Meta-Effects in Games

Some games proceed through their steps of play without interference. If you are playing Snakes and Ladders, you know that unless another player wins on his next turn, you will get another turn.

Other games have mechanisms that can change the normal sequence of play. It might be player A playing a card that forces player B to miss his next turn or that gives player A another turn.

This is extremely powerful. This is not appreciated by many game designers.

It appears that it is simply letting player A do something, but there are actually two things being done. Player A is doing something, AND player B’s play is being disrupted.

Player A is naturally going to play the card when it will work best for him. In effect, Player B gets ambushed.

This makes meta-effects in games more powerful than other effects. That is why meta-effects should be toned down some. Taken to extremes, the target player might not even get to play.

Back when I was playing Magic: the Gathering, another player related a game that he had played using several meta-effects.  He had the first play.  Through various meta-effects, he got six extra turns.  He was then built-up enough to win the game.  His opponent did not get a single turn.

If you are designing a game, please do not let meta-effects swamp the rest of the game.