(Images courtesy of BoardGameGeek.com)
Why should you, a video gamer, take up board gaming?
We’ve arrived at the finale. It is a slightly wet finale, but I’m going to try and dribble that moisture upside your head in a kind of literary waterboarding.
In part 1 I talked about how board games represent lossless game design. In part 2 I just listed a set of mad, brilliant board games that you probably never knew existed. I promised, though, that in part 3 I’d give you the “real” reason you should be buying these things and conscripting your friends into coming over.
So: Videogame multiplayer used to centre around single-screen, single-couch shenanigans. We still have it today- games still do offer us the chance to sit thigh to thigh with a buddy and gun and thrust our way through levels in split-screen. Of course they do. Because experiencing multiplayer with the other players sat right there is at the very least a little more tense (think large-scale LAN parties), and at best an absurdly elevated experience (think 4-player Bomberman). You feel more connected to the humans you’re playing with.
It’s a weird one, shown by the following thought experiment: Imagine playing Bomberman online when you’re alone at home. Now imagine playing it on a network in the same office as the other players, but you’re all in separate cubicles and aren’t allowed to speak. Now imagine you can speak, shouting over the walls. Now imagine you’re sat side by side, and can talk, but aren’t allowed to turn your heads to look at one another. And finally, imagine playing Bomberman on the sofa, shouting and laughing, without some weird imaginary fascist forcing you to play the game in odd ways to prove a point. Each step of the way, the experience becomes richer.
Said point is that despite the games industry’s hurried adoptance of online multiplayer, play has a deeply social component. Sure, the ubiquity of high-speed internet connections has set designers free, in a sense. Friends lists and headsets mean we can play with whoever we want, wherever they are. MMOs let us shank rats as one hero among thousands. Most recently, Journey and Demon’s Souls turned the anonymity of online multiplayer to their advantage.
All the same, online videogames are starting to leave behind something that’s important to the human experience. Here, Scottish comedian Rab Florence says it better than I ever could.
I had Subbuteo back in the day. We all did. American readers might not be aware of it. It was a tabletop football game where you flicked the players at a plastic ball, in an attempt to score goals. A football match, in plastic. I didn’t have a table large enough to take the large green sheet that served as the game’s pitch, so I would lay it out on the living room floor behind my da’s chair. Night after night, my da would play Subbuteo with the 10 year old me – I’d be Glasgow Celtic and he’d be Aberdeen, purely because the other team was a red colour.
Neither of us really knew the proper rules, and we were both terrible at the game. The matches were usually ghastly 0-0 grinds, because the playing surface was so poor. Folds and creases everywhere and lumps and bumps where the patterned carpet under the pitch undulated. A wee boy and his da, on their knees, flicking plastic men while Strike it Lucky blasted from the living room telly. My ma at the bingo. My whole life ahead of me. My da still alive.
I don’t know if Subbuteo is a great game. I’m sure it is. It just wasn’t really a game to me. It was just one of many things I shared with my da. Like Star Trek and in-depth conversations about the nature of the universe. Now, as a father myself, I realise what was actually happening when we were playing that game we didn’t know the rules of. We were just being with each other. Flicking plastic. Shooting the shit. Playing.
What’s the point of all this?
Being with each other – for me, that’s the key element of board gaming. When you get that occasional person who openly tells you they see board games as “sad”, I feel a bit sad that they don’t get it. If I want to play a board game with you, it really just means I want to sit with you a while. That’s not a bad thing, is it?
Here’s some more food for thought.
Once a year, the player pilots of the EVE Online universe literally take flight. They soar by the thousand towards Reykjavik for the annual EVE fanfest. I was there in 2011, and mostly the reasons why these people make the trip are the same as for any other internet meet. To put names to faces, sure, but mostly to get piss-drunk with good people who you can bond with immediately. Importantly, the EVE fanfest doesn’t augment the game itself. It’s an entirely separate entity, with a different appeal. Yet this appeal is strong enough that people will pay through the nose for it, for the flight, the ticket, the hotel room, the air-sucked-through-teeth price of Icelandic booze.
Basically, the convention centre that hosts Eve Fanfest is an enormous, ice-cold bubble of social lubricant.
This, I’ve realised, is the appeal of board games. Don’t compare them to video games, compare them to the socialising that happens around video games. Board games, unlike video games, are an excuse to meet, chat to, get drunk with, and have free, easy conversation with other humans. Except there’s also a fantastic game involved.
TL;DR: Board games are the nerdiest, most gamey excuse to sit down with people you care about, drink some beer and feel together. If that doesn’t sound like the best thing ever, I’ve got a scientifically proven theory. Either you’re not a gamer, or you’re not human.
But if you are a gamer, and you are human, and you’re sat there thinking, “Hey. Hey. Maybe it’d be pretty good to sit down with some of my closest friends, roll some dice and kill a bottle of Jack Daniels,” let me offer my heartfelt congratulations. Because you’re right. You’re so, so right.
So here’s what you do. You go to Amazon, or your local game shop if you want to do this Right. You buy a copy of Galaxy Trucker, Cyclades or Cosmic Encounter. You call up your friends, and you tell them you want them to come over play your new board game. That’s right, you said your new board game.
Tell them there’s a whole world of game design you’ve been neglecting. Then tell them there’s a whole aspect of gaming, a more social side, that’s been temporarily clouded and forgotten as we’ve started playing games online. Then tell them you love them. Then, while they’re reeling from that, tell them to bring booze.
Then hang up.
You tell me how it goes.