Good Mean Games

Mean games have a bad reputation with me in recent years. Tales of people losing friends over a game of Risk or Diplomacy may be from the last millenium but whenever I hear a certain reviewer say “we don’t like mean games” I wonder if maybe maybe… I’ve been avoiding some good games.

I certainly don’t like “Take That” mechanisms very much (especially while I am at the receiving end…)

However, I have recently noticed that there are some games that qualify as mean or that induce huge amounts of Schadenfreude that I do enjoy and I felt like the other players were enjoying themselves while at the same time wailing aboult the misfortune that befell them.

  • So what are some mean games that make good use of their meanness and are still fun to play?
  • Follow up: What might be some criteria that make mean games good or fun to play?
  • What games make you feel awful because they are so mean? Why?
  • Also are there games where being mean is optional? How do you play it?
  • Does the amount of meanness you can take or dish out vary with player numbers?
  • edit: What even does qualify as mean for you?

Games I came across recently that triggered my thinking about these things: 6 nimmt, The Estates and mentions of “Hey that’s My Fish” as being super-mean. Also possibly hidden role games like BotC

Maybe I’ve had a few too many multiplayer solitaire and coop games…

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In general I prefer interactive games, as I’m there to play with who I’m with, not by them.

18XX as a whole has varying elements of trashing a company at the expense of your fellow players.

Brass too, building what a person wants nearer than their supply can feel quite mean.


Food Chain Magnate you need to be utterly ruthless and it’s great. So are all Splotter’s, my favourite being Indonesia which is no exception.

As @raged_norm said 18xx is a cutthroat series, but so are cube rails (often?). Chicago Express is a an unremitting knife fight from start to finish.

Keyflower also comes to mind. It’s a game where aggression is central to doing well. But often interactive euros are. From Hansa Teutonica to Terra Mystica. I’ve certainly found it to be true of Lisboa and the wonderful Noria.


Does all interaction count as being mean then?
That points to a sad state of affairs…
Because I’ve certainly never felt that Terra Mystica qualifies as a mean game.

I am looking forward very much to getting my copy of Hansa Teutonica played in more than a practice game.

It might be the people I play with. There’s definitely a lot of calculation of which land you can grab ahead of an opponent and stopping others getting the spells they need and so on.

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Anything that isn’t coop or multiplayer solitaire can be seen as mean by someone. Actually, even in multiplayer solitaire like Galaxy Trucker the game is “mean” - a lot of the fun is schadenfreude, and some people don’t like that.

But yeah, meaner the better. The worst are actually games that are mostly non-interactive, but throw in some take-that cards to try and make some claim to interactivity, but actually just feel bad.

You know Pax Pamir is great, and that’s as mean as it gets, but it’s fine, because that’s the game.


A game of preventing others from winning…
I guess Oath is a bit like that as well, isn’t it?

Well, I we do play a lot of games with another couple who do not hold back. Maybe it is just the phrasing in some reviews that makes me think I avoid meanness more than I actually do?

Language musings inside

There is a German word for when someone makes a mean move: “Anpisszug” Usage example: “Was ist das denn schon wieder für ein Anpisszug? Na warte!”

Also for those who do not know “Zug” is both the word for “train” and for “a move in a game” you could probably say “Mach mal deinen Zugzug!” to tell some one to make a move to move a train.

And obviously: it is totally fine not to like mean games. The good thing is that these days there are games for everyone. It just helps to know what the other players at your table enjoy.

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But not just preventing them from winning, potentially also destroying every card and piece they have played! But it’s fine, because that’s the game, and every attack has its own cost.


My intro to the hobby hasn’t seen a lot of mean games. Playing with the kids has meant take that or being able to get crushed has been something to avoid.

My big thing to avoid is games that make you feel crap if you’re doing badly. I was rubbish at Pipeline and it was utterly miserable because my opponents were doing bigger and bigger turns (and closing out my minimal options) and I was just doing nothing. I’m also terrible at A Feast for Odin, but even though I know I’m probably losing I can always do something.

My favourite mean game is Age of Steam. However, I don’t think I’ve played it with a group who play it to a high level yet - I can see that becoming quite difficult if you can’t get things moving.


Yes, if a game sets out to be mean the it’s fine. A sprinkling of take that moves in an otherwise low interaction experience feels weird.

On teh broader point of interaction is meanness. there are people that think that way. Two examples.

Isle of Skye is interactive through the price setting mechanism, but doesn’t feel mean. However some people may feel that setting a price for a tile you know another player wants is mean.

In Brass undercutting by placing coal/iron closer than an opponent. Could be seen as mean, however I don’t see it that way. The result is a positive uplift for both players in either flipping tiles to the scoring side or not paying for the coal/iron form the market.


What is “Mean” is a really good question!

It’s not simply taking an opponent’s piece or blocking their growing plans, because lots of non-mean games do that.

I think it’s about moves which spoil the players enjoyment of the game, especially where you had other moves available and decided to fully attack instead of building. It happens often in games where a player has the power to completely stop the momentum of another, or spoil their plans so much that it’s hard to recover from.

You can do all this in Santorini, but it doesn’t feel mean (even when you’re killing their workers or destroying their buildings) because that’s the rules and it’s a two-player battle. If it was a 4 player builder and someone singled you out for destruction when it was less necessary, I think that would feel more mean.

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Some people love Mean :slight_smile: My partner doesn’t mind games where she can say “I did that to you!” instead of “the rules mean everyone does that all the time”.

Food Chain Magnate and 18XX are the two games I found just too mean to be enjoyable. I think Captbnut is onto something (at least for me) - because both of those games also feel awful if you are losing.

