Hard Take-That Versus Soft Take-That

Take that!

For those who don't already know, the phrase "take-that" describes a certain form of player interaction in games. It's the part of the game where, instead of doing something that helps you win, you do something to hinder another player.

It's a popular way to add interactivity into games. It can be thematic, as with the robber in Catan, and it's practically a built-in catch-up mechanic, since players tend to go after whoever is in the lead... except for that one vindictive guy whose only goal is to make their friend lose as hard as possible. You know who you are.

Perhaps most famously, Munchkin lays it on thick with the take-that, which is likely a major reason why many hobby gamers tend to look elsewhere for their fun.

It's not surprising that take-that is generally viewed unfavorably by those in the hobby. Some people hate knocking others down, for sure, but I suspect many more get frustrated when their carefully planned strategy gets tossed out the window because somebody stole the card they needed.

And yet, I would hate to dismiss the idea entirely. When used effectively, it can make a game even more fun, even for hobby gamers.

The trick is to understand that there are actually two general categories of take-that, which I call hard take-that and soft take-that.

Hard take-that is the kind that has gained such a terrible reputation. It's the kind that gives that vindictive guy the ability to keep sending monsters after you, even though your munchkin hasn't even reached level 2. Aww c'mon, vindictive guy! David is level 8, go after him for a bit!

Hard take-that could be defined as any action which removes most, if not all, useful options from the target. Thus, any turns the player spent preparing for their upcoming big turn, as well as that turn itself, are effectively wasted.

Soft take-that, however, is wonderful, and you should consider adding it to your design repertoire. We can define it as any action which inhibits another player, but not so much that their turn is wasted. If Munchkin is the poster child for hard take-that, then I would nominate Carcassonne as the poster child for soft take-that.

In Carcassonne, since everybody is adding tiles to the same overall map, there's a lot you can do to mess with the other players' strategies. Another player is this close to completing a village. However, you just got a tile where the village connects on 3 sides, so you connect it to her village. This makes it harder for her to complete it, so it has a good shot at costing her points.

But you know what it doesn't do? It doesn't completely ruin her turn. She still has plenty of options.

Or what about the guy who has a village nearly complete, but you find a way to connect a village you were building with his? You're not actually preventing him from gaining points now, you're just making sure that you score those points, too.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways in Carcassonne to mess with the other players, very much affecting the outcome of the game, but they don't make your friends want to strangle you in your sleep. They're also completely optional, since the players can just work on their own parts of the map without ever messing with each other, if that's what makes them happy.

Of course, Carcassonne does have a bit of hard take-that. Things like putting a road near another player's cloister so that it's nearly impossible for them to get the right tile to finish it. They are prevented from ever getting their meeple back and are shorted some points. But there are many more opportunities to divert their strategy without destroying their options, and many groups have an unspoken agreement not to play using those meaner strategies.

In my upcoming game about taking home Filipino food, I have some soft take-that, too. The goal is to pack the best foods you can to score the most points. But instead of keeping food for yourself, you can share it with another player. This does give them points at the end for that food, but it may be blocking a better play, and you will almost always get more points for sharing than you just gave to the other player.

All this said, don't discount hard take-that entirely, either.

One of the few games I have a severe dislike of is Ticket to Ride, and the reason is because of the hard take-that. You can be working hard to get the cards you need to finish up your biggest ticket, and suddenly somebody snags the track you needed. Your last few turns were a complete waste.

And yet, I am in a severe minority in my opinion about Ticket to Ride. Most people really dig that game. So it's clear that, in the right situations, hard take-that can also be the right choice for a game.

In the end, it's your call what is most appropriate to use in your game. But most people don't consider there may be different types. Once you understand the two types of take-that, though, you can better use the tool as most appropriate to your own games.