By Flabbergastrate 2 Comments
In December of 2009, Steve Horvath, VP of Marketing and Communications for Board and Card game publisher Fantasy Flight Games, announced that the company would no longer continue to support The Universal Fighting System (UFS), a card game based on fighting-game franchises such as Street Fighter, Soulcalibur, and Tekken. A huge fan of the game though I had stopped playing in May of last year, I decided to revisit what cards I had left and try to make some decks to mess around with. I quit the game because of the money-sink that any Collectible Card Game eventually becomes, not because I had fallen out of love with it.
UFS was complex even by card game standards. Like many card games, UFS was governed by a set of rules that define how the game is played, but its design was based directly on fighting games, and as such, players controlled one character, performed and blocked attacks through control checks, there were symbols and card difficulties to abide by, and effects and phases that took place in set orders* -- all things that made that intimidated casual players.
But it was these sorts of intricacies that made the game fun. Along with building your deck to counter your opponent's cards, using the correct cards in a given situation is what makes you feel accomplished in any card game. Though this level of complexity is usually the realm of Warhammer and its peers, in almost any video game, you are immediately constricted by a certain amount of rules, even when they're not overt; in a first-person shooter, for example, it's a given that if you are shot a certain amount of times, you will die.
But the rules become more important the more numerous they are. To me, Advance Wars isn't fun because of the way it's like real warfare, it's fun because of the ways that it's not; warring sides don't take turns to attack each other on a gird, but it's more strategic to move each of your units one at a time. Valkyria Chronicles is great because of the way it works direct control of a character into the byzantine design of turn-based strategy, not because it just lets you move an avatar around the battlefield.
A recent mantra of many game designers and publishers today is that simpler is better, that complexity is off-putting to key demographics who just want to enjoy a game. It's certainly easy to connect complexity with difficulty, because having more limits can seem restrictive, and therefore harder to manage. But like harder games, the sense of accomplishment that comes from achieving victory under restrictions and obstacles can be far more enjoyable than a game without any sort of limits or rules.
It isn't just about games where there are many small idiosyncrasies to learn either. Games like Starcraft and Street Fighter are easy to pick up play, because the principles of hitting an opponent or guiding a unit to a destination are simple in nature. Once you learn the fundamentals, however, the metagame the forms around reading your opponent and and playing mind games with them can be just as difficult to learn as an board or card game. Once you learn about a game's hidden depth, it becomes that much more fun to play, because it can often feel like you're playing a completely new game. Victory comes with a unique sense of accomplishment that comes not only from having defeated your opponent, but from understanding the systems under which you did so.
Simple games have their place, and fun without adulteration and forced restrictions is rewarding in its own right. But something like UFS still has a place**, and games that force you to learn systems within systems can be fun in their own right. Perhaps this why my government class excites me so much; what can I say, checks and balances are enticing.
*A pdf of the official tournament rules for UFS as of April 21st, 2009 can be found here.
** On XBLA or PSN one day, I hope.