Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Board Games!

This is actually an old picture, it's gotten much worse.
Anyone who follows me on twitter probably has noticed that I've been talking about tabletop games quite a bit lately. In the past couple of months Sarah and I have added significantly to our collection. For an idea of what I'm talking about, look to the right. It's gotten much worse since then.

We have 56 games, in total. Not all of them are in that picture, because some of them are actually behind the others. For example, you can see Munchkin there but we actually have other versions of Munchkin, they're just stashed behind Carcassonne, Ghost Stories, and Yahtzee.

There's quite a variety there, too. You see classic games like Risk and Monopoly, but there's plenty of other games too. There's the cooperative fire-fighting simulator Flash Point: Fire Rescue. There's the popular Eurogame about connecting train routes Ticket to Ride. There's the literally-only-sixteen-cards get-your-love-letter-to-the-princess simulator Love Letter (a truly excellent game). There's also the dexterity-challenging magnet-balancing game Polarity.

This might seem like a sudden shift for me but it's really a natural extension of a trend that's been going on for roughly a decade.
Forbidden Island, a cooperative game where you play as treasure hunters trying
to get four relics from an island before it sinks.
Seeking new things
I can't really say that I know what caused it. Maybe it was because of my friend the next room over my freshman year of college. Maybe it's because that was the year Katamari Damacy was released. Maybe it's because that was the year that the PSP and the DS were released, and I hadn't really been into portable gaming since the original Pokemon some long time prior. Or possibly it's because of all these things. Ever since that year, however, I've constantly been seeking new gaming experiences. I would rather play small, mediocre, yet novel games as opposed to a full-price game that's well polished yet doesn't bring much new to the table. In the past this has meant playing mobile/handheld games and download-only games, but now it's extending to tabletop games.

Tabletop games really offer a lot of things that video games don't.

Meat Space Nine
Tabletop games are all about playing with your friends right around you. You can see and talk to each other in ways that are hampered by communicating over headset or having to share real estate on a screen. This isn't to say that there aren't great video games that you can play with your friends all on the same couch, Smash Bros. and Towerfall and great examples of such, but this is what board games are all about. It is their jam.

Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft

No need for dexterity
Tabletop games are almost always turn-based as well (Escape: The Curse of the Temple notwithstanding). Many people can't play competitive video games because of a reliance on manual dexterity, fast reaction times, having to juggle a lot of information without time to think, or they can get nauseous in the case of a first-person game. This gives tabletop games an extra level of accessibility that video games don't have.

Most video games go to great lengths to keep you from playing them in ways that the developers don't intend. You can't make your own rules, except on a social level ("Nobody's allowed to pick Oddjob, okay!?"). You can't add and remove components. You can't do anything, usually. Tabletop games literally cannot avoid this. Don't want to play with a particular rule? GONE. Want to add your own class to the roster of characters? DO IT. Want to add a rule or more content to the game? EASY. Think something is unbalanced? CHANGE IT. They're literally powerless to stop you. This makes them great for budding game designers to experiment with how changing rules affects the gameplay or for hobbyist to make something that they love even better. If I think that Smash Bros isn't balanced well it takes a ton of effort to make it more balanced. If I think a Dungeons and Dragons class is unbalanced, that's easy to fix.

More apparent mathiness
One thing that really appeals to me in particular is, in addition to their hackability, is that their turn-based nature makes it easier to see the math behind the game and optimize your gameplay. For example, in Ticket to Ride, you get 1 point for a 1 train section, 2 for 2, 4 for 3, 7 for 4, 10 for 5 and 15 for 6. Here you can easily see that you get more points per train from doing longer routes and should try and do those if possible. This advantage becomes even more clear when you realize that by playing trains there is an opportunity cost in that any turn spent playing trains is a turn in which you aren't drawing cards. So you could spent two turns playing 3 trains each and be down 6 cards and only have 8 points or you could spend two turns, 1 playing 6 trains and 1 drawing cards, and have 15 points and only be down 4 cards.

I have by no means given up on video games. I still love and play those. Most recently I've been playing a lot of Hearthstone and Spelunky.