Alec Chapman(ALGO)United Kingdom
Lincolnshire"She said the same thing about waffles."
Gaming and the BGG blogging community has had to do without yours truly for a little while - I'm a little disappointed it didn't all collapse without me, but you can rest easy now.
Over the last year we have been recording, tinkering with and generally smacking about the single most important project of my life so far - it is a full album of music and all the details about it can be reached at the following site
(youtube, Spotify, iTunes and Amazon links all present on there)
Sorry for the self promotion, but every little helps - and Spotify is virtually free anyway. I'd suggest you begin by listening for free and then buy the ones you like. It's a bit, um, eclectic.
So onto gaming - I have serious withdrawal symptoms caused by, variously, the work with the music and my usual opponents having screenwriting courses and new girlfriends getting in the way. Selfish scumbags!
I've also relaxed my trading rules a bit and reorganised my gaming shelves. This means I have managed to shift some RPG books (which would NEVER get used) and obtain a couple of new games - Stronghold, Flash Point: Fire Rescue and Hanabi.
Flash Point is obviously another variant on the Pandemic co-op genre (puire co-op in this case, unless they decide to introduce a rather tasteless Arsonist expansion) which involves putting out fires rather than curing diseases. It uses dice instead of cards and I prefer this greatly - sure, the price of using dice is streakiness and an increased feeling of randomness - I find I actually prefer those to shuffling things back into the deck and waiting for them. Also, I sort of own Pandemic anyway, in the form of Defenders Of The Realm, so there was no reason to get the big P in the collection.
Of course, I am increasing the number of co-ops in my collection deliberately, since they are the only type of game I can reliably get Mrs Algo to play with me. Flash Point was going pretty well until the Dog died first, then she described it as the "darkest game (she'd) ever played. Especially when I explained that burning to death was "the dog's karma for drinking out of the toilet".
Hanabi went down pretty well too. With the simple act of turning your cards around so you can see everyone's but your own, I think it's one of the most impressive designs of recent years - and despite her tendency to cheat quite outrageously - "That one is VERY blue" - she really enjoys it, with just the right amount of stress and tension being generated.
Stronghold is a silly idea for the collection, really, since I may get to play it very little (Mrs A took one look and just gave a big sigh) as it isn't really solo-able. I mean, sure you could solo it as there is very little necessary hidden information on the board - but I doubt it would be that much fun. The idea of the game is simple but a little misleading, the equipment and setting imply a siege mentality but that is exactly wrong. The invading forces need to smash the defence as quickly as possible to achieve victory. I like the bits, the clarity of production and the rules, while being organised pretty poorly and failing to give any sense of what playing the game is actually like, do manage to answer every question, once you know where to look.
I'll monitor this one as I go forward as it is likely to be either a real favourite or go the way of all the other games I've traded over the years.
I've also put feelers out to obtain the rest of the GIPF collection. I'm enjoying abstracts right now (Go especially, natch) and I haven't met a Gipf game I didn't enjoy. Yet.
So it's TZAAR and DVONN to find - as well as making / obtaining the potentials sets. But that's for another day.
For now, how are you lot doing? What did I miss?
Opinions, not always positive, on the gaming world.
Archive for Alec Chapman
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I've decided to try and examine fully a conjecture I have about why, in any discussion about the future of board gaming, Monopoly remains the main touchstone for those not already inside this community.
This is, of course, following the rather farcical Radio Show on board games featuring an ignorant presenter, a man from Winning Moves and LoB's very own Martin (aka QWERTYUIOP) who was sadly ignored, despite plugging "our games", in favour of Winning Moves' own Monopoly and Top Trumps.Quote:Incidentally, I described the experience of listening to the show as "like being punched in the ears with boxing gloves made of mouldy candyfloss." - it was actually much worse than that sounds.It is my opinion that it is probably the very ubiquity of Monopoly that is the reason for its continued domination of this conversation, and therefore also the reason for its domination of the market.
