Elegant Games, Elegant Components

Remember back to days of playing Monopoly? Did you ever actually read the rules? For myself I’m pretty sure the answer is, “No”, because in more recent years when I have gone back and looked at the venerable Monopoly rules, they looked entirely unfamiliar to me.

There’s a reason for that.

Now, I would never be one to call Monopolyan elegant game, but the Parker brothers did know how to do one thing right: they made good use of their components. In Monopoly’s case, practically everything you need to know about playing the game is right there on the board and the cards.

“Collect $200.00 Salary as You Pass Go” the Start space says boldly. “Community Chest,” another space states. “Follow Instruction on Top Card.” Sets of property are color coded, and the cost of each property is clearly stated on the board. The ownership card for each property displays all possible rents, a mortgage value and the cost of houses and hotels.

Now some game designers (and publishers) think that the primary purpose of components is beauty, so if they want to impress you they use quality materials and plaster artwork wherever possible. The results of this can be very positive. I’ve found that French games in particular, including Asmodee and Days of Wonder, often wow me with their artistic sensibility.

However any publisher that stops there has only gone halfway, and is omitting the other great advantage that components can offer, the one that the Parker brothers knew: elegance. Continue reading

My (Secret) Life in Gaming

About 14 months ago I wrote an article called My Life in Gaming. It was a simple piece talking about the many different sorts of gaming that I’ve been involved in over the last twenty-five years, from D&D to board games to computer games and back to board games again. Much to my surprise the folks over at the British ‘zine Flagship liked the piece, and reprinted it in issues #120 and #121.

Since I wrote that article, life has continued changing, as it ever does, and I’ve been surprised to see the gaming pendulum shift once more. It’s ultimately one of the reasons that I’m writing here less than I used to. (I’ll get to that shortly, but as you’ll see, it’s more lack of time than lack of interest).

I should say that I still am playing board games. Almost every Wednesday I go over to EndGame for four hours or so of play, and almost every Thursday I have folks over to my house for my “review nights” — though I’ve actually been reviewing less too, and as a result we sometimes play something random on Thursday instead.

However, in balance with that, my interest in roleplaying games has increased quite a bit, to almost the levels it enjoyed when it was my prime gaming entertainment back in the 1990s. The reason has ultimately been my job — which is nice, given that working in the industry was part of what burned me out on RPGs about a decade ago.

Continue reading

Worlds of Adventure

Knucklebones: September 2007This is a reprint of an article written in April, 2007 for first publication in the September, 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.

Previously to the publication of this article, I’d written a three-part series on adventure game design for this blog proper. I invite you to take a look at them for more on the topic: I. Fantasy Flight & That Old-Time Roleplaying; II. In the Cards; III. Dungeon Delving (and to see some of my thoughts that led up to this more comprehensive article).

Character, setting, and plot. They’re the basis of literature of any sort, from a top television drama to the newest Harry Potter book. And — sometimes — they form the basis of board games too. Not all games, granted, and very few games have all of these elements. But there’s no doubt that Klaus Teuber’s The Settlers of Catan has a vague setting, while Reiner Knizia’s Beowulf definitely has a plot. Enough people feel a connection to whether they play the Scottie dog or the race car in Monopoly that you could argue that even that old classic has character.

Continue reading