The following post breaks away from GLTCHD convention, temporarily shunning the digital delights of video gaming in favour of the classic cardboard tabletop variety. I hope you enjoy it and I’m really sorry if you don’t. I tried my best. – Tom.
Purchasing a video game is – 97% of the time – a relatively stress-free experience. In the modern interconnected world we have numerous sources of information available to us at all times – all of which are just a few mere clicks away. Thanks to the seemingly endless barrage of trailers, previews and reviews being shat out into our eyeballs 24/7, come release day we usually have a more than inkling if a game is the right one for us.
The decision to purchase a new video game is made all the more easier by the fact the medium is largely a solitary one – we rarely have to think about anyone else when purchasing a new game. Sure, you might you might have to mull over the economic merits of purchasing just one triple-A title over four indie titles with this month’s pay packet, but aside from that it’s really a relatively straightforward equation:
See game + like game + £££ = funplaygametime.
Board gaming on the other hand, is a different beast entirely…
You see, because of the inherent social aspect of tabletop gaming, choosing which cardboard behemoth will next lovingly adorn your table can be a pretty tough, sometimes altogether paralysing decision.
It doesn’t matter how much you really, really, really want a game because it’s no longer just about you. Oh no, don’t be silly. How could you be egotistical? A game could have the most amazing reviews in the world, have won myriad of obscure, unpronounceable European awards and be 110% right up your proverbial alley, but sadly, none of that matters if you’ve no one to play it with.
Which is why when purchasing a new board game, you have to remove the element of self from the equation, replacing it instead with numerous other factors – all of which revolve around your friends/family/flatmates/gaming group or anyone else you might potentially be playing with. These are as follows:
- Number of players
- Complexity of rules
Now let’s break them down:
Board games come in all shapes, sizes and genres. In the broadest sense of the word they can tailored for casual or hardcore (hobbyist) audiences, and offer a competitive or cooperative (or sometimes both) experience. However, dig a little deeper into genre and you’ll quickly encounter labels like Family, Party, Eurogame, Wargame, Ameritrash and Dexterity which by and large reflect the kind of mechanics you can expect to encounter within a game.
I’m not here to discuss genre in any great length or detail but I am here to tell you that choosing a genre that will appeal to your gaming group is the first crucial step when considering your next purchase.
The theme of a board game goes hand in hand with the genre, in fact I probably could have wrapped these into one subheading, but who doesn’t love more bullet points? If genre is the skeleton of a board game, theme is the meat that hangs from those bones. It’s the flavour, the art, and largely the initial point of interaction, stimulus and engagement for players.
Thematically, tabletop games cover everything under the sun, and then some. They allow you build your very own train empire, explore a haunted house, run a newspaper in the roaring twenties, traverse dungeons, become a bean farmer, race super cars, survive a zombie apocalypse or even colonise America. And this is not even the tip of the iceberg! Honestly, I could go on and on, but you get my drift.
I recently was flat-out told by my girlfriend that she wouldn’t be playing Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery, with me because she didn’t like the theme, despite the immense positive buzz surrounding it. We’ve even played and enjoyed games in the same genre before, but this time around she simply couldn’t get excited about the theme. I speculate that if the mechanics from Spartacus were transplanted in to say, Grey’s Anatomy: A Game of Blood and Tracheotomy, then I’m sure she’d be on board – although I’m not entirely sure I would – See? Theme is key!
Number of Players
This is a bit of an obvious one, but still an essential element to consider when making a new purchase. How many players does the game support? Not just the maximum number either, as the minimum number is arguably the more important digit. I can’t imagine much worse than picking up a game for 3-5 players, if you only have one other person who is interested in playing it with you. Back on the shelf you go, Cosmic Encounter.
Complexity of Rules
Ah… Rules, rules, rules… Rules can be a huge barrier to entry when it comes to tabletop gaming and besides the stigma of tabletop games being uncool and drab, rules are probably the number one reason why people are put off the medium.
Choosing a game with the correct level of complexity for your group is an incredibly important factor to consider before laying £40+ down on a shiny new shrink-wrapped game. It probably goes without saying, but, if there is going to be someone new at the table opening with Twilight Imperium isn’t the most sensible and courteous thing you could have done. Instead you want to ease them into proceedings with a simple, light gateway game such as Ticket to Ride or Takenoko.
It’s all well and good spending an evening swatting up on the 20+ page rulebook yourself, but you have to remember that every single player at your table needs to have a pretty decent understanding of the rules of a game before they can really enjoy themselves. Of course, you could then attempt to quickly relay this information to your group pre-game, however rules can be pretty difficult to articulate and doing so can eat into valuable…
At the end of the day players are people, and what all people have in common is that have lives to live. This is why it’s important to take into consideration the average length of a games playtime. Scheduling the correct amount of time for a game with your group is super important. Say you’ve persuaded to get everyone together mid-week, post-work, choosing to start a game that lasts upwards of five hours isn’t really a smart idea. Remember, there are no real save states with tabletop gaming, so once it’s time for players to start leaving, it’s probably time to start packing the game away – if you’ve finished or not. Time is precious – so use it wisely!