So why is it ubiquitous? Peter Griffin, the representative of Winning Moves on the show, made it clear that the reason for its ongoing success is, they feel, the way Monopoly keeps changing. Of course, their version of "changing" is renaming the spaces - something that most people reading this blog probably do not believe is a real change to the game - but it clearly works.
I think we also all know that Top Trumps is barely a game by any BGG standard - but it is still a massively selling, hugely popular product nevertheless - and Winning Moves obviously believe that the constant rebranding of decks and new sets of trivia is a factor in the continued domination of this product as well.
For me, the most irritating outcome of their continued domination of the sector is the creation of a feedback loop.Quote:Everyone learned to play them ages ago --> so they always play them and only them --> which means new players get introduced to them --> which means that those players always play them and only themI know from experience that a "BGG type" gamer will probably play many different games, and probably any set of ten of us will use ten different games to introduce new players to alternatives to monopoly - the dreaded "Gateway Game". (Monopolternatives?)
- and so on ad infinitum.
So, after this restating of the issue, here's my conjecture - that it is the lack of a single alternative game that keeps Monopoly on top of the tree.
Some of this feeds back into my pet subject of continual game acquisition - with so many shiny new products being released in a year, there is a massive dilution of the games introduced to lifetime Monopoly players - meaning very little headway is made into turning the Property Trading game world onto the alternatives out there.
It is also a product, in turn, of the greater demands and patience we have regarding gaming - Monopoly is a single rule set that once people learn they are content with, seeing very little reason to expand the horizon or spend time learning an alternative to.
Thirdly, we can be snobs. Seriously, I don't think anyone who has played Monopoly every Christmas for twenty years will be inclined to try your favoured alternative if you insist on insulting their go-to as "rubbish". Nobody likes to be told something they like is "shit", and we must be cautious not to fall into this trap.
So, what is the hypothesis that arises from this conjecture?
Well, simply that the board gaming community could be well served by agreeing on a single game to use as an "in" for all people, and we all join forces to push it towards acceptance.
Now, the nature of such a concept is that it would require compromise, something any fan or hobbyist will find difficult. After all, I am yet to find a game that is universally admired - there's always some smart Alec (heh) who finds something to dislike in everything.
But here, nevertheless, is my suggested criteria
1. A single game rule system, with re-theme potential
2. Simple rules, no more than two sides and zero exceptions to remember
3. A progression of success, i.e. the player should feel they are achieving something visibly lasting with each turn.
4. A family theme
5. No player elimination
6. 2-5 player
7. Nice bits
8. Competitively Priced
9. Ideally, aspects of the whole hobby present, identifying paths for people interested in expanding their gaming experience to explore.
10. Be a more fulfilling experience than Monopoly
Once we had selected the game, the whole hobby could get behind it, meaning that every Monopoly gamer would be presented by the same alternative everywhere they go - which perhaps they would already know / recall the rules for.
Note that it would only have to be more fulfilling for us than Monopoly - it doesn't have to be a perfect game. I'm sure that many of us would love it if every Christmas our families were sitting around the dinner table and asked for a game of Cosmic Encounter (for me) or Twilight Struggle (for BGG), but that is not going to happen - Cosmic is all exceptions and TS is too esoteric and in depth for a family (even if it was more than 2 player).
Could this work? Could BGGers swallow our pride and promote something better than Monopoly even if it wasn't to our exact tastes? Is it even a worthwhile thing to do? I am not sure, but if we ever decide to try and knock Monopoly down a couple of pegs, I am starting to believe it is only through a single champion.
What should that champion be? I am not sure it exists yet - suggestions would be welcomed, though.
You may, of course, disagree with me on this - that is your right, as always
- [+] Dice rolls
I thought we'd have a little chat over the next few posts about how to talk at the table during a game. Board or Card Games are a social medium, and developing one's social life skills is as important (if not much MORE important) than developing your skill at the games - at least until you reach a professional or tournament level and how many people do that?
