others just have the capacity to get in the way, and in their best-case scenario, make the whole thing drag out another turn. I played Age of Steam for the first time last Saturday, just to see what it's all about. I figure I should see what's on the other side at least once before I decide I don't like it. I don't like it. It's not because I don't want to play a train game. It's because I don't want to play a train game for 4 hours when you can see who's in 1st and 2nd place after 40 minutes. It felt like work, not because my brain was "burning," but because it wasn't fun and I was looking at the clock waiting for it to end.
There are some Euros that I do enjoy. I really like Settlers, Dominion and Race for the Galaxy. I'll likely even play them over most AT games. What I do like is how they incorporate randomness and uncertainty into the math, and they don't take too long. I like how they obfuscate the victory conditions enough to get you to focused on just doing "better" rather than winning the game alone. Sure, I bet I could be better at Dominion or Race if I kept track of everyone's VP's, but it doesn't seem necessary to playing.
And yet some Euros just fall flat. Stone Age strikes me as incredibly overrated and uninspired, an amalgamation of other game's mechanics with an obligatory scoring track that reminds you that that's all that matters. The dice don't do anything to make it more "fun." DIce-rolling without any interesting decisions doesn't add interest to the game. "Oh man, with that roll, I could have gotten a yellow block instead of this gray one. Boy did I mess up!" I don't like either of the "big two" either of PR or Agricola, and perhaps a case can be made for lame themes detracting from my enjoyment here [I really don't want to farm, whether it's with slaves or not]. But they also just waste too much time waiting for other players to think, so they can get 3 of something instead of 2! I really enjoy Dungeon Lords though. I wonder if it's just because you don't score a damn thing until the very end. Up until then, it's all about focusing on important tactical goals, like making your tax payments, whacking the paladin, or making sure you get that Dragon instead of someone else.
Perhaps my favorite games of all are the intense two-player struggles with short game lengths, like Magic: the Gathering, which I first played when I was around 9, and my current favorite, Summoner Wars. In a two-player game, there's never an odd man out who has no chance. It's not over until the last life point is removed, and up until then, the uncertainty of the cards and/or dice mean that it's almost always possible to stabilize and turn it around.
But if I were really looking for a test of skill and the chance to get my head to sweat or burn, I'd go to a Judo tournament. 4 minutes there involve more important decisions, more penalty for missteps, and more challenge than a 4-hour game of Age of Steam ever could.