264: Digital Cardboard and Electric Dice

Digital Cardboard and Electric Dice

There is one form of social games that has been around for a very long time: board games. Rob Zacny tells us how many game designers and players are paying more attention to the simple social interactions had around a board with some plastic pieces.

Read Full Article

While it would seem that some people might be interested in a nicely designed board game after developing a taste for strategy games on the PC, I've found that it's more the exception than the rule that someone who enjoys a fantasy RPG also enjoys a game like D&D. That is, until possibly the most recent edition, which plays much more like a board game. I think the biggest obstacle for them to overcome is the need, at least in some way, to have to play as their character (the roleplaying part of it), rather than just move him around and kill stuff, though that could certainly be toned down.

Another board game issue is the very nature of unpacking, setting up and then teaching players the rules, and again I'm coming from a standpoint of people who like to game, especially on computers, and some might even be lapsed boardgamers or roleplayers. So many of them have drifted firmly into the clutches of the PC and console that there's a pretty serious playability gap when there's so much available online. I had a particularly hard time selling one such group on playing a game of Arkham Horror lately for just such a reason.

Now, especially with cheap and easy voice options like ventrilo and the behemoth that is WoW, so many players are happy to recreate those tabletop moments in a virtual space, and having been a significant part of both the tabletop and the online gaming community, the differences between the former and the latter are diminishing more and more.

I have been into board games for some time now, since my first year of uni, in fact. It must be said that a lot of roleplayers seem to enjoy board games, but pure video gamers didn't seem so loved up about them. They pondered about how we could spend between 2 to 48 (and yes I have played board games that have lasted one entire weekend) hours playing what amounted (in their eyes) to be a glorified version of monopoly.

Some were ultimately converted, despite the proliferation of VOIP programs and other instant communication ideas, there's still nothing quite like seeing the look on your opponent's face when you reveal that you've been playing him and the rest of the players for fools and have brought darkness to the land of Camelot, or the relief on the faces of all present when Cthulhu is left sleeping because of clever tactics, or the terror when he wakes up because something didn't go quite right. These are moments that video games cannot reproduce no matter how close they are to the source material.

Don't get me wrong I love a good game of Carcassonne via XBL. But I prefer playing against friends in my own home.

I meet up with some friends to play board games once every month. And a couple of weeks ago there was a bit at the end of a game that was really interesting. This new guy wasn't doing noting very important throughout the game, then when his turn came he moved like to units across the board and then said: I win.

We all stared at each other baffled, this guy didn't even won a single "dispute" up until then but then we all counted his special achievements bonuses and whatnot, and he had in fact won the game. After we all saw he was right, it was all shouting, laughing and calling people from other tables to come watch, recount the points for the eleventh time, etc. I tough to myself an epic win is possible in games, but what follows an epic win like this in a board game it's impossible to emulate with some headphones, or in the best case a video conference feed.

It's a very neat time to see where this mash up of old and new goes. It really is cool to see technological advancements meet up with the way gaming has been done for years. Board games are a brilliant use of a social evening with friends. Computer equivalents make them accessible to friends who are separated by distance :)

mattaui:
Another board game issue is the very nature of unpacking, setting up and then teaching players the rules, and again I'm coming from a standpoint of people who like to game, especially on computers, and some might even be lapsed boardgamers or roleplayers. So many of them have drifted firmly into the clutches of the PC and console that there's a pretty serious playability gap when there's so much available online. I had a particularly hard time selling one such group on playing a game of Arkham Horror lately for just such a reason.

Arkham Horror is in my stack, but I haven't gotten around to it. Is it really heavy on the administration stuff? I've heard the game is a bit of a beast any way you slice it, but my impression was that it's just really long.

I think you've hit on one of the major problems board games face in appealing to gamers. But I'm also concerned at how little patience there is for learning a game. I mean, I think board games are much, much easier to learn and understand that most computer games. Yes, I can just pick and play a computer game, because a good interface makes it easy to move the pieces around, but it's very hard to really grasp the whole thing.

