Games that engender despair

I was talking to my colleague about games I’d played at UKGE, and she said that she probably wouldn’t enjoy Canpo: dying city because she doesn’t like games designed to cause despair (her other example was Spirit Island). I like to play certain Splotter games (* cough * Antiquity * cough *) and also enjoy (?) video game like This War of Mine and Frosthaven, so clearly I am a masochist and enjoy the experience of having my face slowly ground into the dirt :laughing:

So, what say you? Which games engender despair, either intentionally or unintentionally, and do you enjoy them?


Kingdom Death Monster

I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it.


Roguelikes are all about that crushing moment when your last 6 hours of progress are undone by a series of mistakes, and you get booted right back to the start, mentally bruised and battered, but a little bit wiser. I love it.

I can’t say I’ve experienced any equivalent in boardgames.


Hmm. I think Sub Terra may come close - the odds are stacked against you and the game taunts you with the possibility of victory. Ghost Stories too, but there I enjoy it more.


I have liked Spirit Island, Sub Terra and Antiquity…

All those have “thematic despair” built in. I don’t mind this in games at all–much more so in other media especially those I “just” consume aka books and movies–just today I complained about grimdark (which is apparently now just called dark fantasy).

I mind the despair that games engender by being “impossible” to win and games that make me feel like I do not have agency or games for which I cannot see how to improve:

  • anything Arkham that randomly fucks with you as a player because that’s what Arkham is all about (according to me anyway)
  • Ghost Stories–sometimes the randomness in this makes one despair…
  • Sub Terra might fall into that if I played more often… but I admit winning this one is very difficult but also losing is quick at least
  • 7th Continent is a prime example which also includes the thematic despair but this was generally subsumed or made worse by being on the verge of losing continually. I have little desire to play this again even though it irks me that there is so much there we haven’t seen

@Benkyo roguelikes usually at least proffer some kind of idea of how I can improve which provides agency and I usually play roguelites for that reason: with those I get some kind of “bonus” even from a failed run.

So I think the question is one of agency. Despair is one emotion I feel when I am confronted with a problem and have no way to affect it, most games offer that in some way. Those that will not by design or by accident, I have an issue with.


Roguelites are a completely different thing precisely because of that ever-increasing bonus every failed run that pushes you towards progress. That’s not at all what I was talking about.

Still, I take the point. Even in a roguelike where there is no metaprogress, if you can learn and improve, and the loss is entirely attributable to your own failing, I can see how that wouldn’t evoke “despair”.

But I find the arbitrary losses in boardgames due to pure luck don’t evoke despair for me. I can just shrug and say, well, I played optimally, I worked the odds, shit happened.

I guess despair just might not be an emotion I associate with gaming. The closest I get is that sinking feeling right at the moment when I die in a roguelike and I know it’s all my fault. Maybe not despair, but the closest thing I have to an answer to this thread.


Exactly, as long as I can see how I could do better next time… the problem is when I cannot see that.

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Personally I haven’t been able to even try This War of Mine, either electronically or board game - the whole point of the game seems to be to engender despair. I’m not disputing the educational value, which I find laudable, but as I get older I find it harder to put myself through things to teach me lessons that I already feel I know i.e. wars lead to privation, misery and death for soldiers, civilians and most people involved.


Shadows over Camelot. That’s all.


Battlestar Galactica would be the game at the top of my list, which given the source material is thematically spot on. You get to watch your resource dials gradually (or rapidly) dwindle, barely ever increasing, and then after a couple of hours one of the other players, who you’ve probably made Admiral or President, stabs you all in the back and destroys the fleet.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game would be the other. Particularly when playing solo you can sometimes find things spiral out of control, usually as monsters build up on the map and you don’t have the resources to deal with them. Or the feeling of watching doom accrue on the agenda as the clues you need to advance sit seemingly out of reach. It can also engender despair without you even needing to play the game as you look at your collection of cards and realise just how much money you have spent on the game :stuck_out_tongue:


I went in hard on Golem Arcana, only to have it abandoned by the developers, so there’s some despair there…

Honestly, I get some of that feeling from the Arkham Horror:LCG, but that feels intentionally done, and thematically appropriate.

I don’t get the same feeling from Spirit Island, during which I usually feel pretty amped up when playing, even when it’s going badly.

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