The moment you take the first step into the fabulous world of designer board games, many things change. You find a new way to enjoy time with friends and loved ones. You embrace a pastime that is analogue and social, but does not require physical exertion or alcohol consumption. And you start to look at “regular” board games as if they were guilty of stealing away time you will never get back.
This is probably why there is a list of games true gamers really like to hate. Games that become the butt of crude jokes, games used to show the inferiority of the gaming habits of casual players, and games that are a source of campfire horror stories, often involving excruciatingly long play times, mind-numbing boredom, or physical altercations.
Let’s take a closer look at them.
Roll a die, move, acquire a space if you have the money, or pay some money to the owner. Occasionally, draw a card. Rinse, repeat, fall asleep waiting for victory or bankruptcy, whichever comes first – if any. So, here’s a (not so) modern nightmare of a game.
When compared to modern board games, Monopoly offers very little choice – and, seemingly, even less strategy – so it’s a perfect target to show how awful a game is, and how silly those casual gamers are for playing it.
Still, Monopoly can be useful (as I suggested in one of my previous articles) as a stepping stone to what we perceive as better gaming. After all, it does have decisions, it does have negotiation – and these are things we can build upon when trying to propose a different game to play with people who enjoy Monopoly.
A game still fiercely loved – and bitterly hated by those who made their first steps into its magical, fantasy realm years ago. Reasons for hatred are very easy to track down: much like Monopoly, it’s a game with very little choice, especially when a roll of the die sends a player allows the player to choose between two locations, each differently named, both mechanically identical.
I myself like to joke that a six sided die is in fact a travel version of Talisman. Sit down wherever, roll the die on your turn, add pips to previous score, repeat until one player reaches a total of 300. Inventing stories to go along with your rolls is optional, but encouraged.
What people seem to miss when hating on this classic, is that for many of us it was the first contact with a world of different gaming – and one that showed us that abstracted mechanisms can create an experience vastly more thematic than any other roll and move games. Plus, if you suffer through some frustrations of Talisman, you will probably be much more ready to face the horrors of games like Merchant of Venus – excellent, but still wrapped around a roll and move mechanism.
I’ve not lost any friends over a game of Diplomacy, but I’ve seen some folks completely lose over A Game of Thrones. I’ve seen to adult men on the verge of going physical over Republic of Rome. And I was mere seconds from being smacked in the face after nuking an opponent’s city in Civilization. Board games can be really stressful.
Whatever you think about Diplomacy – and you might think that it somehow resides within the real of modern, designer board gaming – or Monopoly for that matter, it’s hard to get more irritated, than while playing this classic. Perhaps then, it’s not that bad of an idea to try to pull the people who play it deeper into our hobby?
It’s true that this may backfire horribly, as we might invite someone who lives for backstabbing to our gaming table, and unless we’re all fans of the genre, we’ve just made our games of Agricola so much more stressful. On the other hand, after opening up a world of games without the frustration, we might also gain an opponent who will keep their cool at all times, as with what they encounter playing Spartacus is but a pale echo of the villainy they had seen in Diplomacy.
I’m not saying that the above examples aspire to being a comparative list, neither am I saying we should suddenly fall in love with the games we simply don’t want to play. What I am saying is that looking down on them all the time might be a little unfounded. Sure, they do have flaws, but they are also experiences on our way that make modern board gaming richer and more satisfying.
Plus, admit it, you probably had some good time with one of them at least once in your life. I know I have.