There’s not a lot I feel like saying about Proving Ground other than it’s not for me. See you next week.
Hmmm. Can’t really leave it like that.
In a word, disappointing.
I like the premise, and the introductory story is one of the better ones I’ve read in a game (barring the peculiar and anachronistic use of the term klick for distance). If you do get the game, it’s worth reading this story to set the scene. Unfortunately, there are some discontinuities between this tale and the game itself which are odd and a bit unnecessary. That was strange.
Anyway, how does it play?
The game rather unsportingly pits you against six enemies at once in an arena battle, and each time you cut one down they are replaced. If you kill a total of eight or more before you lose all your wounds, you win. If you lose all of your wounds, you die and you lose the game too. Like I said, I’m happy with that premise.
Structurally, the game is presented as a “training” core version that teaches you the basics. Learn that first. They then have six modules that you can add in any combination, all of which add complexity, and all but one of which make life harder. Again, not a bad approach. The rules too are clearly written.
Mechanically, the core of the game is a timed Yahtzee variant, and here is where things come unstuck. It’s just not fun.
However, as always, I can pull a game design lesson from this, so the time isn’t entirely wasted.
In this case, the lesson is an old one: make your core experience engaging, and if you can’t then make it very quick. The absolute worst case combination is to have a boring experience that drags on for a long time. If you rely on the chrome to provide your entertainment then it had better become the vast majority of your playing experience.
Proving Ground makes the mistake of increasing the complexity of the dull core game with every piece of chrome it adds, while never allowing you to enjoy the challenge. The potentially interesting gameplay experience of navigating an increasingly complex resource management puzzle is utterly wasted because you have no time to think when you’re rolling.
I’ll explain that a bit more. The core mechanic is rolling a bunch of normal D6s in a timed minute. You generally want sets of the same number, and you can re-roll some dice and not others. It’s all fairly straightforward, and as far as that goes it’s OK. Not very hard, quickly reduced to a rote approach to survival. You see, as there is no round limit, the best strategy is to take as few risks as possible during each minute – there is absolutely zero incentive to do things quickly. You will attrit the enemy as a by-product of surviving, so you don’t need to pay any attention to offence per se. Playing to minimise my losses like this, I went through a dozen games without losing a single one, including against various combinations of modules. More modules made it longer, but I still won every game by just aiming to survive.
I kept hoping that each new module would add some new twist that would pick the game up, but it never happened.
Going on the trade pile.