For a while now, there’s been talk goin’ round that Min-Maxing isn’t a bad thing; that players are just choosing the optimal strategy and finding a niche for their characters. Those that say this do have a point. You can’t hardly blame a person for wanting their character to rock! They’re just doing what the rules allow. However, the full-on supporters of Min-Maxing might have a narrow point of view. In truth, I see three legitimate PoV’s on this: Min-Maxing isn’t bad, Min-Maxing might be bad, and Min-Maxing is bad. I’ll explain.
Let’s take “it isn’t bad” first. Min-Maxing is a strategy. Period. In fact, I’d say it’s a very obvious and natural strategy. Minimizing resources allocated to character components (skills, stats, advantages, whatever) that will seldom see use and/or character components that have drawbacks or flaws of some kind is sensible. Likewise, maximizing resources allocated to components that will see a great deal of use and/or components that provide advantages and bonuses is very logical. It’s almost a kind of “Duh!” moment, if you will. Whether it is during character creation (Chargen) or advancement, Min-Maxing is indeed a legitimate and probably beneficial strategy. Thankfully, those that decry it as a bad way to play are dwindling, however they are not gone completely. Which brings me to why Min-Maxing might be bad.
There are people and play groups that feel that Min-Maxing is bad play or that it’s not very sporting. They feel that the strategy undermines both the spirit of the game and the spirit of the group. It is in this circumstance that Min-Maxing might be bad. More important than good strategy is the Social Contract a group has set up (consciously or unconsciously). If Min-Maxing violates that contract, then if becomes bad play.
So what does one do in this situation? As I see it, there are three options. First, is to open a dialogue and work out a mutual compromise everyone can agree to. Come up with a solution that makes the entire group comfortable, so play and enjoyment can resume. Second, is to conform to the group’s Social Contract. Sometimes one has to sacrifice one’s own preferred style of play for the good of the group and the opportunity for having fun. Finally, one can simply leave the group. If a compromise cannot be found and there is no willingness to conform to each other’s style in either party, then perhaps it is a good time to bid farewell and find a group that better matches that style. Staying in a contentious situation ruins everyone’s fun. Each person will have to decide on their own.
Now for an instance where Min-Maxing is bad (IMHO). I submit that any game where Min-Maxing is the dominant strategy either during Chargen or Character Advancement, that game needs revision. Min-Maxing is one legitimate strategy in play, not the only legitimate strategy. If a design funnels characters into tight Min-Maxed boxes, then I believe the designer has come up short. He has left open a lot of room where he can design far more interesting strategies in his game. Especially if a game focuses on strategic use of character components, Min-Maxing as the dominate strategy is horrible. That’s not really strategic at all. It’s just following the only real path presented by the rules. Others may disagree, that’s fine. But I honestly don’t believe those kinds of game have the potential to produce as much fun as games with multiple and varied strategies. There’s a lot more out there than Min-Maxing.
So to sum up, Min-Maxing is a legitimate strategy. However, players should be mindful of the Social Contract of their group and designers should be mindful of incorporating other strategies in their games. Just because it is legitimate, doesn’t automatically make it good.