Monday, 18 July 2016


Why Am I Buying So Many Games? - A Brief Reflection

I can't help but notice that I'm buying a lot of games recently. You may have noticed it, too. Of course, I have a lot of old games, from the classics like Monopoly and Sorry! to Clue and Snakes and Ladders. I played these games when I was a child, I used to think that I would play them with my children, too, but I have come to realise that they are, in fact, appalling. It's surprising that I actually even made it out of childhood with games like that. This is probably why I became a TV addict, although having a TV in the kitchen when we were eating breakfast, lunch and dinner probably also helped with that! Some of the games that I bought later in childhood, like Heroquest, The Knights of Camelot and Chaos Marauders still stand the test of time, at least somewhat. They were more complex, more engaging and the artwork was better.

So, why not just play those games? Why is it, for example, that in the last week or so I've bought Castle Panic, 7 Wonders, Castle Assault and Star Trek Panic? Why do I have even more games pending? This little vignette explores why....

Firstly, there is a deep, existential gnawing at my soul that exposes a chasm of nothingness and the futility of my life. So, since my life is meaningless anyway, why not spend it playing games since they bring me joy and help me forget my ultimate cosmic insignificance?

Secondly, Games now are insanely good. I remember reading an article from that bastion of quality British journalism known as the Daily Mail that spoke of the imminent end of board games and that given the quality of computer games nowadays, no-one would want to play games like Monopoly that just results in table-flipping and divorce. Well, that's true, Monopoly is kind of a bad game, but the author of the article was obviously totally unaware of how Kickstarter has revolutionised the board game industry and has helped bring truly extraordinary games to the fore. This is, without question, the golden age of board games. Contemporary game design - and I mean the actual mechanics as well as the actual visuals of the game - are really wonderful nowadays. It's like owning art, but art that you can actually engage with on a physical level and not just a visual level.

I would say that Ghost Stories is one of the most beautiful games that I have ever seen. It's also insanely difficult, which makes beating it incredibly rewarding. It's challenging art, and not like the sex bed by Tracey Emin challenging art.

If you don't believe that we're in the Golden Age of board games, take a look at this beauty. This is part of the description of game play of a forthcoming Kickstarter called Planetarium. Look at the artwork on that card! And look what it is - it's a game about planetary formation that teaches science as you play. It's not just art, it's actual educational art that engages you. Instead of going round and solving who killed whom by a dull process of elimination, or instead of rolling dice and sending other players' pawns back, or instead of building hotels and charging people rent, this game has players being planets that have to develop. You're not a human (see, for example, Wiz-War), or an orc (see Chaos Marauders) or a vampire (see Fury of Dracula).... you're a goddamn planet! Just conceptually that's mind-blowing, and that's even before you get to the game mechanics and artwork. If you can think of a concept, there's probably already a board game about it. That is what I mean by the Golden Age of board games.

Thirdly, co-op games. I never knew of such things. Games where you can work together against the game? Brilliant! I've actually seen someone flip a Monopoly board before. Why do people continue to expose themselves to such ruthless interplay? Why would you invite friends round just to simulate taking all their money? How is that a positive social experience? Co-op games avoid this entirely by ensuring that all players win (or lose) together. And my enjoyment of co-op games is not just because a certain person I've known very well for the last fourteen years or so *cough* *cough* hates to lose, but because honestly it's really nice to sit with someone or even with a group of other people and try to overcome a difficult challenge together. When four of us won at Ghost Stories for the first time, we were truly overjoyed. We felt like we had really achieved something together.
Dead of Winter is a spectacular Co-op game. This isn't my copy. This isn't even my house. If it were my house, the table would have matching chairs. I share this photo to remind myself that just because someone else may enjoy the same game as me doesn't mean that they have good taste in furniture.

Fourthly, TV is really bad. It really is, especially in America where there are commercials about as often as you breathe. And not even clever English commercials. They're just bad. And while a good film is fun here and there and while Breaking Bad was obviously a ridiculously good TV show that everyone should watch, I really don't want my kids growing up to be telly addicts like I was. I wasted so many years watching so much junk as a child. I would much rather my children read books, draw and play board games - spend leisure time thinking, learning, adventuring, maybe competing against each other and maybe sometimes working together. So, I'm stocking up on a variety of games that we can play as a family, that the children can play by themselves, and that Jenny and I can play by ourselves or with friends. It's basically an investment in family.

Fifthly, I have a compulsive spending problem. I like to hoard things, which is something that goes back to my childhood. It makes me feel secure - I feel safe surrounded by my games. Not surrounded like I would go to bed with my miniatures if I could, although, come to think of it....

Sixthly, community. It's the reason I got into X-Wing (and also partially the reason I'm slowly extricating myself from it as the community changes), it's the reason why I'm into Blood & Plunder now, and indeed to some extent Zephyr as well. These games have communities, generally of nice people. Not always, some are screaming racists and anti-semites ("not all Nazis were bad" said one gamer to me recently) but I've made some real friendships as a result of some of these games. I had a social group even before I moved to America, thanks to X-Wing and the Facebook group that I set up. That's an amazing thing.

And finally, games provide a roller coaster of emotions. Yes, so do books, but books take a long time to read and a game only takes hours or sometimes only a few minutes (Spaceteam, for example, lasts about five minutes per frantic game). Yes, so does TV but you're not as involved in a TV show as you are a game. You don't control what happens on TV so you can never get the same sense of personal drama. The tension I felt as Dracula running away from four vampire hunters, the exhilaration of making a good shot at Flick 'Em Up, the drama of a bad die roll... with good games these emotions are unparalleled.

I've shared this photo before and I'm sharing it again. Why?
Because my sheriff shot two men in one round and that was AWESOME!!!!!

If the game is good and the person or people you're playing with are good gamers, then you can really get into a game and really be there. I've searched dungeons, I've shot villainous cowboys, I've battled ghosts, I've put out raging fires, I've fought light-saber duels and flown X-Wings and TIE-fighters, I've sucked the blood of hapless humans (not really, it's not kosher), I've withstood massive Roman sieges, and much more... and all from the comfort of my own home with friends and family. And that is why I keep buying games, because games are awesome. And that is why I review games in this blog, so that you, dear reader, might also share in the best of games and have the best of times with friends and family.

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