Now, there's plenty of ways you can interact with other players, so let me split them into groups and give examples in our first part. Help me out with yours in the comments, if you'd be so kind.
For the sake of argument, let's arbitrarily split talk into the following categories.
EDIT: Point of order, I am viewing silence as the zero point in all of these categories, not a category of its own. Let me know if you disagree.
a. Gameplay Related (i.e. regarding the actual session you are playing)
- Could be commentary: "great move"; "Damn you! I was going to go there"
- Could be negotiation: "I'll trade you one wool for one wood"; "You support me into Brest and I'll cut his support in Marseille"
- Could be misdirection: "I've messed this up"; "Damn, that didn't work"
- Could be an annoying complaint: "I've messed this up"; "Damn, that didn't work"
(Note a certain similarity between the last two)
b. Game Related (i.e. regarding the game you are playing in general, including past plays)
- Could be game reviews: "I have to own this"; "this game is so boring"; "Another auction? Great!"
- Could be self protecting via game bashing: "This game is broken"; "That strategy is overpowered"; "there's too much luck in this game"
c. Gaming Related (i.e. regarding the hobby, including general strategy for games)
- "What have you played recently?"
- "Have you seen that new game Alec Chapman is designing? It looks bloody amazing!*"
d. Gamer Related (i.e. regarding other people in the hobby including their opinions and play style, game related stuff - anything else is in...)
- "I'm so glad we avoided x earlier, he plays this game like he's pulling out his own teeth"
- "I god, I hope y doesn't come over and start telling me how to win with the early pewter strategy again"
e. Off topic (everything else)
- "who's seen Dexter?"
- "how's your Mum?"
Most of your table talk probably revolves around a, b & c - after all, that's why we're all here and that's what we have in common. Talking about category d may take a nasty turn, especially in the case where groups have cliques or you've had a bad experience.
In my experience, category e (misc) is likely to come up when you are dealing with non-gamers. There's an important lesson for us all to bear in mind about tolerance of off topic discussion, having to do with social contracts and relative fun quotients, but we'll deal with that another day.
As I said, this is going to be the first of a few posts - I'd just like to get the blog readers input on whether I've missed any glaring stuff before I go off in the wrong direction (which I will doubtless do anyway) and embarrass myself (which I will... oh you know)
Final note: There seem to be so many blogs now that every writer's vanishes off the bottom of the list before many people see them, so take a second to subscribe to a blog you like (i.e. this one ) if you don't want to miss a post.
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For many of us, changing our Avatar is like having plastic surgery; there was usually nothing wrong with what you had before and nobody can work out why you went through with it.
There are a couple of reasons. Firstly, this is actually very likely to be a temporary change while I come up with a brand spanking new permanent one (probably a doctored photo of myself, in fact) and secondly because it is the cover for my first album - to be released on 25/02/13. Go to bitterpolitics.weebly.com to hear some clips if you haven't already stopped reading in disgust.
Of course, there's hardly any point trying to advertise a musical project on BGG - it's waaay off topic, but this may serve to explain the presence of a very specific zero where previously you saw the floppy haired superhero I used to be.
Which zero is it? Well, since anyone who isn't from the UK may not recognise it immediately, a clue is that it is only half of the actual number involved (but which is an oddly protected trademark, I believe) and it is from a particular place.
I doubt anyone is particularly heartbroken by the loss of the old one, but if you are, please let me know, and if enough people do, I'll restore it.
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I knew I owned one of these...
I was thinking about how to play Go at work (i.e. whether to bring the nice set with glass stones in, or the cheaper plastic one) when I suddenly have a vague memory of owning something specifically for purpose.
Lo and behold, after a search of my desk drawers, this turns up.
I think it cost the princely sum of £2.99 from Amazon. A 13x13 grid with around 90 white stones (small magnetic backed scraps of plastic) and 90 black stones (small mag... you get the idea). What an ideal way to learn one of the greatest games ever. Beautiful components!
