Today is valentines day, but there’s enough out there about all the gross lovey-dovey stuff. Instead lets talk about the elephant-shaped meeple in the room; that is, the thing we all love, hate to love, and honestly, just hate. I’m talking of course about our very own hobby, playing board games.
Let’s face it: in between the pathetically minute moments of exhilaration and victory, large chunks of our hobby are consumed by terrible, terrible things. Yes, that’s right, playing board games is like trying to swim 20 laps in a swimming pool with a brick tied to your ankles, and calling the brief gasps of air you desperately inhale whenever you can “fun”. This hobby is just bad, and I’m about to prove it to you with generally infallible logic in 9 simple steps.
9. Everyone thinks you play kids games
You know it, I know it. Whenever you tell a non-hobbyist you play boardgames, there are only 2 responses; blank stares accompanied by awkard silence, and blank stares followed by the phrase “you mean, like Monopoly?”
While I’m sure there are plenty of you out there that could argue the merits of monopoly and politely inform me that we’ve all been playing it wrong for years which is why it’s not fun, the fact is that when most people think of board games, they think of those things kids play with their brothers and sisters because mom shoved them down in the basement. Candy Land can only serve as a distraction for so long before tears and pain – the pain of losing to your dumb brother yet again, the pain of the board hitting you in the face because your sister got mad halfway through. Most of these games lacked any real substance, consisting mostly of bright colors and some sort of randomization mechanism that told you exactly where to move and exactly what to do when you got there. That’s the memory most people have associated with board games.
But seriously, people, have you not heard of Ticket to Ride yet? That game has sold like 2 million copies. Catan? Over 15 million. You’d think by now people would start to have the idea that games can be for adults too, and can be fun without being overwhelmingly complex. But no, they don’t, and so we are cursed with trying to explain our hobby to people with a grand total of 0% reference to whatever you’re saying. Speaking of which…
8. Everyone thinks your games are too complicated
Do you know how long it took me to get my family to try their first adult-level board game? Well, you probably do because it probably took you about the same amount of forever. To non-gamers, EVERY game looks Axis & Allies, even if there are only like 2 rules. What they really mean is “I don’t have any familiarity with this game and I’m afraid I’ll look stupid trying it” which seems to make people very resistant to, you know, actually giving it a shot. It’s an uphill battle all the way, because as soon as you convince people your games are more advanced than Sorry! their minds immediately shift to the other end of the spectrum.
But it doesn’t really matter, does it, because…
7. Rulebooks are terrible
You know what? Sometimes you don’t even know if your game is too complicated or not because the rulebook doesn’t make that too clear. In my years as a game reviewer I have perused dozens and dozens of game rulebooks. Hundreds, even. You know how many rulebooks I consider “great”? Maybe 4 of those. Maybe 20% are decent enough to learn the game without much confusion. The rest of them? Awful.
You probably have that one guy in your group that explains every game, right? That’s because almost 0 rulebooks are well written enough that you can read through them and understand even the basics of a game. Rulebooks require study, and often require looking up FAQs and rules clarifications on forums and stuff. That one guy is your dedicated learner, who has read enough rulebooks to be able to decipher the thickest, ugliest blocks of diagram-free text, and there’s just no reason for more than one person to do that because the Learner can explain a game much more concisely and clearly than the rulebook can.
Rulebooks need a lot of help that they aren’t getting; I’ve read rulebooks that leave key rules completely out; I’ve trudged through rulebooks that for some reason dedicate 3 paragraphs to a single rule that could be clearly stated without confusion in a single sentence. I’ve read rules clarifications that raise more questions than they answer. And misspellings… ooooh the misspellings. The point is, designers and publishers really need to work on their rulebook writing skills, to make clear and consistent rules that clarify when needed, keep it simple when possible, and don’t bury important rules in thematic description.
But, even if you manage to get through the rules and gather some semblance of an idea how to play…
6. You never have time to play the games you want
Tell me I’m not the only one who gets a brand new game, runs home, rips it open, punches all the pieces, reads the rulebook, gets super excited to play and then realizes my calendar is booked for the next 3 weeks? I am? Shoot. It’s terrible, because you have what you want, and even if you DID have time to play it, you need a few friends who have the time as well. And despite the fact that every other game night you’re all sitting around trying to decide what game to play next from the 2600 choices on the shelf, the night you have a game you REALLY want to play, someone else brings their choice game and overrules you.
