New to the Table

Tales of a guy who just started gaming--his adventures, misadventures, dicey days, wild solo nights, and confused questions all told with too many words, Oxford commas, and not enough pictures.
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New to Gaming #5: Do I Need to Play the Classics?

Patrick Cox
United States
South Saint Paul
Minnesota
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You hang around on this site long enough and you start seeing certain things happen over and over.

1 Tom Vasel seems to like everything.
2 All reviews follow the same formula, are mostly positive, and publishers seem to like that.
3 That “’Report’ Option is now Available in GeekMail” seems to always be headline news.
4 There are certain games that are older but still get mentioned all the time. Carcassonne. Catan. Lots of games by people named Uwe or Knizia.

These games are what Matthew Arnold called “cultural touchstones,” the basis of comparison for everything else. Arnold compared new poetry to older poetry that still deserved praise. In gaming, people do the same: there are games that get brought up as comparison all the same. “It’s like Carcassonne but with a tweak… Think Agricola but on a slightly different farm…” Board game touchstones aren't all classics in the sense of “old.” In the forums, blogs, reviews, and podcasts I see games like Azul and Splendor come up just as often as the aforementioned gems. (In fact, until I was drafting this, I has always thought Azul was about 20 years old from the way people talk about it!)

But I’m new to gaming. I’ve never played Carcassonne or Agricola. Or Azul. Or Splendor. Not even Splendor: Marvel All those comparisons people make don’t mean very much to me. But does it matter beyond that? Can I learn all I need to know just from reading about those touchstones?

Put another way: why do I need to play these dumb ol’ games anyways?


I came to gaming in January 2021 and the gaming world was full of shiny new things. Let me take you back in time to those days...

Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, Marvel United, and On Mars were all still fairly new to the world. Established publisher CMON Global Limited raised three-quarters of a million dollars on Kickstarter that month for for "The Animation Collection" (Scooby-Doo! The Board Game, Teen Titans GO! Mayhem, and Looney Tunes Mayhem). And miniatures were everywhere, even on deserted islands. They were so common that in the Forest of Radgost Kickstarter one miniature got dramatically increased in size as a stretch goal so as not to be a miniature in any more! This is the golden age of plastics and IPs, folks! You want me to trade crops in the Mediterranean? On little cardboard chits?
From gallery of SoloGamingDad
Board Game: Reykholt
The choice seemed pretty clear.

A single fella looking for board games on the internet can’t help but be hit by countless ads and reviews of all the newest, latest, and loudest games around. Big Boxes and animated rendering of inanimate components and a lot of space stuff is almost all I see. But is that a problem?

In some ways, as a newbie I feel like my exploration of gaming is unencumbered by the weight of the past. When I’m looking for a new game, there’s no voice in my head saying, “You are looking for game to play but you have yet to play Azul? You don’t even understand what gaming is! And your views on Terraforming Mars are circumspect at best without a deep understanding of Splendor!”

Really?

Do I have to play Viticulture before I play Barrage? And before I play Viticulture must I first go to Le Havre? Can I appreciate Azul without swimming in the Tigris & Euphrates?

Because I backed Gloomier: A Night at Hemlock Hall and I've never even played Gloom. It just looks and sounds cool. My seven year old and I are having an amazing adventure in Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated and neither one of us have ever played Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure. Come to think of it, he's never even heard of Concordia!
Board Game: Keydom
Board Game: Anachrony
A natural progression.

Of course some would see my ignorance as a detriment. If I’m looking online for a new game without considering the big names (or even being able to recognize them when I see them) I’m going to end up looking at new games, currently popular games, heavily promoted games. And only some of those may actually be good games. I may well be better off asking readers for a list of the “classics,” the must have’s, the touchstones, and filling a shelf or two with just those. (Actually, that’s exactly the kind of thing I would do. I’ll likely go on a classic bender at some point and spend about two months gathering and playing all the big names from history.) (And in my defense, I do pick up a few tidbits of history as I go along. I may not have played Splendor but I know all I need to know about oversized boxes.)

What advantage is there to not dousing myself in the classics like Thetis dipped Achilles in the Styx?? Maybe focusing on the classics is a bit like living in Plato’s cave. It’s just seeing a tiny slice of reality, a wee fraction of all the games we could be getting to know. Oh, I’m sure I’d appreciate bag building in The Quacks of Quedlinburg more if I first built a deck in Orléans, but imagine all the other games I’d never see if I spent my time listening to all the references to the good old days of games about trading wool for chestnuts. What a wide open world of games are out there for someone willing to crawl out of the cave.

I won’t carry this line of thinking too far. IN fact, Caverna: The Cave Farmers is actually on my wish list. Though I'll probably play Hallertau first.

Whither thinkest thou? Shall I the oldies play? And which oldies so shall I play?
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