Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Board games? You've got to be kidding right? I mean haven't we all grown up by now? What's the deal here?

In a very careful attempt (and I do mean attempt in the sense that I expect to fail this attempt) to reduce my level of smarminess I write this blog entry with the lofty goal of creating an article that has been created many times before by many other people such as myself who feel they've got a grasp on what gaming is today. This entry is therefore mostly meant for those out there who think board gaming relates to things like Clue, Sorry, Life and yes Monopoly. The same people who consider war gaming can be considered to be Stratego, Risk, Battleship and if you are very well seasoned maybe you know some game called Axis & Allies. The people who think card games all come in two colors and 4 suits. Who believe role playing is something that you do only in bed with you significant other or with your therapist (however chances are good you are doing the same thing with your therapist as with your significant other....damn I think I just failed my attempt already!)

So if you happen to be a reader who is in the know about board gaming that I've written about already then you can skip this entry and move right along to something you've probably already read and therefore just leave my little spot on the web vacant and cold like you found it.

This is for those who stayed and will continue to read on. (There might be a prize nestled somewhere in this post too...of course there probably won't be but you never know.) Yes gentle reader I am here to enlighten you and bring to your base of knowledge the world of designer board games. First however. . .some history.

For pure history buffs the oldest Backgammon board was found in Iran on Jan. 11th, 2007 but that's really going a bit too far back in time for what this article is. So let's skip ahead a bit shall we?

It's given we all know the games I mentioned in the opening of this entry and know that they had their place in time with most kids growing up. Hell occasionally at holidays and what-not one of these will get dragged out and family will sit around the table spending useless hours arguing over little rules that make the game play differently each swearing that their rule book says their way is the official ruling. When in truth no one at the table truly knows the rules (does Free Parking really get you money or just a safe stopping spot?) but somehow the game finally is put under way and someone wins and everyone quietly sings praises that the fucking game is over. FUN TIMES!

Well back in the 1970's and 1980's gaming in the underground (read geeky) circles thrived in America with the advent some cleaver game companies making new games that played much differently than those tired old roll and move games. Avalon Hill simply OWNED the war gaming market but their games were complex and had huge dry rule books that took scholars to get through. Steve Jackson Games began creating lines of small cheap games with little to no components but core rules that played well and offered new gaming experiences to those who wanted more than D&D style role playing. These two however after many expansions found that they would get overly rules heavy and the game would fizzle out. Thus gaming still remained an underground (still read geeky) subculture.

The only real exception in this time period as far as I'm concerned (and in my blog that's ALL that's concerned) was some of the works of Sid Sackson who crafted some classic games that stand up tall against games of all time including the new designer games of today that I'm getting to. Included in this list would be Sleuth, Can't Stop, and one of my top games of all time Acquire.

Never the less the gaming world remained sluggish and dull for many years. Then in 1995 the face of gaming would change as we (and when I say we I mean us gamers) know it forever. Settlers of Catan was created and released. This was a German game that thrived and took a strong foothold in European countries. What made this game so different? Well it stripped away the idea of what a board game was in that the conventional board became modular board made of hexes that could be varied so that the dynamics of each game were different. It brought out a need to make strategic decisions and play in a state of thought provoking moves that would have you trying to benefit yourself but at the same time you had to benefit your opponents too. This game had a rule book that was small and easily understood by those who were not use to the forward thinking of what a "board game" was. Yes simple rules that allowed for so many options each turn, and gaming breathed it's first breath in many years.

So that's what we are talking about here. Designer board games. Games that engage the brain but don't take 7+ hours to play. Games that offer challenge and tough decisions that have to be made but don't bog you down with a rule book that is so thick it could be used as a weapon. Now that we know a bit about that I'm going to take some time here and give you some of the categories of games we play these days and maybe some suggestions as only I can (again it's my blog, if you don't like it shove off!)

Gateway games. This is terminology used by many "seasoned" gamers to describe a game that can be used to expose a non-gamer into the world of designer games. A lot of the "upper crust" gamers don't like these games as they call them too simple or maybe they've got too much luck in them, but I tend to think those people are pretentious pricks anyway. All the games I list here are more easily digested than other games but I'm not going to recommend a game I don't like.

