Jack of All Interests

Every single thing that interests me. And that's a lot.

How to properly play boardgames

Boardgames are an amusing as well as interesting kind of games. Their form allows for a lot of physical interaction, as well as interesting gameplay mechanics that arises from this very aspect. The physicality of them also brings several constraints and limitations, but used properly these will actually enhance the play rather than hinder it.

I have been playing boardgames from time to time over the last years, and while I’m not in any way an enthusiast, I would hope to be able to see myself as somewhat above average experience within this field. It is, however, only as of very recently that I have learned how to properly play these games.

Carcassonne, by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede

Carcassonne, by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede

It is perhaps because of my interest in game design, and of all things ludum, that I had been taking boardgames rather seriously. This might also have been a product of my company, in which many are strict adherers to the defined rules of the game, and to which boardgames are the quintessence of game design experimentation and exploration. To change rules or to, god forbid, cheat, would be disrespectful to the designers of the game and would skew the outcome so that the victor might not be deserving of the win, thereby rendering the entire game session a waste of time. This would also result in a quite uncomfortable tension between the players – because it is the players themselves who win and lose, and losing to a friend is not always enjoyable – especially if their win was “undeserved”. There is a solution to this problem, one that the designers of games have already implemented, but that eludes many players. Ironically it is often the most enthusiastic board game players that are blind to this elegant and rather obvious design. Before I talk about this directly I want to mention a show called Tabletop.

Tabletop is a show on the Geek & Sundry Internet video network, hosted by Wil Wheaton. In this show Wil and guests play boardgames, partly for demonstration, but mostly for entertainment. In one particular episode they were playing a game called Rampage, in which you use physical interactions with the game board to wreck a city with your miniature monster. There were of course some rules regarding the wrecking, among them one that dictated how may points you got in relation to where the little people in the city landed when their building came crashing down. One of the guests of the show was falling behind when suddenly they picked up a person that had fallen out of bounds of the game board and placed them where they would instead score points. “I think it landed there” they said, and the rest of the players agreed. Now this was astonishing. A show about playing boardgames – and they cheated? Why would they do such a thing? Won’t this ruin the game experience? It turns out that it didn’t. It turns out that this way was more fun.

Rampage, by Antoine Bauza and Ludovic Maublanc

Rampage, by Antoine Bauza and Ludovic Maublanc

The solution to the problem of losing or winning to friends is not only consistent of prioritising a fun experience over a strict adherence to rules. Sometimes you might play these games with the very intention of following the rules to the letter, in order to analyse or experience how the game is designed. There is however an aspect to almost all boardgames that are very apparent, but not always obvious in its implications, and that is the setting of the game. In Rampage you play as a monster, in Risk you play as a military commander, in Monopoly you play as a business tycoon. This fact allows for the players to distance themselves from the game. It takes a bit of imagination, and perhaps a bit of roleplaying as well, but if you can put away the notion that it is you who is playing, and instead adopt the idea that it is actually four medieval lords, or rival settlers, or starship generals facing off against one another, and that they each have their own persona (which is not necessarily the same as yours), then you will be able to win or lose and it won’t matter as much because it wasn’t actually you who won or lost. This distance between the players and the game allows for competition without the same amount of attachment, and in itself allows for more fun to be had. This method also lends itself splendidly to exaggerated exclamations and comical outbursts as you immerse yourself in your character.

I am of course not telling you how to play boardgames – that’s entirely up to you – but this mindset has helped me get a lot more enjoyment out of playing, and hopefully it might for you too. That is after all the purpose of playing games.


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This entry was posted on July 4, 2014 by in Games and tagged , , , , , , , , .


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