A Whole New World
“Hello, my name is Johnny Takumi. I like videogames since I can remember.” This is how the “About” text of this website starts. And it is true. The sentence “I will always love video games.” would also be true. However, I recently acquired a new (growing) taste: Board Games.
As a (really young) kid, I played a few “games in a board”, mostly from the (deceased) Portuguese company Majora. They were pretty much “twists” on the Snakes & Ladders classic, and of course they were only good for young kids, for relying only on luck. Growing up, besides Chess and Checkers, I played games like Monopoly, or Risk, or other games you could buy in pretty much all toy shops. During high school, and for a “not-so-long” period, I was addicted to Magic: The Gathering, but after that, the only “board games” I played were party games, like Pictionary, Taboo, or Party & Co, and others like those. And it was OK actually. I always enjoyed the lonely pleasure (that sounds bad) I could take out of video games, so I never needed any more types of games to fulfill my competition/fun needs.
While on university, on my Game Design discipline, I spent two three-hour classes playing board games. We were split in groups, and each played a different game. I got to play Puerto Rico. Others played Iluminatti, Little World, Pandemic and a few other titles I don’t quite remember. Now, you may love Puerto Rico, and you may hate euro games, but one thing I think you’ll agree: to somebody whose references were only those I talked about, Puerto Rico came like an eye-opener. I really thought “Wow, it’s possible to make THIS game with cardboard? One artist, and one game designer, and that’s all you need? Really?”.
For years I wanted to play more games “like that”. But the thing with board games is that you (usually) need people to play with. And back then, I didn’t see any of my friends wanting to try them with me, so I decided to spend the money on alcohol, drugs, and Thai prostitutes. No, ok, I spent it on retro consoles and games…
Recently I realized that me, my wife, and my friends were spending more time on each others’ houses than before, usually playing some “traditional cards” ’ games. We started to get bored. A guy can’t play only Sueca (at least someone below 70 years old). So I bought Munchkin.
Now, for those who don’t know the game, Munchkin is a card game designed by Steve Jackson. It works as a simplified RPG (centering mostly on battles, without the exploration part) with a humorous tone. I believe it was built with the intent of being a game which allows the players to pick on each others. It does that quite successfully.
Munchkin brought a new type of evenings to my group of friends, spent around a table trying to slay monsters, and be as nasty as possible to other players. Although they were not fully converted, I started to hear them asking “So, when will we play Munchkin again?” a few times.
Thanks to Munchkin, I started to have people willing to play board games. But after a while, I wanted more than only Munchkin, so (and since my wife liked the game when we tried it at friends’ house) I bought Settlers of Catan. Catan has this incredibly annoying “dice dependency”, which may crush your strategy. But one thing is for sure: there is not a single person who played the game for the first time at my house who did not like it. And a game takes about 1h-1h30, and that’s also really good.
Anyway, what I started to realize when it comes to board games is that the feelings I have towards them relating to video games, resembles the feelings I have towards books relating to movies: they “ring the same bells” essentially, but in a much slower pace, and requiring a superior mental construction. In movies VS books (if such “fight” is possible), I prefer books, clearly. In board games VS video games, I’m still faithful to the first love. However, there are a few aspects on board games which I think video games cannot equal, even with offline multi-player:
- The social interactions: It feels really different to be around a table, facing each other, than to be sited in a couch looking at a screen.
- The “pub experience”: This is what I call to the ability to play while you smoke a cigarette and have a beer. It’s hard to do that while hitting the controls.
- Everybody can play: With a cool (not necessarily big) library of games, you can “sit” players from all ages, and all types (from the hardcore ones, to the totally casual ones). Yep, this can be done with video games. But which GOOD videogames could you use to have 12 players offline? And party board-games? They can really break the ice, and turn any party into a fun evening.
- A “complete experience”: Extract sport (including motorized) and party games, and how many video games can you play completely from start to finish in one sit (at least with company)? With board games, you get that. It you’re settling a city, by the end of the game, a city will be built. If you’re fighting demons, you or the demons will be destroyed. If you are trying to save the world from diseases, by the end of the game, the diseases will be controlled, or the earth population will be exterminated. You get what I’m saying: you get the sense of “closure” after playing a board game.
- Occupies your free time: Not exactly “your”, only. Kind of related with the previous point, I do believe that when you have a group of people sited around a table, and you want an activity (apart from drinking and chatting) to keep them animated, you can go and get one of your board games, and if chosen wisely, it is done. Related with this, you can always get one (or a few board games) to make a gamming session last for as long as you want. A quick-game on a week-night? A four-hour after-dinner evening on the weekend? You name it. You can get games for all this occasions.
- Easier to get new people playing: When someone says “I don’t like video games”, they’re usually firm about this. They will not play video games. They’re not willing to try any (the dumb bastards). They will kill the mood if others decide to play them. With board games, you can always use something like “it’s like Uno”, or “it’s like Monopoly” to convince them. I tried it. It worked.
- True portability: You’re going to a beach house with friends? You can take your games. Actually, you can even play them while camping. You’re spending the New Year’s Eve somewhere, take your games. You’re going to other people’s house to have dinner? Take your games. You don’t need a console or PC to play them. You don’t even need electricity.
- Board Games are “physically” cooler: A PC/Console box may have excellent art. But they’re (of course) pretty much the same. A box and a DVD inside. Good production board games have excellent art, cool cardboard boards, nice drawn cards, well-built plastic or wooden pieces, etc. Some are really impressive, and the first pleasure is after setup, when you look at the world you’re about to play in.
To sum it up, as a player, I look at board games as an alternative to video games. I prefer to play video games (usually solo, for I do not play well with others) but when we have guests for dinner (or for a post-dinner coffee) I prefer to play board games than anything else. It’s better to chat WHILE playing a game than to SIMPLY chat. I also prefer to chat and play than only playing.
As a “pseudo/wannabe-designer”, I’m really enjoying the research I’m making on board games. When you strip games of the latest 3D graphics, or outstanding voice acting, or really funny characters, you get to see the “real” gameplay coming to life (pretty much what I do at the end of all my game reviews). When you don’t have AI or character animation, you need to think of really great mechanics to bring the game to life. When you don’t have cutscenes, you need to be really creative to make the game implement its theme. I believe ALL game designers should create board games, even if “just for fun” and only to play with friends. Besides, a “rough” board game could work as a low-fidelity prototype to your video games. And (I say this without any practical experience) it is probably easier to make a playable board game than a video game (or at least it does not require the endless hours programming/animating/etc.). Designing a board game seems like a plausible “army-of-one” task.
Well, I’m starting to like board games more and more. I’m not sure if I’ll ever love them as much as I love video games, but as I read, watch YouTube videos and play them, I’m always eager for more. It’s indeed a whole new world. Worth exploring.
I’m leaving you with some interesting links, in case you are not a board gamer, and as myself, want to know more:
- BoardGameGeek – The Bible. And its YouTube channel.
- The Dice Tower – Excellent podcasts (the best?). And they have a YouTube channel too.
- Board Game Designers’ Forum – The title is pretty obvious, right?
- TableTop – Will Wheaton (yes, THAT one) plays board games with some celebrities (some of them hot women).
- Board to Death – Video Reviews.
- Board Game Quest, This Board Game Life and Board Gaming – Reviews, previews, and other stuff.
- An opinion starting a war and a politically correct way to analyze it (I agree with it).