This is a reprint of an article written in February, 2007 for first publication in the July, 2007 issue of the now-defunct Knucklebones magazine. Because of its origins, this article is more introductory and (hopefully) more polished than many of my online writings. Despite the original source of this article, this blog is in no way associated with Jones Publishing or Knucklebones Magazine.
For the original Mechanics & Meeples article that this Knucklebones article drew inspiration (and a few quotes) from, see: It’s Not If you Win or Lose.
Games are odd creatures. On the one hand they’re about socialization. You play cards with your family at Christmas, huddled around the dining room table with a fire going nearby. Or, you play Monopoly with your kids, crouched down on the living room floor. However games aren’t just social events, they’re social sports. They’re not just about gameplay, they’re about winning and losing.
And winning and losing can be somewhat tricky and sticky subjects. People can get upset if they lose, especially if they feel like other players are being too mean (or even too nice). Figuring out how to resolve fun socialization with overt competition — and how to play games that everyone enjoys — are some of the biggest challenges in gaming, especially when you’re playing with family and friends.
Fortunately, honestly talking about the issues — about why you’re playing, how important competition is, what winning means, and how to be good winners and losers — can often clear up any misconceptions or hurt feelings.
Over the last few weeks there’s been a bit of a ruckus about Martin Wallace’s Age of Steam. It started when Mayfair Games announced that they’d be publishing a new, third edition of the game. There was some confusion over why Winsome Games, who helped bring Age of Steam to market, wasn’t involved in the new edition. Eventually it was revealed that Martin Wallace (the designer) and John Bohrer (of Winsome) had decided to go their own ways, and that Wallace was thus reclaiming his premiere game for publication as he saw fit.
The most disturbing — and for the purposes of this article, thought-provoking —element of the whole split was John Bohrer’s post to BoardGameGeek, discussing what would be included in Mayfair’s third edition of Age of Steam:
It will not have the original Winsome ruleset, nor any other Winsome development work, like the Rust Belt map, point-to-point links, selected actions, etc. Essentially, it will be a different game, just as Railroad Tycoon was a different game. But I am sure that it will sell well with nice bits, just as Railroad Tycoon did.
A game club is a somewhat odd social institution. You gather together with like-minded people every week or every few weeks … and you game. Certainly, other social interaction is possible. Perhaps you might sit around and chat before a game or after, but if the club is big enough you’re likely to play with an ever-changing group of people every week, and so it can take months or even years to start really knowing people, and in the meantime … you game.
My own game club is the weekly board game night most kindly offered by the folks at EndGame in Oakland, California. Every Wednesday night their beautiful mezannine is available for gaming from six-something in the evening to when the host decides he’s had enough and wants to go home — which is sometime well after I leave at 10 or 10.30.
I’ve been going there for a bit more than two years now, and in the process I’ve come to know quite a few of the regulars, but I still only have contact with a scant few of them outside of the club. And in that time I’ve also seen people just mysteriously disappear, never to be seen again. It underlines the sort of disconnected social atmosphere that a game club can generate. Because you don’t have a deeper connection with many of the people, and because you don’t really know them outside the club, when they’re gone they’re gone forever.