We're all becoming gaming curmudgeons.
The gaming hobby has reached a golden age where titles, it seems, explode onto the shelves. Avid gamers like myself have a love affair with experientialism and seek out new games at every opportunity. I mean, I've hardly opened the shrink, popped the chits, and played a game before I'm on to the next. Partly, that's just because I have so many untried and hardly-tried games. I mean, these games of ours are exciting stuff. I really do feel like a kid and these games are my toys. Trouble is, just like a kid on Christmas morning, I'm bored with a toy inside 5 minutes because, well--there are so many great toys encircling me.
A game that reaches my dime list is "experienced". That's not saying I have learned all its intricacies, that it has worn its welcome, or that the replay value has faded, though any of these may be true. It means I've given it more that a reasonable number of plays in which to determine whether it deserves long-term shelf space or attic space, and that I have begun to digest all that the game offers. Now, the majority of the judgments I make are made well before the dime list and often before the nickel list. I mean, I just know if certain games don't suit me and I don't toss any more time at them. I'm usually willing to give a game a second play before making conclusions, but that's not a fast rule.
Where has the luster gone?
I have been noticing an interesting phenomenon that comes a few weeks after the cocain rush of trying a new game--I'll call it the "sinking feeling." I try a new game and I think "now that's a game I like," or "that has a unique twist." Generally, this means (if the copy wasn't mine) I'll be getting it.
A couple weeks pass. A big box arrives on my doorstep--Christmas again! Goodie-goodie! I carefully open the box and gingerly, neatly stack the contents onto my shelves. I take the lucky first, discard the shrink wrap, pop off the lid, pop the chits, and check out the contents before I baggie them. I place the rules on my bed stand for late night reading. Then I read them shortly in advance of the next scheduled game day. Game day arrives and I invite my fellow gamers into a new game world. I thoughtfully teach the rules. Then we begin.
Usually, that play goes fine. Maybe better than fine--I love the show-and-tell excitement of introducing people to games. The sinking feeling usually comes on the game days that follow a week or two after that. When it comes time to hand pick my tote of games, those games that once had a spark have lost it; I pass them over and choose other games. What's weird is that this change of heart comes even though I've given no further concious thought to the game.
That sinking feeling is confirmed each time I contemplate whether that game belongs in my tote, and I again pass it over. A game that initially thought I liked, falls from favor. Mostly this happens with games that have borderline ratings--usually a 7 or an 8. For me there's a chasm of a line between 6 and 7. I have some desire to play 7's, but little-to-no desire to play 6's. In fact, 6's fall into the cull zone--games to be traded or sold. After I pass over a game time and again, especially a game that once garnered a worthy rating, I sometimes find myself asking "what happened?"
Let's look at some of the titles that waxed before they waned:
Neuland is a game that I immediately found innovative. There are a lot of favorable design elements: clever resource management using so few bits, a time track that itself offers a breadth of tactics, and the idea of erecting buildings that any player can use.
This culminates into a game of chicken where players--each one step from victory--block each other's resources. Though some find the necessary bottlenecking palatable, I find it rather unsatisfying. Each story the game tells almost always ends the same: tactical congestion. Not to mention, each game turn seems much like the last. The game has brilliant elements that I could easily see worked into a masterpiece, but, as is, falls a little short.
Tower of Babel
When I first played Tower of Babel I thought it okay at best, but was intrigued by its tactical/strategic possibilities. I thought, this is a game that might work out as a good closer for my game nights. Although there is a game in there, and it is fine for what it is, it has no umpf! It is purely abstract with a veneered theme.
I should have stuck to my initial impressions. It's not that the decisions aren't interesting and that there isn't something to differentiate good play from bad play, it's just dry.
Experiential as I am, I found the programmed movement system interesting and, for not having played RoboRally, new. I especially liked the scoring system. Though a little cumbersome, it seemed almost Knizia clever. Because the game has its good elements, I'll be keeping it at least until I can dime list it. Here's what I don't like: it's underproduced and it's another area majority contest. I'll speak to each.
The board is badly cut so that when folded it's crooked; overall, its one of the worst boards I've seen. I compared it to Maka Bana, another Tilsit game, and noted the same low-quality board. In Tilsit's defense, the plastic bits (namely the Yaks) are great!
Area majority. What more can I say. How many ways are their to cut that pizza pie? Lately, the get-the-most-bits-in-an-area thing just doesn't pack a punch. If not for their three-tiered scoring system, this game would have already been on the trade pile.
Havoc: The Hundred Years War
First play and I really liked it! Second play and its luster had faded a lot. I like the growing tension of trying to build several poker hands and time them for just the right battles. For a first attempt, it really is a solid game. Though it was built around the poker ranking system, it certainly is not a poker substitute. It's its own game and poker its own.
The sinking feeling I got from this game is mostly a matter of taste. Card games, praised by Larry Levy* or not, just don't measure up to board games in my book. I like lots of card games--even classics like Canasta, Hearts, Spades, Rook, Up & Down the River, and Poker--but not half as well as I like board games. It's personal taste. Certainly nothing to discredit Havoc's success. For me, it's usually the card games that play like board games that win me over. Some of the multiplayer card games I like best are: Medici, Chaos Marauders (its a nostaligic thing), Coloretto, and Colossal Arena.
