Mark Johnson's occasional & opinionated podcast about family strategy boardgames
Do you know the term, Experience Game? I thought everyone did, but in prepping for this episode I found that it's used a lot less often than I thought. Not only that, but I learned it's a term that was used more often in the early days of hobby boardgames, by which I mean the 1990s. Well, let's bring it up to 2013. (Actually, it IS still used sometimes.)
What I'm talking about are titles where the experience is more important than the gameplay. This is easiest to think about in terms of roleplaying or party games. There I think most people understand that the group experience is the objective, more than the mechanics--certainly more than points and winning. This can be true of boardgames, too. For some, that's an obvious concept, and it's in some of the games they love the most. If you're a diehard eurosnoot, however, this may make no sense! Why would the point of a game be anything other than the gameplay?! There's an aesthetic and even kind of a "story" to Tigris & Euphrates or Settlers, but the point is playing a friendly competition against your friends, right? Take an abstract like GIPF and that's all it's about, I'd say.
When I thought about some of the games I've enjoyed quite a bit, I found they were ones that focused on the story quite a bit more than the mechanics of playing the game, or even winning it. You know me, though--I'm turned off by the many games with stories about orcs, spaceships, or zombies. Are there games that take "serious" or historic subject (like Brass does with the Industrial Revolution in Lancashire) but then are happy to downplay the gameplay in service of the story and the shared experience the players have together? Yes!
In this discussion, I drew upon my personal history with roleplaying games more than I thought I would. Although I don't play RPGs anymore, I did for a long time during high school and college. (It even led to a few projects for Steve Jackson Games' GURPS, which is why I've got that spiffy Game Designer geekbadge under my name.) When they're working well for the player, I think experience boardgames can give some of the shared story payoff of a roleplaying game with your friends.
Believe it or not, I'm not trying to make an objective analysis and come up with a crisp definition in this episode. I'm really not! It may be unsatisfying for me to retreat to the subjective experience games are in the eye of the 'experiencer' nonsense statement, but that's basically where I ended up on this topic. Some titles like Tale of the Arabian Nights are unequivocally experience games, while others like Medici are clearly not, but Greg and I had different ideas about other titles such as Arkham Horror or Galaxy Trucker.
By the way, a game I completely forgot to bring up is Source of the Nile. Or maybe I subconsciously wanted to wait until I actually finished a game, and I'm not there yet. Right now I'm using Vassal to slowly work through a play-by-email version of this 1970s classic. Being from Avalon Hill in the 70s (though originally published by someone else), it's got rules up the wazoo. Nonetheless, it very much feels like the point of the game is the experience, rather than winning or losing. One of these days I'll finish the sucker and talk about it on the podcast. Pax Porfiriana is kind of the same--I mentioned it briefly on the episode, but will talk about it more after I've got more experience with it.
Oh, and do check out the BGG Glossary. I don't think enough gamers know about it.
P.S. Here are the different graphic presentations for Nemo's War
P.P.S. For those curious about WGTG, my first episode talking about Gettysburg is coming along...
Mark Johnson's occasional and opinionated podcast, Boardgames To Go, now has its own blog on Boardgamegeek.
14 Jul 2013
- [+] Dice rolls