Only three of the six Knights of the Round Table remained. One had perished in battle, and two had heroically sacrificed themselves in order to protect the realm. Hordes of Saxons pillaged the coastline. Siege engines dappled the land surrounding the castle; with the arrival of just one more, the castle would surely fall. But there was a glimmer of hope amongst the disorder — Excalibur was nearly in hand. The remaining knights stood shivering on the precipice of battle, nervously awaiting the progression of evil. Sir Gawain began plotting his next move when Morgan appeared out of nowhere to land her final blow. With that, eternal darkness fell as shadows over Camelot.
This is a true story. It happened this past April during International Tabletop
Day. My friends and I reached the endgame of Shadows over Camelot, and found that our victory or failure would be decided with the flip of a single card. The reveal caused us to burst into screams and laughter — we had died, but oh boy, did we have fun doing it.
A few board games that my brother and I keep at our parents’ house (Much to our mother’s vexation…)
There has been a renaissance in tabletop gaming over the past fifteen years or so. Sure, we all grew up playing Monopoly and Scrabble, but board games have come a long way since then. I, like many others, first encountered this new wave of board games in college via Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. These are fine examples of the German-style of game design. No “introduction to board games” post would be complete without a discussion on these European-style games as compared to their American counterparts. Eurogames, as they are often known, are strategy games. Often designed very mathematically, they are games in which skill takes precedence and the best player always wins. These games are usually quite abstract in their overall theme (with most, I find, being vaguely about either farming or colonizing new territories). American game designers, on the other hand, pushed for games rich in theme, with components of high production value and lush storytelling elements. While these games were much more immersive than eurogames, some argued that the actual gameplay (which often relied on “randomness”) was lacking. This lead to many eurogamers referring to thematic games as ameritrash, or AT. While this began as a pejorative, many who love thematic games have embraced the term. (That said, some gamers still take offense at the label, so use it with caution.)
My brother, who has a much more calculating mind than I, is the very essence of a eurogamer. He scoffs at the word “randomness” and recoils at the sight of dice. I, however, lean more towards the thematic/ameritrash side. I love playing a character and getting emotionally invested in a game’s backstory. He loves the feeling of winning with a well-planned out strategy; I fly by the seat of my pants and let the narrative arc of the game lead me. Also, I am a total sucker for good game components.
The beautiful artwork of Dixit, transparent cards from Gloom, stackable flying saucers from Fantasy Flight’s Cosmic Encounter, and segmented bamboo shoots from Takenoko are among some of my favorite board game components. Those custom dice from Seasons, though… Mmmm…
While I enjoy games with interesting themes, I won’t be won over by pretty artwork and good backstory alone. I will usually take my leave if the game has downright poor game mechanics (e.g. the mind-numbing waste of time that is roll-and-move games). Luckily for me, and for the board gaming community as a whole, the division between eurogames and AT is no longer so strongly defined. Most games released now are hybrid games that take the strategic game mechanics of European-style games and the engrossing themes of American-style games and combine the two.
All that to say, there is a tabletop game for every type of person. Board games, card games, pen-and-paper role-playing games. There’s something for everyone. You just need to find a game that tailors to you, your skills, and/or your interests. Then, when you feel more comfortable, you can try games that challenge you — testing your skills, expanding your worldview. It’s a terrible bit of wordplay, but I honestly don’t think I’ll ever be bored with board games. There’s just too much to learn and experience.
Which brings me to my final point: tabletop games are just a microcosm of life and are thereby a conduit for human interaction. Board games are inherently social activities. In a world where we spend so much time plugged in, it’s easy to forget what actual, personal interaction is like. There’s something entirely simple and beautiful about sitting around a table playing a game with friends. I know I went off on roll-and-move games earlier, but even a game with such lazy mechanics as that can be fun if you’re playing with the right people. Last summer, my cousin and her fiancé sat some friends and I down to play a game she had bought, and I figured out the one possible strategy immediately. Other than that, the rest of the game was simply to roll the dice and move your pawn towards the finish line. Nevertheless, I had fun (and not just because I won). To overcome the blandness of the game, I spent the duration of the game engaging in conversation, cracking jokes, and role-playing as my character — a garden gnome. Overall, I had fun because I was spending time with loved ones.
I am a shy introvert (self-typed as INFJ, if you’re familiar with MBTI), and am fairly certain I have social anxiety disorder. The process of talking to others, especially strangers, is exceedingly difficult for me. But I’ve noticed that while I will struggle making conversational small talk, if we’re playing a game, I open up surprisingly easily. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because the game provides an illusory disconnect between myself and my character, allowing me to playact in a way. Maybe it’s because games bring out a necessity to talk in order for gameplay to proceed. Whatever the reason may be, I think board games tap into a certain aspect of my personality which allows me to be more social.
In the same way, I think you can learn a lot about someone by the way that they play games. As we grow older, play often loses out to work. Playing tabletop games gives us indoor kids an outlet that the more athletic types can find through sports. Play gives us a sense of fun and freedom absent in most aspects of our adult lives. For that reason, I think gaming can be a very special, even important, thing.
I love board games. I think they are great. But more than that, I love board games because they allow me to spend time with other people, especially family and friends. I hope to post some write-ups/reviews of specific games that I love (and some that I don’t) in the future; so watch this space! But how about you, Internet? What/how/with whom do you like to play?