Sunday, May 30, 2010
Now that the first decade of the new century & millennium is past, Dave & I reflected on what that ten-year span meant for boardgames. Back in late 2007 he & I recorded a "decade+1" retrospective for episode #75, but that had a little different focus. For that earlier show, we tried to talk about our own introduction and growth in the hobby, like what games we first learned about & played, how we used rec.games.board for scraps of information, the importance of Sumo magazine and The Game Cabinet website, etc.
For this show now, we're talking about a different time period (somewhat), and about the games themselves that are notable. What do the titles that were successful in the "oughts" tell us about the direction the hobby is going? Sales figures might be the most important data for this sort of discussion, but those aren't available. Instead, I drew from critical & popular reaction, as evidenced by Boardgamegeek ratings and boardgame awards (especially Spiel des Jahre).
I came away thinking there was a pattern emerging, especially in the latter half of the decade. I'm seeing a resurgence of some deeper, more analytic and longer duration games that took a back seat while publishers chased the commercial success associated with a family-friendly Spiel des Jahres winner. (I imagine even the games that were nominated for an SdJ get a healthy boost in sales. Don't they still get to put that recommendation sticker from the SdJ jury on their boxes?) Maybe some of the other game awards that reward deeper games have had an influence, or maybe the continued growth of the Spiel at Essen and its increasingly international new publishers can be credited.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Comment feed working again
Should I start a BGG guild?
If there's going to be some good discussions relating to BGTG over on BGG, then maybe it makes sense to finally create a guild for the podcast. I'd resisted that initially because I didn't see the point, but I'm starting to cave. What do you think? I guess there's no downside. My usual "announcement" posts for new episodes would continue to exist outside of the guild, in BGG's podcast forum which sometimes makes it onto the BGG front page due to new-ness or activity. These are the posts that will probably generate the most interesting discussion, and those I can crosslink to the blog. (I'm sometimes doing this already.) I'm not sure what, if anything, would then go into the guild
Saturday, May 08, 2010
Themes in boardgames are a favorite subject of mine. I'm sure I've said before how interested I am in the themes these games of ours have. Some themes instantly attract me to a game, while others are an immediate turn-off. When I'm playing a game, I particularly enjoy historic theming on the cards, or historic notes within the rulebook. You'd think that makes me a theme-gamer. I certainly thought so. But then I thought about the games that were my favorites, and in many cases they are those elegant German-style games that are pretty spartan when it comes to theme compared to recent titles from Fantasy Flight or Days of Wonder. In fact, I don't care for the those other games. In some cases it was because I didn't care for the theme itself (e.g. fantasy battles or dungeon crawl), but in other cases I didn't like how the themes I do like (e.g. gaslight London) overwhelm the game mechanics, taking aware from their elegance.
Enter Greg Pettit, who suggested that there are two distinct types of themes in games. Some provide the evocative experience with art, special rules, a story arc, character roles, and so on. That's what Greg calls "theme as narrative." The other type Greg calls "theme as metaphor," and it usually relates the subject of the game into its mechanics. Some games exhibit both types, others skew strongly toward just one type. I imagine everyone can appreciate those few games that manage to succeed with both of these thematic types, but when it's one more than the other you'll find your gamer preferences shining through. In my case, it's for theme as metaphor, which is why I prefer Vinci to Small World, or Entdecker to Blackbeard.
In this podcast Greg & I talk all about this topic, consider several games under his descriptions of theme, bring in the topic of simulation in wargames (a little), and think about why we prefer certain games and not others based on the way they implement their themes. Over on BGG I'm also posting a poll where listeners can rate a bunch of popular games low/medium/high in theme as metaphor, and theme as narrative.