This does mean that if I want, I can set up three 13x13 boards at once and play 3 simultaneous games at a time, with which of the boards I choose to put an opponent on a perfect chance for them to take offence, should that ridiculously unlikely set of events come to pass.
Still, this should be serviceable for the time being, if I want a physical representation of a game state to pore over, in case I need to look at it from a new angle.
EDIT: On putting it back, I find yet another interesting black plastic slab...
The perils of impulse buying. According to Amazon I picked these up in 2011. I would recommend everyone to exercise caution when buying on impulse, or at least... don't forget you did!
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I have made a crucial adjustment to my list of 10 games to play 100 times, in honour of the approaching 1st anniversary of its inception.
It's a bit of a cheat, but since I'm only cheating myself I have given myself a pass
I am joining Haggis and Tichu together. There is a very good reason for this, basically I will only every play Haggis if I have less than a full Tichu quorum, and since it is impossible to play Tichu with fewer than four (I know it is strictly possible, but four is the only Tichu I want to play) so it does make an odd sort of sense for the two to be combined.
Also, it makes room for a replacement no 5.
I've been putting this off for too long.
There is a saying about Go. Apparently, it's commonly said that "you should lose your first 100 games as quickly as possible." so here goes.
I love the game, in fact it was the subject of a review of mine ages ago, when I still wrote reviews regularly. The fact that I am so godawfully, shockingly dogs**t terrible at it makes me a bit afraid of this decision, but also makes me realise that these plays will make me a better person.
I just wish I could stop shaking with fear...
As usual. Volunteers are required for F2F or PBEM games (due to lack of RL opponents available at my time of day, I am relaxing my rules on F2F games only). I can't play real time over the internet due to work commitments and firewall restrictions (grr!), so patient players would be best, methinks!
Also, anyone who wants to learn along with me, get in touch. I think everyone should try and climb this cliff face at some point (since it is my instinctive belief that Go is pretty much the perfect pure strategy game), and while you won't learn anything from me strategy wise, I am sure you will get some laughs watching me drown.
Thanks for reading!
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It's one of the oldest lessons in the parent's playbook:
"winning isn't everything"
Most of the gamers I play with understand this little axiom, but I have had a few experiences, as have we all, where the failure to lord it over everyone have led to tears before bedtime, in both a figurative and literal sense.
Perhaps your first experience of gaming was against siblings, which is on the face of it a lovely and sanitised way to channel the natural family rivalries into something fun. However, anyone who has actually done this knows that it is never that simple and fun an experience. When sibling rivalries are involved, there's more on the line than a simple desire to enjoy oneself - you are proving to yourself, your family and the world that you are the WINNER! Youth is full of little moments that seem crucially important but are obviously, with hindsight, of such pitifully low importance it makes one (me) wince with every memory.
Have you ever flipped a board in frustration? I have.
Have you ever switched to actual, physical violence following a game you lost? I have.
Of course, this was a long time ago - but gamers have honed these tendencies into new forms, presumably in the hope of hiding the basic immaturity of these attitudes.
Board flipping becomes Game Bashing.
Physical Violence becomes Passive Aggressive Sniping.
Neither of these take into account the actual game state or even the eventual winner! I'm sure we've all played a game with someone who complained the whole time about how unfair it is and how they don't stand a chance, only to win by a mile at the end.
Game bashing takes many forms, usually of the "this game is broken/unbalanced/poorly designed" type, but is always an excuse - the game is just as "broken" for everyone, after all. Luck is a harsh mistress, but these (usually first play) complaints about the route you chose to take through the game have some major flaws.
a. This game is broken
In almost all cases, this is plain nonsense. I've heard it said about many of the very highest rated games on the 'geek - it is pretty much the gaming version of calling something "gay" when I was young (very un-pc now - I am reliably informed the British youth use "butters" instead). You don't actually mean literally what you said, it's just a snarl word that is an extreme version of...
b. This game is unbalanced
This may be true, but one should always be careful to avoid oversimplification of the situation. Where you have lost and you can't understand why the game itself being unbalanced may well be the least likely explanation for your loss, but since I've covered this before I won't harp on about the same issue again
c. The game is poorly designed
More of the same. Deflection and an obviously weak excuse. A special case of this is the "turn order" or "last/first player advantage" diagnosed on first play. Dopey.