To start off with I'm going to say nearly the entire line of games by Days of Wonder. This company does a fantastic job with their production, rule books are clear and simply with many examples in pictures and even show you a completed setup so you know you are doing things right from the start. The games all have great themes and play quickly. My suggestions from their line for new gamers; Ticket to Ride (with 1910 Expansion), Shadows Over Camelot, Pirate's Cove, and Memoir '44.

In addition to games by DoW other gateway games that are worth looking into given the theme you are looking for are; Mall of Horrors by Asmodee, Carcassonne (another personal favorite), Boomtown (great intro to bidding games) and yes Settlers of Catan.

Now that you've done some research into these games and have an idea of what we are talking about when we say designer board games, let's go into a little more detail and talk about some games types. I will be attempting to keep the examples of games all light to medium weight games that would be good for new gamers.

Tile Laying games. These are games who main mechanic involves usually drawing a tile from some sort of general supply and placing it either on the game board or even to use the drawn tile to create the board.

The above mentioned game Carcassonne is a tile laying game along with Aqcuire. These are radically different games so when thinking of games in the form of "tile laying" understand it's simply a mechanic and the style of game outside the theme will play differently and feel differently. Other examples of some great tile laying games are; Alhambra, Arkadia, Vegas Showdown, Tantrix, Pompei, Oasis, California, Tsuro, Dungeoneer, Drakon, Gheos, Tavula, Squint, Gheos, Cape Horn, Ingenious, Zombies!!!, Mid Evil as well as a slew of railroad themed games that you can easily find.

Auction/Bidding games. Possibly one of my favorite game mechanics but it's true that some people don't like auctions in games. Of course these people are inferior and should be ignored. Auction/bidding games force players to use their resources carefully in gathering the items they need to win the game. Some even throw in the fact that the money one play spends goes to other players so while helping yourself out you are then forced to help your opponents.

Some of my favorite auction/bidding games are; Aladdin's Dragons, Ra, Boomtown, Hollywood Blockbuster, Masterpiece, Vegas Showdown, High Society, Manila, New England, Amun-Re and Ys.

Area Control games. Simply put you win these games by having control of areas of the board. Usually that means majority rule in an area for "control" and the method of getting your pieces to in those areas will vary from game to game and even might be a combination of the other styles mentioned here. To give you an idea of some of these games look up; Mission Red Planet, San Marco, Age of Empires III, Himalaya, Capitol, Tikal, Louis XIV, China, Ys, Tempus, Kahuna and yes I'd even suggest the new takes on Risk which are Risk 2210 and Risk Godstorm...although I prefer Godstorm.

Take That games. These games involved a lot of player interaction. The goal of these games is part to win yourself but also part to beat your opponents down in the getting there. These tend to be VERY light, quick to play, easy to teach, full of yummy randomness and lots of time are card games in fact. Can be great fun just make sure everyone knows it's all just that FUN and feelings won't get hurt. Try out; Hex Hex, Run For Your Life Candyman, Munchkin, Ninja Burger, Family Business, Lunch Money, Mag Blast, Guillotine, Lunch Money, Bang!, Kung Fu Fighting, Brawl, Fightball and the list of these could go on and on and on.

Dexterity games. The main mechanic behind a dexterity game is physical input. That's right these games require you to have some sort of physical action to play the game. Can be loads of fun if you ask me and it's amazing to me how these games scale from kids to adults...everyone wants to play these. Some of my favorites include; Bausack, Crokinole, Hamster Role, Nache Der Magier, Pitch Car, Loopin' Louie, Polarity, and you know what...JENGA!

So there you go, a nice sampling and explanation of what the hell we got going here. There are plenty of other styles of games I could include but that'll get you started. Maybe I'll add more later...maybe not but can't hurt you to check...it can however take up some moments of your life that you will never get back but if you've read this far already WTF right?

Anyway now you know so get out the play some games.