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Filtering by Tag: board games

Board games: it's cool and hip to be gaming the boards now

I've recently gotten into board games again, and I thought it was simply a personal thing until I noticed that quite a handful of video game-related media has been giving ample coverage to board games as well. We've seen tabletop games like Confrontation, Blood Bowl, Ticket to Ride, and Memoir '44 come out with electronic versions on Steam. Likewise, analog editions of popular video games like Gears of War and Sid Meier's Civilization (ironically a title originally based on a board game) now exist.

I suppose we owe a lot to tabletop games for the themes and mechanics we enjoy now -- just look at the Warhammer 40k franchise, or even Dungeons and Dragons. Going digital, however, doesn't mean that board gaming is a tired old animal that needs to put down. On the contrary: modern designer board games are flourishing by accentuating the advantages of playing a board or a card game compared to a computer game.

Now, I could go on and on about the merits of board gaming and the mighty social aspect of it all and praise odd things like "tactile feel" and "elegant mechanics", but to avoid the risk of incorrectly regurgitating something that someone else has said before, I would like to share a list of links of the people who influenced me to get back to board gaming in the first place. They offer more comprehensive (and entertaining!) insights into why board gaming is lots of fun and why you're making a big mistake in life by not being a board gamer:

    • Cardboard Children on Rock Paper Shotgun This is the one that started it all, being a board gaming column on a computer game site. Robert Florence is funny and articulate, and he does paint very vivid pictures with words. MADE ME DROP MONEY ON: Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness.

    • Quintin Smith's Hard Copy (part 1, part 2, part 3) Over the course of three posts, Quintin Smith writes a convincing argument for video gamers to give board games a try. These articles focus on what board gaming brings to the table that video games just can't. DROVE ME TO DESIRE: The Resistance, Risk: Legacy.

    • Shut Up & Sit Down Quintin Smith (yes, him again!) and Paul Dean have made a gem of a web series with this funny, sincere, and well-produced look at board games and why you need to try them. I can't say enough good things about the Shut Up show. FORCED ME TO FORK OUT FOR: Cosmic Encounter.

    • Watch it Played Reviews and features are nice, but Watch it Played is one of the best resources on the web if you're looking to see how a full game is actually played to completion. Rodney Smith and family do an excellent job of explaining the rules while showing the fun dynamic of playing at the same table. They usually involve the viewers in decision-making too! COMPELLED ME TO PROCURE: Mansions of Madness, 7 Wonders, Summoner Wars.

    • The Plaid Hat podcast Plaid Hat Games produces Summoner Wars, which is an incredibly simple but fun game that combines the best bits of miniature wargaming and card games. The podcast features owner and game designer Colby Dauch with his friends, colleagues, and occasional guests, and they tackle topics that mostly deal with an insider's look at the board gaming industry. Informative and entertaining. CONVINCED ME TO PURCHASE: Summoner Wars.

Those guys form what I would call my personal "inner circle" for board game discussion, recommendations, and journalism. The following links better serve the more experienced board gamer, or at least someone who's already a bit familiar with the hobby:

    • BoardGameGeek - The de facto standard for an online board gaming community on the internet. Kind of confusing, but it's a rich source of information.

    • The Dice Tower - I mostly watch this for Tom Vasel's brief but helpful and incredibly enthusiastic game reviews. Entertaining, if only to see Tom noisily pour the components of each game he reviews all over the table.

    • Board Games with Scott - You'll have to dig deep in the archives, but Scott Nicholson is very good at explaining games, showing the viewers how they work, and how they may or may not be the right fit for you, all with the confident air of a university professor.

I hope you take the time to satisfy your curiosity by vising some of the links above. Are you interested in board games? Share some of your stories, insights, or questions here!

Social Gaming

Shapey rolly things Some of you OMGeek regulars might know by now that I've recently become enamored of board games. There's something in the tactile experience of holding the pieces, of walking around the table, and of rolling the dice. It's raw. Transparent. Real.

You scoff. But hear me out.

