The One Game

Recently I’ve been looking at my Steam library in contemplation of all the games I never quite mastered (or in many cases, never came close to mastering). The ease of growing that collection through numerous sales, and the necessity of having to play them intensely and then move on in order to keep a steady flow of reviews means there isn’t really a single game I can call myself an expert in.

Starting now, I want to change that.

I want to see if it’s possible to simply pick a game, stick with it and learn all of its nuances, fully understand every mechanic, and be able to execute gameplay flawlessly. I want to see my skill with the game improve, and most of all, I want to document the entire learning process. I want to master that “one game”.

But which game?

I came up with a list of criteria for the ideal game to master, and found it quite easy to whittle it down to just a few possibilities.

It should run on a Mac. Naturally. But it should also run well, on both a desktop and a MacBook. Crusader Kings II was out.

It should be predominantly skill-based. Roguelikes have a tendency to have a little too much left to chance. Dungeons of Dredmor and FTL are out.

There must be objective ways to measure ability and progress. This is very important. In-game achievements, for all their faults, actually provide a good way to do this. Online leaderboards are even better. This rules out most RPGs.

There must be significant complexity in the game. I could invest in a game that relies purely on twitch, but I want something that has a variety of mechanics that intertwine, so that there’s room to read up on strategy when I’m not actually in front of the game, and allows for some degree of creativity in the gameplay. Super Meat Boy was out.

There should be no upper level on skill. In other words, it should be possible to just keep getting better. Games with a strong competitive multiplayer element are therefore a must.

There should be a strong, active community. Being able to discuss (and play!) the game with others, and knowing the developers are taking an active role in maintaining and adding to the game is important to a game I will be spending a long time with. I want to know people will be playing the game in a year’s time. This rules out Black Ops.

Gameplay should be fairly quick. A typical match should last around 20 minutes. This means that more iterations of games are possible in the same amount of time, and less of that time is spent waiting for others. Civilisation V is out.

It should not be team-based. I want to build up my own skill and not be dependent on the skill of others (not to mention it’ll be hard enough to manager my time every week for this, let alone other peoples’). Awesomenauts and DOTA 2 are out.

At this point, my list is looking a little like this:

It’s interesting that Blizzard has a tendency to make games that fill these criteria (at a stretch, World of Warcraft could also be added to this list). In order to arrive at the perfect game, I added one final criteria:

I should have no prior experience with the game. I want to start completely fresh. A recently released game is therefore ideal. I could got with the forthcoming Heart of the Swarm, but felt that Starcraft II already gets more than enough coverage. Instead, my “one game” will be:

The Banner Saga.

Currently in open beta, The Banner Saga got a fair bit of attention in its Kickstarter in April last year. The game itself will actually have two components: a three-part single-player campaign, and a free-to-play competitive multiplayer section (dubbed The Banner Saga: Factions). I’ve no prior experience of the game at all, but by all accounts features a variety of game mechanics and strategic elements, with many making comparisons to Magic: The Gathering, Tactics Ogre and even chess. The game ticks all the boxes in my list of criteria, so I secured myself a spot on the beta and prepared to master it, my one game.

Each week I’ll write about my progress. You can follow it via this tag.


Your thoughts on this?