Mary Russell

When it comes to traditional abstract games, Chess is arguably the King (and Queen, and Bishop, and Rook). Only Go rivals it for popularity and fanaticism. Backgammon is older than both of them, and I actually find it more dynamic than Chess, but it hardly has the same following or the same kind of serious attention afforded to it. Only hardcore abstract enthusiasts have time for oddities like Nine Men's Morris or Fox and Geese, and even children get bored with Tic-Tac-Toe pretty rapidly. 

And then there's Draughts (or Checkers). Draughts gets a bad rap. At least in the case of the version that most English-language gamers are familiar with - played on an 8 x 8 grid with twelve men apiece - that reputation is not entirely undeserved. International Draughts (or "Polish Checkers") is much more compelling, and has a richer decision space thanks to its 10 x 10 grid, twenty men to a side, and flying kings. But in any version, the thing that makes the game work is the compulsion to jump: if you can capture an enemy piece, you must capture an enemy piece, even if it's not a particularly good idea to do so. 

What I didn't realize until playing a game with my nephew a few years back is that there are an awful lot of people - young and old alike - who are somehow unaware of this rule, and they're extremely resistant when you try to enforce it. They just plain don't like being forced to do what you want them to do when it's their turn. Now, they're also able to force you to do what they want on your turn, but they don't see it that way - usually because, when there's a disparity in skill level, they're always being forced to react to what you're doing. Turning the tables requires that they be better at the game, and a lot of folks don't like being told that they're playing badly, and that they only have themselves to blame because the other guy keeps punching them in the face. 

If all this sounds slightly familiar, it's something of a recurring theme in my designs. Table Battles, with its mandatory reactions and skipped action phases, is built around this idea explicitly. It also factors into something like For-Ex, in which the Resolve action can become a sort of a weapon that can beat a player into a fine pulp. (Or not; it's quite possible to avoid this altogether depending on play style.) I don't see either of these as being flaws in the design, of course; they're there for a reason, just like Draughts forces you to jump for a reason. 

They're a feature of the game, not a bug, and it's up to the players to grapple with them. Some players like to do that. Others simply don't enjoy that kind of grappling, and that's okay, too.

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