Breaking the feedback loop to make bad games

The following are the results of a game design challenge to design games which have the biggest discrepency between their apparent usefulness and their actual ability to teach sills.

Sean Franklin
Game List: 6 Games for a Complete Fencer
Explanation (and introduction to the challenge): 6 Bad Games – Lessons From The Rondo

Tea Kew
Game List: 6 Games to Teach Meyer-style Fencing
Explanation: Breaking the feedback loop to make bad games

Adrien Pommellet
Game List: 6 Games to Clean Up Your Fencing
Explanation: 6 Games to Shit Up Your Fencing

One of the most powerful things about using games, instead of coached drills or other forms of training, is that they have an inherent feedback loop for the participants. Unless the game is particularly odd, you get pretty much instant information about if you’ve picked a good action and if you’ve executed it well. The competitive nature of most games reduces the amount of bullshit in that information – a common issue with choreographed drills, where you might succeed at an action because you are considered to have done it “correctly”, but the way you’ve performed it will not transfer to bouting.

So when Sean posed the challenge of creating a set of bad fencing games, I was initially a bit stumped. Even more difficult was the goal to create bad games which seemed like good games – that meant that a number of obvious tricks went out the window (for example, no creating games where one participant was forced to do something self-evidently daft). But then I hit upon the idea of attacking the feedback loop itself.

The games in my article are structured to try and undermine the ability of fencers to learn from them. Generally they approach this in two ways:

  • Reducing the fencer’s agency to select their action, timing, or distance.
  • Weakening the link between the fencer’s decisions or actions and the outcome of the game.

I’ve written some notes on each specific game about why I think it’s actually not very good:

  1. Meyer Stance and Movement: Well, it’s good for leg strength I guess. Not really good for much else in longsword fencing, it’s not a way you move people around and doesn’t have any elements of sparring based distance management.
  2. Ready or Not: This is basically just Finnish Chicken but with the good stuff taken out. There’s no longer any connection between the fencer’s control/awareness of distance and timing and their choice to attack or defend. 
  3. Meyer Square Feints & Parries: The predetermined sequences mean that the defender knows exactly what the whole set of strikes will be immediately – and therefore can probably get back even if they bite on a feint.
  4. C-c-c-combo Breaker!: Two big problems here: no rules to allow interrupting bad attacks, and optimal defensive play is to be hit by the first attack!
  5. Escalation: No rules against wrestling or running away. Even if both fencers buy in, the 15s time limit means most passes will be a draw.
  6. Sparring Rules: The random scoring element isn’t actually connected to hitting or fencing skill at all, so the feedback link between fencing and scoring is completely busted. 

While inventing bad games is a fun diversion, there are also some useful implications for coaching. When you’re looking to design games to help your fencers improve, look at these two angles of attack and try to ensure the fencer still has decent options in each one. A game can be restricted (and often this is useful), but both participants should still have agency and the outcome should be directly connected to what they did.