Oh Through the Ages can be added to that list. The combination of long and mean seems deadly to me - a short little knife-fight of a game (which would be most 2 player ‘dueling’ games really), is okay. 3+ hours of feeling beaten up and unable to gain your footing (or possibly worse - seeing it happen to someone else!) is just not enjoyable to me.

But I know that’s almost entirely a matter of taste, as all three of these big mean games seem to have plenty of devoted fans. Part of it is probably that in these games have mechanics that encourage dumping on those who are losing which feels bad to me (both doing it and having it happen to me).

So thumbs up to ‘mean’ 2 player games like Summoner Wars or Hive or to short, mean games like Hey That’s My Fish or Arboretum for me but the longer heavier games that are touted as mean are just not for me.

There are the odd games that I remain unsure about like Tigris and Euphrates - I’m quite a Knizia fan and it’s widely heralded as one of his best but I’m not sure how I’d actually feel about playing it.


I was musing on “take that” games recently on BGG, and I think there’s some overlap with meanness. My thoughts there:

If player A can take an action that harms player B’s game state, I’d say it’s more likely to be seen as “take that” if:

  • A does not directly benefit from this action: i.e. A is no closer to winning, but B is now further away.
  • There is little or no cost to A.
  • A has a wide choice of targets, rather than just “the players next to me”.
  • Attacking other players is not the sole point of the game. There’s some other element of building up your game state towards winning.

and others suggested that “there’s nothing B can do to prepare for or defend against such attacks” would be a reasonable thing to add.

I think in particular that the wide choice of targets is important to a feeling of meanness: I could go after anyone, but I’m going after you. (Especially if “you” aren’t the obvious current leader.)

I wouldn’t regard 6 Nimmt! as mean, because the target of your action is basically random: you don’t know who’s going to suffer by having to take that row, you just know that someone probably will.


I think deception can fully land a game in mean territory (outside of games where deception is the main point like social deduction games). I’m thinking of Cosmic Encounter where you bluff, lie, break promises, do anything you can to get a leg up if you’re willing to risk some of the take that coming back to haunt you. If you promise someone you’re going to play a negotiate and play an attack instead, many people will see that as a dastardly betrayal. And that’s not to mention some of the cards and powers that are just plain spiteful.


Thinking of Blood on the Clocktower, the meanness there is that you have to lie and/or mistrust people for an extended period while pretending to be friendly. (I think it may actually be worse in a PBF where it lasts several weeks than in a face to face game which is over in an hour or so – and The Resistance is even quicker.)


Totally agree about Cosmic. I really enjoyed the PBF (thanks again) on the old site, but I don’t think I’d ever play irl. I couldn’t play like that in person and I know I’d get salty if I got boned


Taking a step back down from this meta-discourse:

I generally don’t like “mean” games either. I played Diplomacy once and will never touch it again, and similarly have zero desire to jump into Game of Thrones. I was very cautious about Rex/Dune as well, though I eventually got it.

That said, I do prefer games that let you jump into each others’ grill and mix things up a bit. So here are the maybe mean games that I really appreciate:

Innovation Super aggressive and you have to not only attack your opponent, but keep kicking them when they are down. SO GOOD. Though, admittedly not for everyone. I think what lets it work is that, even when you are knocked down/on the receiving end, the game gives you things to do and tools to get back up. If you keep playing, the tables will turn and it is super satisfying to find your feet again.

Cosmic Encounter allows for, and sometimes requires, piling up on a single player. That’s kind of mean.

Argent: The Consortium which is worker placement musical chairs, and you actively fight over the chairs

Survive: Escape from Atlantis. While ostensibly a family game, you are not only abandoning your opponents in the ocean but then actively sending sharks to eat them.

Hansa Teutonica, as Quinns well articulated, gives you a benefit for being a dick and squatting in other peoples’ way.

Tournament at Avalon balances itself by letting you all poke the leader with your swords.

Back to the meta:
I don’t know. Games where attacking the other person (Chess, Star Realms) is the point never feel mean. There’s a middle tier where you win by building your own stuff up, but are also allowed to obstruct and destroy whatever your opponents are building. I’m generally ok with these as I can usually gauge who is ahead and who is behind, I’m aware of the option my opponent has, so it feels like part of the game. I think the game needs to give me a few tools to anticipate, and either defend or react to the meanness.

Games where it comes out of nowhere or could be called a betrayal… games that come with lying (again, unless it is explicitly part of the rules like Dark Moon or Resistance). Games that provide no defense (Terraforming Mars) or recourse (Risk) put me in a foul mood instead.


The Estates is, without a doubt, the meanest game in my collection. You’re constantly trying to undercut your competition for gains while also doing your best to tank the rest of the table’s hard work. It’s spectacularly ruthless but the closed economy keeps players in check. It’s also brief, dense with groans and evil cackles, and massively fun over a series of games (build those rivalries). Importantly, being ruthless is the whole point, so everyone tends to get into it.

Honestly, I don’t really think mean games get a bad rap so much as I think there are more gamers out there who prefer either MP solitaire or cooperative experiences. I also think those types experiences are a big part of why the BG industry has exploded like it has.

[EDIT] I really wanted to add in Chinatown because I think it introduces (yet) another side discussion. I don’t think Chinatown is an inherently mean game, just to be upfront. However, it tasks players to simply make as much money as possible within a completely open negotiation framework. And people are the worst when it comes to money. This is probably my favourite game to play with my family because the slapdash and frequently outright arbitrary denials and shifting allegiances spur on bitter, multi-game-spanning rivalries. This leads to bizarre shifting metas that never stick around past a single game. And critically, we’re always in great spirits over the dinner table moments later.