Having returned from Essen and played a few of the games, I’m realising that I have a bit of a talent for explaining games, so I might give a go of doing some explainy-reviewy videos. Watch out YouTube.
Because that’s honestly something I have more time for. Ahem.
Next week, I’ll get writing a quick review of some of my new games, now that I’ve had the chance to play them a bit. Attending Essen, playing so many board games in a short space of time and meeting the guys I went with (many of whom had experience in devising board games) allowed me to reconsider what I value in a game, and what makes it special to me. This has resulted in the creation of a set of my gaming values, which (for now) read like this:
Design: Let’s be honest here. Appearance matters. This goes for games as much as it does for people. However, in both cases, I feel the scale is similar to the one people say applies to money and happiness: when both are low there’s a linear increase, but the more money you have, eventually it stops making you that much happier, until you reach a plateau. For me, the same applies to design. A really ugly board game is not going to do it for me, but after a mid-point, I no longer consider it a ‘limiting factor’ in buying it, and a game that relies on its beauty won’t do it for me. Tokaido falls into this category for me, as I don’t feel the narrative is strong enough, and it lacks in complexity.
Narrative: There are some beautiful chess, draughts, and go sets out there, but I always find there is a bit of a gap for me in connecting why I should care about what happens to the little balls-on-sticks (I’m describing a pawn here). I enjoy working in the abstract (after all, most games are abstractions of life), and I like strategy for strategy’s sake to a point, but as we ended up discussing a few times at Essen – if the answer to ‘what am I trying to do in this game?’ is ‘to earn the most Victory Points’, I’m probably going to walk away from you. Some examples: Catan, the gateway drug of the board gaming world, has an intrinsic sense of narrative through its setting, but doesn’t go much further. Smallworld gives setting and character through playing races, but doesn’t define much about the whys and wherefores. Mysterium has a great sense of narrative, with character backgrounds and the ability to weave a story in the context of being a ghost.
Complexity, without Complication: Simple games can be fun, for a while. Cards Against Humanity is a good example of a simple game – the rulebook is printed on a single sheet (if I remember correctly), and it can be fun (the first ten times) but quickly gets old for me. On the other hand, games like Arkham Horror have substantial rule sets that make me wonder why I’m spending half of my game time trying to remember the specific rule for an unusual situation. Complexity is great. A game should make me think – but it should do so in game, not by forcing me to constantly freeze play and figure out what the hell is going on. A bit of rules learning is inevitable – I love teaching a new fun game to people – but if Improv has taught me anything, it’s that fun can be had with just a couple of rules – it’s the chaos that ensues afterwards that can be super enjoyable.
Social interaction/immersion: Some games are great to break out while you’re still waiting for people to arrive. The kinds of game where you can continue to talk about something else as you play them. Potion Explosion is a good example, as player interaction is very limited (you can try to foil plans by taking desired colours from the central pot, or steal marbles from your opponents, but that’s about it – you could otherwise, in theory, play solo). Machi koro is another example, as there’s no need to discuss what’s happening in game, though it perhaps scores slightly higher on the scale because turns are shorter and frequently involve other players. Social deduction and bluffing games like The Resistance, Coup, and Sheriff of Nottingham require absolute immersion – distractions detract from the experience. Articulate requires total concentration and the other teams must listen out for slips, though interactions between teams are minimal.
That’s not to say I require high scores in all – sometimes you want a simpler game (depending on the mood, or who you’re playing with), or something where you need to be able to leave the room for five minutes (perhaps you’re cooking up a storm).
Next time I’ll review one or two of my new games!