I think the best thing computers can do for board games is take the set-up and game administration off player's hands. Just let people sit down and play with each other without having to bother with a lot set-up tasks or rules lawyering. But I still feel that most PC strategy or RPGs are lacking some crucial virtues of the tabletop format.

I'm rather surprised that the article called Eurogames less cutthroat than American games. If anything, trying to force the other players to dump their crops in Puerto Rico or blocking the other players off of an exit route in Power Grid is more cutthroat than more randomly determined mechanics in American games. The themes are less explicitly aggressive in Eurogames, but the competition is fiercer because you know that if you can just out-think the other players, you can win the game - something that doesn't apply in many American games.

I would say that simplicity of rules is a very good thing in all games; it's not merely a limitation board games are forced into. If the important rules are too complex to be easily explained, then you can't learn them easily. If you can't learn them easily, then the game designer must either punish the player until he learns the rules or give up on challenging the player. A simple game helps new players by letting them learn and expert players by making the higher levels of play easier to achieve and understand.

Good digital games already keep their rules consistent, but what very few do is allow players to fully understand the mechanical effects of an action. That limits the strategic depth of play. MMOs, for example, tend to make higher stats a good thing but the numbers get so obscenely variable that you really don't know how much more effective a +241 Gauntlet of Haberdashing will make you over a +201 Gauntlet of Impotence - you just know high numbers are a good thing, not that your abilities are noticeably changed. In some games, like RTSes or other non-turn-based games, even though it's impossible to approximate the rules with board game rules, simplicity still makes it more easily understood.

Rob Zacny:

Arkham Horror is in my stack, but I haven't gotten around to it. Is it really heavy on the administration stuff? I've heard the game is a bit of a beast any way you slice it, but my impression was that it's just really long.

I think you've hit on one of the major problems board games face in appealing to gamers. But I'm also concerned at how little patience there is for learning a game. I mean, I think board games are much, much easier to learn and understand that most computer games. Yes, I can just pick and play a computer game, because a good interface makes it easy to move the pieces around, but it's very hard to really grasp the whole thing.

I think the best thing computers can do for board games is take the set-up and game administration off player's hands. Just let people sit down and play with each other without having to bother with a lot set-up tasks or rules lawyering. But I still feel that most PC strategy or RPGs are lacking some crucial virtues of the tabletop format.

Arkham Horror is moderately heavy on the administration, but pretty hefty on the setup time and
space needed. It's worth it, though - cooperative play in a highly replayable game is pretty good.

A good game UI is indeed a large advantage of computer games, especially if you don't have someone who already knows the rules for your board game.

But I disagree that it's the best thing. To me, the best thing that I've seen is allowing novel game mechanics to be integrated. M.U.L.E. is one great example of something that could almost be a board game except for one critical bit - the supply and demand economics. In the tactical squad-based game I'm currently working on (which, btw, was designed to be fully capable of being played tabletop), the critical bits are allowing randomly generated terrain and AI being used for balancing the game as well as being a quality opponent.

I fully agree that there's still a hell of a lot that computer games can learn from board games. Few approach the depth, innovation and replayability of a good board game - a lot of that is due to the simpler rules, actually (to restate a previous point.)

Arkham Horror is definitely worth the unpacking and set-up time. I'm currently working my way through purchasing it's numerous expansions. Playing each and everyone individually until we have one massive game involving all five. Should be a blast.

Kilo24:
I'm rather surprised that the article called Eurogames less cutthroat than American games. If anything, trying to force the other players to dump their crops in Puerto Rico or blocking the other players off of an exit route in Power Grid is more cutthroat than more randomly determined mechanics in American games. The themes are less explicitly aggressive in Eurogames, but the competition is fiercer because you know that if you can just out-think the other players, you can win the game - something that doesn't apply in many American games.

Trying to write a shorthand description of Euros just about gave me fits, especially since I knew anything I wrote would over-generalize. Perhaps I should have said, "less eliminationist", since that's the main point I was trying to get at. In a lot of competitive American games, losing comes in the form of being removed from the game, and I was trying to distinguish that sort of direct conflict from Eurogames' focus on competition.

