Why, Why, Why?! is a series of highly subjective, perhaps personally charged, and often provocative statements about the board gaming hobby. At least they’re always worth debating. Maybe you agree. Maybe you don’t – but that doesn’t mean they’re not true! And because I’m fair and balanced, I also draw upon the diversity of experience that we offer you here at iSlaytheDragon to present the “other side.”
Today we address…
Games Need Fancy, Awesome Components
Every tabletop game has components. Even the most basic microgames have cards with art on them, or dice, and that’s a big part of the experience. I’m here to argue that regardless of the game, these components should be the shiniest, fanciest, prettiest-looking bits and pieces they can be, and here’s WHY WHY WHY
1. Fanciness attracts attention.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our hobby needs to keep growing by bringing more people into the fold. That can be a difficult thing to do, as the “general public” perceives board games as childish or hardcore nerd. Cool looking pieces attract attention and get people to ask “what’s that?” giving you an opportunity to tell them about a game they would enjoy that they might not otherwise be interested in learning about.
2. Fanciness is Fun.
Lets face it: small wooden cubes are boring. Even something as simple as slicing the edges so cubes looks like houses can add a little excitement to the game. As plain as eurogamers claim to love their components, there dozens of people who “bling” their games with custom made, detailed components and even websites dedicated to making meeples more interesting. That is because fancy, awesome-looking components are just fun. They spark stories, they spark imagination. They give character and life to an otherwise mathematical experience.
3. Fanciness is memorable.
Blog post after blog post and designer diary after designer diary talk about how people are averse to learning new rules and games are complicated so streamline, simplify, cut the fat. But you know what? Human brains are visual and there are many ways to store information. Many games rely on a set of icons on the cards to remind players of actions and abilities, then resort to simple colored cubes for other elements of the game. Fancy, detailed components that depict a more accurate symbol of the actions they’re involved in can help serve as a reminder of how they are used in game.
I think even the driest of eurogames can benefit from better, shinier, components. Detractors will cry that putting a focus on components indicates a lack of care for the rules; that these games are sold based on Smoke and Mirrors, not substance. I think they are just jealous. Games can be substantial AND beautiful, and quality, detailed, fancy components can elevate games to the next level of interactivity and fun.
@FarmerLenny’s response: Fanciness Is an Afterthought, or, Bring On the Drab!
Before my colleague goes overboard in praising nice components and rushes to his game room to worship his Fantasy Flight bloat, it’s important to temper his comments with a little bit of common sense and rational thought. Fancy components aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and let me tell you, WHY, WHY, WHY.
1. Fanciness adds costs.
For someone who supposedly wants to get people involved in board games, Wolfie seems to forget that fancy bits add fancy costs to games. Having superfluous coasters and better design in Parade is nice, but it doubled the cost of this 66-card game. But that’s just a simple game. Consider a game like Francis Drake, which is gorgeous–no one’s denying that–but at a price tag of $80. Ouch. Hobby games keep getting more and more expensive. If generic bits drive down the cost, then please, publishers, use the generic. This pricing strategy is one of the things I have appreciated about Cheapass Games over the years: their games provide the unique material necessary to play; you supply the rest. And the savings are passed on to you. The bits aren’t fancy, but the games (like Kill Doctor Lucky) are fun–just as fun in the simple, print-and-play style as in the more lavishly produced (and significantly more expensive) deluxe edition.
2. Fanciness is no guarantee of a good game.
If you’ve spent much time around these parts (or even if you read the introduction to my rebuttal), you know that I get my jollies from poking fun at Fantasy Flight Games. And that’s because, on the whole, I don’t like their games, no matter how many layers of varnish they coat them with, no matter how many ornate card frames they design. Or consider Kickstarter. I’m continually impressed with the production quality of games on Kickstarter, but this is no guarantee that the games themselves are any fun. There’s a reason for this: fancy bits do not guarantee a good game. While it’s true that nice components can be the crowning jewel in a game, they can also be used to distract from obvious design flaws. Of course, this in itself is no argument against fanciness. Rather, take this along with point 3…
3. Fanciness is at best nice clothes.
I’ll admit that I was initially put off from buying El Grande because of the drab box art and generic components. But you know what? After my first game, none of that mattered anymore. Indeed, I would rather play El Grande than just about any other game, despite the simplicity of its cubes, the muted colors of its board, and the just-cutting-it cardstock of its cards because it’s a great game, regardless of its components. Puerto Rico is similarly drab, but that no longer matters when another player has chosen the Captain role from under your nose and you’re shaking your fist at him from across the table. (And you don’t need the fancy anniversary edition to get the full effect of the shaken fist!) Innovation is a simple deck of 110 cards, sparsely illustrated (to put it mildly), and it’s one of my favorite games. I could go on and on and on. While I value games like Libertalia, which have great art, or Stone Age, which have great pieces, I care much more about gameplay than presentation. A book with an ugly dustjacket is no worse (once read) than one following the most modern design principles.
I’m not saying that fancy components aren’t important; it’s just that they are far down on my list of priorities when playing a game. Granted, fancy components are more likely to attract the eye (one reason I think Splendor has attracted attention), but great gameplay is more likely to keep a game hitting the table. So while good components can make for good first impressions, I’d much rather have a faithful and dependable companion. Beauty is only cardboard deep; give me a good game, no matter how it looks.