And remember what you are saying here - "I would have done better if only the game was different", which is pretty much like me saying "I'd be the greatest footballer in the world if only football was different" (presumably only I would be allowed to actually move...)
It's also vastly disrespectful to your opponents - as if their performance is irrelevant because the game is (in your opinion) unfair? That's a little harsh for my liking. Stop it.
Passive Aggressive Sniping
I'm in a difficult position here, because (and this is crucial) I believe table talk to be a necessary and important part of every game I play. Either for entertainment value or something more manipulative. After all, if I wanted to play against cold, calculating, silent opponents only then I would be computer gaming - which saves me going out in the cold, at least!
So of course I am guilty of this, either to re-position myself as a potential ally or to mislead the opposition into discounting me from their consideration e.g. my 'sulks' during Cosmic Encounter - these are now getting pretty predictable and obvious, so I'm going to have to come up with something new, thinking about it (note to self - learn to cry on cue).
I guess the distinction needs to be drawn in your motivation for doing so. Are you firing verbal missiles at your opposition because you are faking a weak position (or drawing attention to it) for gaming reasons, or are you actually just sulking and lashing out in defence?
Nobody's perfect but it is always worth bearing in mind how little the outcome of this game matters - one position is that games exist, at least in part, to develop your social skills and improve your relationships, neither of which is served by the childish distancing of oneself from our performances. You just look, to use a technical term, like a douche.
When Winners Are Losers
So, covering bad losing is easy, but what constitutes bad winning? As a lifelong bad winner, I can speak from experience.
Some of it is born out of victory being a far more fleeting experience than loss. The other players don't want to dwell on your performance and their failure at all, so it can be tempting to drag the moment of victory out, either by expounding on the minutiae of how you pulled it off or (and this is really unforgivable) pointing out where the other players messed up.
I get it, believe me. It's important to us that our victories are recognised - especially since our losses are so much more numerous and contain far more in the way of camaraderie. There appears more to be learned from a loss as well, since it is far easier to talk about what we did wrong than (as I have said) making a speech about what we did right.
For example, my first ever game of Dungeon Lords went perfectly. I won by a mile and never had any trouble at all. I know that the next time I play I will have no experience of overcoming difficulty in my tool bag to pull out at the opportune moment and improve my situation. Sometimes winning isn't the best outcome for the metagame.
In fact, that's a good point - winning a game is often a metagame disaster! Winner bashing is probably a special case of leader bashing, just one in which the target is chosen before the game is begun (cf. rules explainer bashing) rather than as a result of game events.
Try as we might, we cannot avoid keeping the metagame in the back of our minds - it's only the sensible way to use the experiences, after all - even if we are trying to keep an "each game is a new experience" mindset.
Frequent winners can also find themselves avoided at all costs by less experienced players. Again, this can be the case for me with non-gamer buddies - they wonder why they should even bother playing when "(I) always win". Never mind the fact that as a victim of winner bashing and games teacher bashing I hardly ever actually do anyway.
(my gamer friends will laugh at this idea, given how lousy I usually perform in games against experienced games players, but it is the case, nevertheless)
There's no real remedy to these issues, since everyone can agree that throwing a victory away in service of the metagame is completely daft, but all this just adds to the reasons in favour of underplaying your victories.
So is losing in this particular game a victory for the metagame? Yes and no. You avoid becoming an obvious target (particularly if the winner is being an ass about it) but, let's face it - you lost.
