Josh Knipp
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What makes a good board game? Often what makes a good board game is the same thing that makes a good story. As simple as it sounds, a board game should have a beginning, middle, and an end. A good game should also, like a good story, have a hook that pulls you in and keeps you there.

Beginnings, middles and ends, or a natural crescendo creates suspense. The start of the game should be an explanation of what is going on and why you should care. The hook in a game could be the shiny colorful pieces, but more often it is a tiny blurb about who you are and what your role is in the game. You are a merchant of Venice, your goal is to amass wealth.



Or, you are a settler in an unexplored continent, growing your tiny tribe into an established city.



Immediately the game just like a good novel transports you to world where you can experience new and exciting things. The reality may seem a tad dryer when compared to cracking open a good James Clavell novel about feudal Japan.


You may say to yourself, there is no way that these pieces of wood and cards are going to make me feel like a Japanese warlord. On the surface this may seem true, but closer inspection might change your opinion. While the words on the page paint the image in your mind, board games engage your tactile senses. Poker is a perfect example of this: the chips are weighty and full of consequence. It is pleasing to manipulate them with your fingers. They give you a rush of excitement as you psychically push them towards the center of the table. Also board games make you feel clever. Not just vicariously experiencing the cleverness of a character in a book.

It is one thing to admire Odysseus as he tricks the Cyclops Polyphemus into naming his enemy as “Nobody,” but it’s another altogether to gather admiration as you make a masterstroke play in a game, while your friends can only grimace and groan.



In a sense you are writing the story, maybe you are the villain, maybe you are the hero, maybe you are just in a supporting role, each game can see these things switch, and often these things can switch midgame.

Speaking of mid game, the middle is when the reader/player has either become fully engaged or throws the book/game in the trash. This is where all the plot threads start to loop together into a pleasing tapestry. A middle game state is usually where complexity is at its highest and so too is the mystery with so many things in play and the outcomes yet unclear. Will Odysseus ever reach his beloved wife? Or will he continue to sleep with Calypso (these Greek Myths!). Likewise, will the blue player take that prime spot on the board and monopolize the resources, before I can reach it? And what the heck is green up to?

Then, there is the end, when it all comes crashing down. Odysseus murders a bunch of unwanted guests in his home. Meanwhile the blue player can only furrow his brow as you swipe that spot he was eying. Nemeses meet eye-to-eye, things are coming to a head. There will be blood, or the very least some viscous scoring of victory points. We have reached the dramatic conclusion of the story. Unfortunately not every game can have a great finish sometimes it’s a forgone conclusion, a formality for the winner, a victory lap if you will. Though, the best board games strive to avoid this type of game state if they can, or they allow the losers to concede. Fear not though, the great thing about a good game (that sometimes a story has a hard time competing with) is the ability to reinvent itself, it really is the never ending story. You can take your favorite characters (you and your friends!) and start all over again. While really good books beg to be read many times, they will always be hard pressed to make an appearance as often as a good board game does.

And finally, there is the dénouement. Here players discuss the outcomes of the game, pivotal moves they made, bad luck they endured. They bask in their glory, or grind the gears of their brain to decipher where it all went wrong. And the story goes own, like the oral tradition of Homer, it is recounted from time to time, so much so that the words take on a corporeal form, they are treasures of time spent together, to be brought out and burnished. Books too are better when shared, but board games possess a feeling of authenticity, a “were you there?” moment, captured only through collective participation. I am just glad that I don’t have to choose between books or games.
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Bryan Thunkd
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Hmmm... I'm not sure I'm getting it. Perhaps it would make more sense with an example? Could you explain your theory using tic-tac-toe as an example?
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Josh Knipp
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Maybe tic-tac-toe is like a Haiku.
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Pete
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Parabolian wrote:
Maybe tic-tac-toe is like a Haiku.
I don't understand.
How is a book like a game
of X's and O's?

Pete (wonders)
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Russ Williams
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Parabolian wrote:
I am just glad that I don’t have to choose between books or games.

Well, I certainly agree with you there!

But I see games and books as very qualitatively different. A book is a static object created by an author with a specific story; a game is a dynamic experience, different every time.

E.g. in Romeo & Juliet, the doomed lovers die at the end, period. In a game, they might live, or maybe one might die and the other survive in grief, or various other possibilities, which would totally change the meaning of the story each time.

(Also, your article seems to be considering only adventure/story oriented games representing concrete people & situations; I'm not sure how an abstract strategy game like Go or Blokus would fit into this analysis.)
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Larry L
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Parabolian wrote:
Maybe tic-tac-toe is like a Haiku.


x bar x bar o
line o bar x bar x line
o bar o bar x
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Rich Charters
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Beginning: I reach my hand toward the game-board
Middle: I push a cube from one spot to another
End: I move my hand off the gameboard


Actually, I think you make a good point that a good story makes a good game. I can still remember stories from my D&D days back in the late 70s.
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Josh Knipp
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russ wrote:
Parabolian wrote:
I am just glad that I don’t have to choose between books or games.

Well, I certainly agree with you there! :)

But I see games and books as very qualitatively different. A book is a static object created by an author with a specific story; a game is a dynamic experience, different every time.

E.g. in Romeo & Juliet, the doomed lovers die at the end, period. In a game, they might live, or maybe one might die and the other survive in grief, or various other possibilities, which would totally change the meaning of the story each time.

(Also, your article seems to be considering only adventure/story oriented games representing concrete people & situations; I'm not sure how an abstract strategy game like Go or Blokus would fit into this analysis.)


Yep the metaphor only go so far.
I totally ignored abstract games.
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RingelTree wrote:
Parabolian wrote:
Maybe tic-tac-toe is like a Haiku.


x bar x bar o
line o bar x bar x line
o bar o bar x


Best Haiku ever! Would read again.
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RJD
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Parabolian wrote:
RingelTree wrote:
Parabolian wrote:
Maybe tic-tac-toe is like a Haiku.


x bar x bar o
line o bar x bar x line
o bar o bar x


Best Haiku ever! Would read again.




Red Dawn and Saddam
Oh Fortress America
Awesomeness unmatched
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Larry L
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The question of how a game ends has shown up a lot recently on bgg, so I've been wondering about that recently. I agree that games have a narrative, but I disagree that narrative requires a hook to the real world.

Chess, for example has a very nice arc, beginning, middle and end (assuming both players are experienced enough to avoid any early checkmate pitfalls). Catan, though it has a solid start and middle, has a lukewarm ending-- someone reaches 10 points.

Eldritch Horror has, to my tastes, produced a great story arc win or lose. Pandemic, however follows a good arc when you win, but loss can be sudden (it makes for good anecdotes however. Remember when we lost on turn three?)

I'm not sure a good story arc is necessary for a successful game. Many successful games seem to end abruptly, even games with a fixed number of turns.
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