I'm not talking about Monopoly, or Clue, or Battleship, although these are fine games in their own right. There's a new generation of board games out there today, and I find that they are pretty cutting edge when it comes to concept and game design. Case in point: There's a board game called Space Alert which is purely cooperative in nature. Each player takes on the role of a spaceship crewman (in a Sitting Duck-class ship), and their job is to coordinate their moves in such a way that 1) there's always someone firing the guns at the external threats, 2) there's always someone routing power to the right guns, 3) there's always someone taking care of internal threats like saboteurs, 4) there's always someone screaming at everyone else telling them what to do, and 5) so on. The goal of the game is to survive for 10 minutes and warp back to friendly space. The game starts when appropriate track on the included CD is played.

Did I just type CD? Oh God, I mentioned the CD. Right.

I just lost 75% of you out there, didn't I? 90%? All of you?

If you're still reading this, you have an open mind and you are a True Gamer, worthy of the awe and praise that the name commands. I salute you.

Each 10-minute track on the CD features beeps, klaxons, and a robotic voice that calls out threats at certain points during the game. At those points, the players reveal the top card from a shuffled deck of threat cards and begin to plan their reaction to the threat. Here's where it gets good.

Optic blast!

In-game events happen simultaneously in phases, and each player locks down his action for that phase by placing a card containing that action face-down on its respective time slot on the board. This means that people will need to coordinate whatever they do, because the guy firing the gun is just a guy pressing a button if the power hasn't been rerouted properly by another player down in the engine room.

The game progresses in real-time as the CD plays, with players placing their cards on time slot after time slot, hoping that everybody is on the same page of the plan at all times. At the end of the game, the players go through each time slot one by one, resolving the actions that they actually took until they survive and warp back home, or meet a very unexpected and premature demise.

This is the point where voices start getting raised and fingers start getting pointed. And then everybody agrees to set the game up for Round 2. Or 10.

"Jed," you're thinking. "You rambling, board game-obsessed, sentence fragment-writing, sorry excuse for a PC gamer. This has nothing to do with being a PC gamer."

That's where you'd be wrong. You close-minded, teabagging, K/D-obsessed, mouse-waving fool.

Yes. That's where you'd be wrong. There's a certain something in the game of Space Alert I just described, and it's not just the tactility or physicality or immediacy that the board game format provides. It's the social experience. It's the way in which the players actually managed to play a game by communicating with each other without tools of any kind. Well, besides the board and the cards and the CD. But those are secondary. The star of the show is the crew and the real game is the way they talk to each other to resolve crises in real-time.

That's what we need more of in online PC games. Presently, online gaming has been all about running out with a bunch of guys who mysteriously look just like you and firing guns (or stabbing pointy things) at a group of other guys who look slightly different. We can talk and plan ways to be able to shoot at them more often than they shoot at us, sure, but in the end, it's the shooting that enables the game and not the communication. In this case, the communication is secondary.

Ever wonder why everyone's so freaking quiet in an Asian server? We're too efficient. We're too focused. The talking gets in the way of the primary function of the game, which is to plant virtual bullets (or virtual pointy things) inside the bodies of our virtual enemies. Virtually.

Bullshit.

We need more online games where people resolve actions and overcome obstacles by communicating with each other and letting the entire gamut of human interaction take over the experience. I want games that aren't afraid to limit each player's abilities and make him dependent on his mates. That won't hesitate to split them apart. That will make players describe situations and narrate plans because the other player doing the actions is in a spot where he can't see the big picture.

Portal 2 co-op showed some of its genius in those levels where one of you is trapped in a big vertical maze and the other player had to call out his partner's movements. Apologies if I just spoiled that bit for you. I know it's currently on sale.

Make us man a starship, game developers. Make us pull off a jewelry heist that isn't about shooting two hundred million cops. Separate us in a haunted mansion with only two-way radios to communicate with. Or just let us pilot Voltes V, damn it.

These guys were always screaming at each other from their cockpits.

We're done with shooting and racking up points. Now make us communicate.

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