I was immediately taken by how cutthroat Santiago was. I liked the overseer role, the bidding, and the irrigating. After getting a copy, I only played it once and, for reasons unknown to me, it hasn't called to me since. Of all the games I've mentioned Santiago exemplifies that sinking feeling. What once drew me in, draws me in no more.
This was my favorite game at my first Gathering of Friends. I played it a few times since picking up a copy; but its another game, that like Santiago, has no explanation for its sudden demise.
In The Shadow of the Emperor
Here's another game that I originally thought had a lot of promise. I played this one at my second Gathering of Friends. I got a copy and that copy still sits in shrink on the shelf. I don't feel particularly bad for not having played it.
It's not the game's fault...
The first thing I have to say is that these aren't necessarily bad games. They may, in fact, be good games, but just not games that suit me for whatever reason. I suspect that this sinking feeling comes with game glut. I get game after game after game so that my shelves are piled with games that haven't received their due play time. Pickiness comes with having so many games from which to choose and not the time to play them all. I mean, I've got the time perhaps, but I still want a life outside of boardgames.
I want the repeat hitters
When I buy a game I'm really hoping it will at least make the nickel list. There's no way to grasp the nuances that a game offers in just a couple plays. Occasionally there is a game I like so well that it repeatedly hits the table, and this lends to me liking the game even more. Some strong repeat hitters that come to mind are Goldland, Reef Encounter, Das Zepter von Zavandor, and 10 Days in the USA. A new, fresh game to me may be an aged title that I didn't get around to for a while.
I strongly suspect I would more greatly appreciate lots of passed over games, if I had not become gluttonized by so many. Because I'm so mezmerized by discovering new games, fresh themes, and innovative mechanics, the evergrowing list of games intoxicates and distracts. I've realized I need to be pickier about the games I buy lest the glistening of shrink in my home resemble that of a game store. My real goal is to collect games whose facets I truly want to explore time and again.
I wish that more gamers in my lot were buying and introducing me to the influx of new games and not so much the reverse. Honestly, I can't complain for partaking in a hobby that is so choice rich. It's just that when I think of being faced with interesting, difficult decisions, I think of it in the context of a game, not in buying them. And my addiction has me buying-buying-buying. For all that buying and for the continual process of discovering new games, having a few go south hardly offsets the fun.
And these are my problems!? Boy, have I fallen into a wonderful hobby!
This post first appeared on my long-defunct blog: Boardgamers' Pastime. It was originally entitled: "That Sinking Feeling".
*Larry Levy had once posted an article on Boardgame News called "In Praise of Card Games".
- Last edited Thu Dec 30, 2010 1:06 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Fri Dec 17, 2010 3:48 pm
I'm as guilty of it as the next person, with my need to be a BSG/Power Grid completist and all. But I'm looking at a bookshelf with well over 50 games on it and I'm thinking, "Which ones am I bored with? And how many have I played more than a dozen times?" And the answers are "less than 5, and over half". There's a couple that haven't seen the light of day, such as Twilight Struggle, and there's a couple that haven't seen many plays, such as 1960. But for the most part, when I buy a game, I've researched the hell out of it either through my local game store, this site, or our game-night group. I've learned to steer clear of "same game with one mechanic changed" newness and simply appreciate the games I've got.
We don't do that much in this life -- appreciate what we've got. People don't push that view too hard these days because there's no money in contentment. But in my opinion, the payoffs are enormous. I get to dig deeper into the games I've got, trying new strategies, teaching new players... not forgetting rulesets (Princes of Florence, I'm looking in your direction). I get to save money. I get to save angst. I don't have to keep up with anyone, and I get to play games that I love with people that I love sharing a table. It's a win-win situation.
We also don't buy games with a lot of replay value. Take a look at the videogame market and you'll see a glut of linear FPS games with almost no single-player replay value. There's not a ton of emerging complexity in Tower of Babel, for example. You've got your moveset and there's tactics to be had, but they are tactics that any third-grader can figure out. And that's fine -- the box says ages 10 and up. However. However. Once you get to voting age, the game loses a lot of its long-term appeal.
Now there's always going to be a desire to buy more games, and the re-release of 1830 is looking pretty choice right now for a former train-gamer with no train games in his collection. But those are some larger gaps, not some narcissism of minor differences regarding game mechanics, and for me the fun isn't in the collection. Repeat hitters become repeat hitters by repeating them. The trick in my opinion is buying games worth repeating, and that starts with being a little choosier with our purchases.
My challenge to whoever reads this: Go find the hidden repeat hitter in your collection before you buy another game.
I think a big part of this comes from your gaming group. If you have a broad range of interests represented, you'll play a broad range of games. If not, you'll be playing the same favorites over and over again.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. I typically play games only with my wife, sometimes with my brother (when he occasionally visits). They each have certain favorites that they ask for all the time. I do occasionally insist on replaying a game we haven't touched in a while. But most of the time it's better for everybody, including myself, to just pull out the classics: they have more fun, and even I find those games enjoyable (they're classics for a reason!).
In fact, there are times that I feel like I should go through my collection and just sell or give away any game I haven't felt an urge to play in over a year, regardless of how fun I think it could be.