Of course, losing isn't the end of the world. In fact, all things being equal, it's simply more likely than the other outcome (there being more multiplayer games than two player games)!
I've said before that, in the end, board games simply don't, in the grand scheme of things, matter (this being their best feature, IMHO) and that the lessons gained through defeats are often the best way to achieve an improvement in your general play - ask any Go player and they'll tell you. Also, dealing with losing (a small failure, if you will) in a mature and sensible way is a major part of being a good person. Unless you are outrageously fortunate your life will contain more that didn't go to plan than did, the trick is to gain something from each experience.
Lose with grace, Win with humility
...and have fun either way.
Here's hoping I can live up to this ideal.
- [+] Dice rolls
Well, while I love games, it has been a funny old month for me since my last post. For Christmas my presents pile() contained a single game - Merchant Of Venus - and while I enjoyed my single learning game of it so far, I have been very distracted by everything else going on at the moment so have let the gaming suffer a bit.
First of all and the major distraction, I have an album coming out! Projected sales may be in the low double figures but this is the end of a very long road. People who want a preview of the coming works can go to bitterpolitics.weebly.com
Secondly, I have been transforming into a new type of worker. From now on I'll be doing night shifts so a lot of gaming will be PBE if any gets done at all. Luckily, this will take the form of four shifts on, four shifts off (basically meaning I am off work for four days at a stretch, usually). Which should make long overnight gaming possible in a way it hasn't since I've become a desk drone.
So it's swings and roundabouts really. The 10:100 project is still going on, though I am pretty sure none of the games have been played for two or more months. I simply get no desire to purchase things any more (sob).
Why am I telling you this? Well, I need some recommendations for games to play by email. I don't know much about it as a format so lets see if anyone knows anything. I may well have been spoilt by playdiplomacy.com's handling of the great old game - but I assume that abstract perfect information strategy games are probably the only way to go.
In fact, maybe it's time to learn Go and Shogiat long last. Any volunteers?
- [+] Dice rolls
First of all it is only correct and nice of me to thank everybody who has contributed to or thumbed my blog over the last few months. Even those who have vehemently disagreed with me have been appreciated. Thank you.
So my (probably) last post of the year is about managing your expectations over Christmas. As proud members of the boardgaming community, it is easy to get swept up in this period of enhanced openness to frivolity and enjoyment for its own sake.
After all, every family plays board games at Christmas, right?
Well, there's a trap here of which we must remain aware. I think I've talked about it before, but our choices here are absolutely crucial if the eventual aim (yours may vary) is...
"To generate a permanent increase in the tendency of someone outside the hobby to agree when we suggest playing a board game we like"
While this sounds entirely selfish when put in these bald terms, the basic point is that obtaining the willingness to play a single game at Christmas is barely an achievement on its own. One should aim, if this is one's wish, to focus on ensuring that the other players have a good time and leave the table with as positive an experience as possible. The reason for this is obviously to try and create new players and thereby to increase the number of opportunities to play.
If you want to get altruistic, we could also say that we are acting as a "fun wrangler" for our friends - opening them up to new alleys of enjoyment that are clean and pre watershed. Nice.
Of course, in this capacity a little selflessness is crucial. I managed, through some major cajoling, to play Android with my family (including my 60 year old parents) one New Year's Day. Generally everyone had fun and my mum asked for a second game on the next day(!) but in hindsight this was an absurdly risky tactic. Certainly it has put my dad off forever.
Simply wanting to play a game we like is a selfish act - wanting to supply enjoyment to other people is more selfless and it is this that we should aim for. It is very likely that my family would have had considerably more fun by playing several simpler games (I had more lasting luck, for example, with Power grid, I'm The Boss and Small World) which, while being maybe less fun to me, would induce a higher total level of fun for the group and are more likely to lead to permanent increases in openness to gaming.
So, if trying to take some of your friends beyond Monopoly (with apologies to the owners of that name) this Christmas, I will repeat some of my advice from an earlier post.
