538734-FBA3F413-1EF9-458B-A768-3598A2A4F600.jpg

After more than a year of false starts, I’m pleased to report I’ve finally nailed down the elusive “Berserker’s Honor: Win 10 consecutive online matches” achievement in one of my favorite Xbox 360 games, “Culdcept Saga” (rated T, $20 on Xbox 360). Other than winning 200 online matches, I’ve now unlocked all of that game’s achievements. (My win total presently sits around 105.)

Sure, I could have, like many folks, I’m sure, arranged to play 20 quick games with a friend, with each of us throwing 10 consecutive contests in a mutual effort to boost our gamerscores, but the achievement’s called “Berserker’s Honor,” after all. It just didn’t feel right. Besides, I’d bet cheating would take away a lot of the bogus sense of accomplishment that accompanies nailing down a difficult achievement (Xbox 360) or trophy (PlayStation 3).

I’m not, however, above creating conditions favorable for me to win. You see, “Culdcept Saga,” a synthesis between a collectible card game and a board game, involves an element of luck. Sometimes, as in poker, the cards just don’t come out right. Other times, as in Monopoly, the game’s random die rolls do you in. What’s more, the fact that the game’s been out for more than a year means that most of the folks still playing it online know what they’re trying to do, what you’re trying to do and how best to proceed. Combined, these three factors make putting together a string of 10 wins a tall order.

To counteract these factors as much as possible, I built a brutally efficient, somewhat gimmicky deck of 50 cards, tailor-made to win on one of the game’s quirkiest multiplayer maps. To eliminate the possibility of a bad deck draw, I threw in cards that let me reshuffle and draw extra cards. I also threw in a handful of cards designed to slow down my opponent, so I’d reap more of a benefit from pulling two cards every turn.

Once I’d laid my trap, I set up a game and waited for unsuspecting players to wander along. To keep from having to play the same person twice, I’d fire up my matches at different times of the day, sometimes very late at night, other times in the evening or late morning. I tried to keep it to one-on-one matches, as multiple savvy players will work together to take down the player who’s winning.

Everything went swimmingly until I got to match 10, when two players joined the room just as I was about to start a one-on-one match. So instead of a cakewalk against a relatively novice player for win No. 10, I had a knockdown, drag-out fight against two very skilled players, plus the novice I thought I was going to beat easily.

In the end, I was able to eke out a very close win, which was just as well, as I’d stopped deriving pleasure from the beatdowns I administered in games four through nine of the streak. After each game, I felt kind of badly for the person I’d just beat, so I’d send ’em a note, thanking them for sticking it out, explaining that I didn’t always just set up matches on this one map tailor-suited to my deck and play style. It was all in the name of the Berserker’s Honor achievement.

This got me wondering what other folks do for the sake of achievements and trophies. I know people will some times get three or four like-minded individuals together and just farm all of a game’s achievement points. Honestly, this kind of play never seemed like much fun to me compared to just playing the game the way it was meant to be played and letting achievements happen naturally. It’s irritating if you’re one of the non-achievement-crazed players in a match and folks are yelling at you that Player A has to have the rocket launcher, while Player B needs the sniper rifle, so you’d better not take either.

I’d rather just win matches and figure out achievements later, but unfortunately, even simple wins-and-losses-based achievements will be tainted by players who’ll quit a game early to keep a loss from registering on their record, or, arguably, folks like me who find something they’re really good at and ride the strategy, over and over, to the requisite number of wins. (I’m assuming the lopsided matches I played weren’t much fun for my opponents, although a few said it was a good learning experience.)

Maybe the answer is for achievements and trophies centering around online play to stick to very broad parameters, such as “win a game on every multiplayer map” or “record 500 headshot kills.” It’s hard to say what the solution is. The best achievements encourage us to play games in new, interesting and, sometimes, more fun ways. The worst might give one person a sense of accomplishment, yet taint the game for everyone else.