All of this relates to my next point…
5. You can’t just veg out and play board games, you have to organize an event
Ahh, the terrible bane of the board game player. You come home from a long stressful day at work and you’d love to unwind by engrossing yourself in a good game. You’ll just need to call up a few friends. Yes, i realize there are solitaire games, but I have yet to play a solitaire game that really “does it” as far as engrossing gameplay. Anyways, I hope your home, or at least your game room, is straightened up, but inevitably it’s not so you better get on that right away. Don’t worry, it’ll be a mess again by the end of the night. And make sure there are snacks, because your pantry is empty and now you have to go pick up something or ask someone to bring something. Screw it, I’m just going to play that Batman video game again.
But no matter how hard you try to plan…
4. You never have the right number of players.
Okay, so you manage to plan a board game night, get people invited, pick a game or two you want to play, and you breathe a sigh of relief. As soon as everyone shows up you can kick this game into gear. You have 4 people coming, so you pull out that nice 4p-only game you’ve been waiting to try.
Oh wait, an hour before gametime Zach cancels on you. Of course he does, that Zach is so unreliable. Thinking quickly, you remember someone else you can call because this game just isn’t the same with 3. Of course they’re busy, and after 2 more candidates fall through, you find a replacement! (unless you’re me and you don’t have that many gaming friends). At last, you’re getting a chance to play! Until, of course, everyone shows up and Kerry brought a friend she didn’t mention before. So much for that.
Not that it makes a big different in the long run because…
3. Other Players Ruin Everything
You know whats messed up with this planet? People. People are terrible and they do terrible things. Guess what? The only way to play board games is to include those terrible people. Terrible people who seem to go out of their way to make the experience not fun. You’ve got players who study the rules for loopholes, players who make terrible decisions that reward someone else besides you, players who exclusively target you, players who don’t really understand the game, players who take FOREVER to make a move in Carcassonne, and so on and so forth. How did we ever think this hobby was a good idea?
You know what’s even worse? You let these people into your home so you could try to capture that face-to-face experience. You see where I’m going with this? THEY KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE.
Plus, you’re the one who owns all the games, and people have a terrible habit of mistreating material things that don’t belong to them…
2. Components are a rip away from “bricking” your game
Many games depend on some level of secrecy. You don’t know what cards your opponent has, and they don’t know what cards you have, thereby creating tension; your perfect play might be stopped in its tracks, or vice versa, and you won’t know until you play. Other games rely heavily on secrecy, such as hidden-role games like the Resistance or specialty cards games like Hanabi.
Marked cards hinder a normal game, and outright decimate games like these. And those friends you have over to eat your snacks and play [ruin] your games seem prone to spilling, greasing, bending, ripping, and losing your valuable cards. Oh, and don’t forget about games with limited components. You lose a piece, okay maybe you can replace it with a spare token, but then your game is ugly and no one ever wants to play the ugly game. It’s just how it is.
Speaking of Ugly…
1. You just got your Kickstarter game and the next day they announce the 2nd edition that fixes all the problems with yours
Kickstarter is great in a lot of ways. It allows people with no money and many friends to ask everyone in the world to give them money, fund a project they’ve always dreamed of creating but never had the resources to do so, and create publishing companies immediately skipping all of those steps like learning from your mistakes on a smaller scale before trying to deliver to the whole world with no experience. I digress. Anyways, so you’ve found a kickstarter project you can believe in, you’ve shared your hard-earned dollars with the creators and you can’t wait to get your game that YOU helped make a reality. A year later you finally receive your game (assuming the project hasn’t flopped outright) that you forgot about, and 14 seconds after that a second printing/edition is announced (and probably a brand new kickstarter is launched). See, all that time you spent waiting, the designer/publisher spent tweaking, refining, playing, and marketing their game so it would hopefully sell more copies once the production copies arrived. The production copies… already at the printer. So all the tweaks to rules that are discovered, all the art and design updates, and all of the errors discovered in the first round of the game actually being available to a large group of people, this all gets applied as soon as possible. But not to the copy you eagerly purchased so very long ago.
So, lets face it. Our hobby is stupid; it may actually be actively out to destroy us. We should all just give it up, go our separate ways, and find something better to do with our time.
On the other hand, Quantum is supposed to arrive today, and I can’t wait to punch out all the bits, smell the fresh cardboard, and dig into the rules…