1. Know your audience - you can destroy your chances by bringing a game with Orcs and Goblins in it to your Tolkien-phobic friends. You can also screw things up by skewing too complicated. If they've only ever played Scrabble and Cranium, don't jump to Agricola. Start with something they can relate to better, like Wits and Wagers or Say Anything. Baby steps all the way.
2. Pick something short - Christmas involves alcohol and people develop very low attention spans after a few drinks. We'd do well to give a brief view into the world outside Cluedo than a three hour game of Steam. If they want more, play the game again - they'll enjoy it even more the second time. Don't necessarily switch to something else. Having to learn yet another new game may simply be irritating.
3. Be forgiving of mistakes - Alcohol again, but even more fundamentally these games involve concepts a new player may never have experienced before (things like worker placement, jostling for turn order etc.) so if they mess up and it can be undone without too much hassle - do it. Just let them know that they can't always do so.
4. Pick something that can be taught quickly - attention spans again. Even if teaching Agricola it is better to give the very basic method and smash through a round or two rather than frontloading everything. You can always restart once everyone has got the hang of it.
5. Again, eliminate/limit frontloading - This is DEATH to getting new players, so I've written it twice. Avoid where you can. Get them into the hobby before melting their brains!
6. Play well, but don't worry about who wins - us gamers are a competitive bunch, but with new players try your best not to splat them to death in their first play. I'm not saying you should throw the game or anything, but I prefer to take the least aggressive option where one is available for this reason. Even better, sit out the first game and teach it to everyone so they have a level playing field. If you can bear it.
7. Be prepared for stupid questions - and WHATEVER YOU DO, don't huff at the obvious stuff. It may seem obvious to a regular gamer how the selection works in Puerto Rico, but to these players it isn't, so be generous of spirit.
So, basically, my Christmas message is that in this situation one should be selfless, kind and generous of spirit. All very appropriate, I should think.
I am not religious, but whatever Christmas means to you (even if it means little or nothing) I hope you and yours have a marvelous time.
Thanks again to everyone and Merry Christmas!
- [+] Dice rolls
11 Dec 2012
Yo ho! I've been concentrating on a very exciting musical project so have been away from the 'geek for a while. Hope everyone avoided a pre-Christmas "this year they'll play Caylus" splurge.
I've been mulling over a little conundrum and finally got a point where I am comfortable with my thinking. I've always been intrigued by why it is that computer games have achieved popularity and, more importantly, mainstream acceptance over the last 25 years, while boardgames - certainly the geek equal (geekqual?) of computer games when I was at primary school - have remained a fringe pastime.
Now, the initial response of the defensive fan in me would be to ask why we want mainstream acceptance anyway? After all, the hobby is doing fine and we're getting great games and dedicated fans.
Well, there's something in that, but my dream is to be able to break out a game in any location and not get looked at in the same way the public looks at the crazy guy in Oxford Circus who shouts in your face about Jesus in an aggressive manner not at all in keeping with peace and love.
So, the advantages of mainstream acceptance can be summarised as follows
1. More money in the industry = more games
2. More people playing games = more opponents
3. More places to play games = more gaming
All good things I am sure you will agree, though as in all things more games also means more bad games, more opponents means more asshole opponents with the maturity of a brain damaged goldfish and finally more places to play means little with all the extra players around.
But anyway - I was saying that board games aren't getting accepted more. The much maligned Guardian article about the wealth of the hobby barely scratched the surface... of the surface, but did appear promising - until one remembers that an article very much like this one turns up every year and while I have noticed a change on the shelves in Waterstones this year (they have X Wing!) I don't see attitudes changing so much as an appreciation of markets that exist already.
So I come back to the question I started with - what drove video games into the mainstream but not board games. I have two major threads of thought on this one.