Rob Zacny:

mattaui:
Another board game issue is the very nature of unpacking, setting up and then teaching players the rules, and again I'm coming from a standpoint of people who like to game, especially on computers, and some might even be lapsed boardgamers or roleplayers. So many of them have drifted firmly into the clutches of the PC and console that there's a pretty serious playability gap when there's so much available online. I had a particularly hard time selling one such group on playing a game of Arkham Horror lately for just such a reason.

Arkham Horror is in my stack, but I haven't gotten around to it. Is it really heavy on the administration stuff? I've heard the game is a bit of a beast any way you slice it, but my impression was that it's just really long.

I think you've hit on one of the major problems board games face in appealing to gamers. But I'm also concerned at how little patience there is for learning a game. I mean, I think board games are much, much easier to learn and understand that most computer games. Yes, I can just pick and play a computer game, because a good interface makes it easy to move the pieces around, but it's very hard to really grasp the whole thing.

I think the best thing computers can do for board games is take the set-up and game administration off player's hands. Just let people sit down and play with each other without having to bother with a lot set-up tasks or rules lawyering. But I still feel that most PC strategy or RPGs are lacking some crucial virtues of the tabletop format.

Arkham Horror, once you get it running, isn't so bad, but it almost helps to have someone else there at the table who is willing to learn the game as much as the person who is trying to sell it to the group, so to speak. When I brought it out to the group I occasionally play with, all of whom enjoy a lot of less complicated board games, there was this constant feeling that things took too long and were too complicated, but one of the other players took it upon herself to help me and everyone else get the game down. It was the first time for any of us to play it, so that added a bit to the learning curve.

But, as you mentioned, there are patience issues with people now that have been exacerbated in this age of turn it on and go entertainment, and sometimes you have to remind people that just because a computer isn't rolling the dice for you, counting out the cards or setting up the board doesn't mean that board gaming is an inferior sort of entertainment. It's just a different one, but for some folks it's all about the convenience, and they're willing to forgo a more expansive array of entertainment for the sake of convenience.

No mention of Twilight Imperium? (A sometimes 14 hour board game experience like nothing other- Pax Magnifica Bellum Gloriosum!)

I think that table top board gaming where you can see the other players react and play the meta-game (when appropriate) will not be replaced by online versions anytime soon. However, I appreciate all forms of gaming and the effort to bring different ways of gaming together.

Reverend Del, I think you'll find that Arkham Horror is less fun with all the expansions. Better to stick with one small box and one big box expansion at a time. We're finding even that might be too much, as the flavor of a given expansion is diluted by the others in the mix.

For those who haven't played, I'd also recommend not following this approach to your first time: http://boardgame.geekdo.com/thread/73576/the-doom-that-came-to-arkham

Sorry this isn't 100% on topic, but in all my gaming experiences (Tabletop and Video) nothing will ever be as awesome as the game of Conquest of the Empire that my friends and I had back in the summer of our 10th Grade year. We played everyday, 3-6 hrs a day after band practice. My friend Darrell's mom kept the game set up perfectly on her kitchen table for almost two and a half months until we were finished with it.

Most people feel Monopoly takes too long (and it does based on the limited mechanics of the game) so can you imagine those people trying to play the same game for over a week of actual gameplay time?

But that brings up a point that the mechanics of the game should be worth the amount of time that the game takes to play which can be said for any type of gaming you prefer.

Dear heavens, what has happened to the Panzer General series? It was fantastic as a series of turn-based strategy games....why turn it into a board game? Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with board games. But board games already have plenty of good titles, whereas Panzer General served a unique role among turn-based strategy games. And now, the genre feels even smaller and emptier beacuse it's gone....why, Ubisoft? =(

Also, I don't completely agree with the author about PC strategy games always being overly complex. Given, if you only look at games like Hearts of Iron and The Operational Art of War which contain a lot of intricate micromanagement, you might think that is the case. But there are strategy games that are quite simple in basics, but hide a great deal of depth to them (like, for example, StarCraft).

Rise of Nations the finest of its genre?

Unusual thinking.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Registered for a free account here