1. (most) Video Games are more accessible than (most) Board Games
This is obvious fact, even removing the caveats my strict brain forces me to include. To play a video game, simply plug in, switch on and play. You can go from a wrapped present to an online fragging player in about fifteen minutes. Set up is two cables and - this is a grossly underestimated factor - you never have to do it again. Compare this to a board game. Many of them you can be up and running with in a short while, but the board needs setting up, new players need to be taught, it needs fully packing away every time etc etc. It's more hassle. And if the modern western world hates one thing above all others it's hassle.
It's simply too much work for many people.
2. People Mistrust Imagination
This is the big one.
Remember when you were a kid and you ran around pretending you were a superhero? Or a robot? or any of a billion different variations (including, perhaps a superhero pirate robot ninja)?
Well, for many people the fact that we did something as a child leads to the conclusion that this thing is childISH. A sort of logical fallacy if you will. Of course, any bright person realises that imagination and reason make a better and more potent combination of skills than reason alone, but they may not realise that imagination is a skill you can continue to use and develop beyond your childhood.
It is in this fact, I think, that we reach enlightenment on why the people at large steer clear of recreational board gaming outside of one game of Monopoly at Christmas
...and remember, Christmas is the one time of year we are "allowed" to revert back to a pseudo-childhood...
The rise in acceptance of video games has gone hand in hand with the improvement in their presentation. Call Of Duty players are now presented with a realistic soldier shooting other realistic soldiers with realistic weaponry. When I was young, a block was firing lines at other blocks and you had to fill in the gaps with... you've guessed it... imagination.
You don't need much imagination any more to play Skyrim, or Far Cry and the like, because it is handed to you on a plate. You see a dragon in Skyrim because the computer is showing you what is undeniably and irrefutably a dragon. It's not like you have a brightly coloured cartoon dragon flying towards you and have to imagine the terrifying fire breathing monster - it is actually there, in as close to reality as you would, I assume, want such a beast to be.
Of course, realistic games are not all of gaming, but the more cartoony ones have realistic physics or controls that (and this was a luxury in the old days) work logically. What I am basically saying is that it has become less work to get swept away in a game - more passivity in imagination, if you will.
Now, the converse is true with board games. They become increasingly difficult in line with how many options there are included - so, for instance, the decision trees at any moment in Twilight Imperium, for example, are far larger than those in 6 Nimmt, but many times smaller than any one moment in Skyrim (a game in which you can simply wander off and do any of hundreds of things if you like).
However, while the average twitch FPS gamer can transfer their skills to a game like Skyrim with relatively few adaptations (the two stick method of 3 dimensional navigation has become pretty ubiquitous in console gaming) the average single game of Monopoly a year player cannot switch to something more complicated with as little work and with as generous an effort/reward ratio.
Even if/once the difficulty hurdle is overcome, there is still the childhood association of imagination with immaturity to best, and that is much more difficult to extinguish.
A wooden cube in a gaming context can be many things; a crate of indigo; a sheep; an orc laying siege to a Stronghold. Never forget that to an onlooker it remains a wooden cube until they buy into it. In fact, for a lot of gamers it remains a wooden cube beyond this point - these tend to be those for whom victory is an exercise in mathematics and mechanisms, but bear with me.
Whilst I appreciate that gaming is not necessarily actually pretending you are a farmer or a space captain, it is probably worth bearing in mind that to some guy who has wandered down into London On Board from the bar above may see things differently - and he should not be dismissed out of hand.
I can't really see a solution to this - perhaps it isn't even a problem in the first place? All I know is that the things that make board gaming great for me - the social interaction, the imagination, the systems and processes that mesh with the players' personalities to create the unique experience of every play - are not easy things to appreciate.
I cannot force myself to be surprised when people are not enthused by the hobby's possibilities. I don't think there is mileage, either, in forcing people to try it against their will. but maybe there are ways we can address these issues directly - by avoiding orcs and goblins, arcane rules mangling and by doing the set up and strike of games ourselves?
In any case, whoever you're playing with this week. I hope you're having fun.
- [+] Dice rolls