A reader gives an introduction to the world of modern board games and how they often overlap with video games.
I recently wrote to GC speaking about my experience of Kickstarter, and how some of the largest funded projects were actually board games. Not only that, some of them were actually the board games of video games, such as Dark Souls.
This may have been the first time some of you heard about board games that weren’t typical ones such as Monopoly or Cluedo, and you may also be surprised to know that, over the past 10 years or so, modern board games have become very popular. This was initially thanks to YouTube channels such as Geek & Sundry with their Tabletop show hosted by Wil Wheaton, as well as The Dice Tower YouTube channel which reviews and promotes board games.
This rise in popularity has resulted in many gaming groups being formed for you to play games at, weekend-long conventions being held throughout the country, and the annual UK Games Expo held in the Birmingham NEC. This attracts board game designers and reviewers from across the globe for a three-day event that allows attendees to buy the latest games, see demos of those that are upcoming, as well as play games late into the evening/early morning. However, the biggest board game event is held each October in Essen, Germany, where many new and hotly anticipated games are launched.
You may be wondering what all the fuss is about, and that these games are basically nothing more than Monopoly, Cluedo, or any of the other games you used to play at Christmas. But modern board games are very different from these – they are less reliant on luck, streamlined and concise with multiple paths to victory, and are designed so that you do not know if you’ve won or lost until the very end.
Board games, and those who play them, are often put into two camps: war gamers (the games they play are often referred to as Ameritrash, despite them not always being from the US) and euro gamers. War gamers are those who play games similar to Warhammer 40,000; essentially games with dice, miniatures, and lots of theme.
Euro gamers (derived from the genre of games originating in Europe, or Germany to be precise) are those who prefer games with little, if no, luck; are less reliant on theme; involve wooden components; and generally have an economic feel such as managing a farm, producing and selling wine, or establishing the infrastructure for cities/countries in some way, such as railways or utilities, etc.
There is some crossover, with many different genres, and there are also some types of games that don’t fall into either camp, such as abstract strategy games (modern equivalents to chess) and party games (modern equivalents of Twister, but almost always without the need for anything physical, and generally where you play in a large group (5+), playing a shorter, less complicated, game. These are often, but not limited to, hidden role games, where some of the group are bad guys, and the good guys need to work out who they are, while said bad guys secretly attempt to thwart their plans.
Not all games are competitive either, with some being cooperative, such as working together to save the world from the spread of various diseases (the Euro version)/saving the world from Cthulu and his Lovecraftian monstrosities (the Ameritrash version) being one/two such examples.
But how does all this fit in with video games? There have actually been many board games of video games lately, but they often fall into the Ameritrash category, mainly involving you moving miniatures around a board, rolling dice to kill bad guys and following some sort of campaign or skirmish mode – Dark Souls, Gears Of War, Resident Evil 2 (upcoming), to name a few.
However, not all are like this – there is a Street Fighter game based on the ‘deck builder’ genre, where each player starts with a deck made up of an identical set of cards, and then use these cards as currency to buy further cards from a shared marketplace. This then extends their deck in a unique fashion, further enabling them to use these purchased cards to buy more and more advanced cards, which can be used to beat stronger and stronger incarnations of the game’s opponents and bosses, which then earn you victory points and, hopefully, victory.
There is also the XCOM board game, a real-time game played with the aid of an app downloaded to your phone/tablet. This is a cooperative game which sees you and your team taking on asymmetrical roles, with the ultimate task of attempting to defend the Earth from an alien invasion. Each of the game’s roles are reliant on the others being performed well, enabling them to further increase their own efficiency.
As a team, one player essentially has to balance the books, enabling the other players to research new tech, which then allows other players to more efficiently hold the aliens at bay and fulfil missions to win the game. All the while you do this, the clock is ticking, and hazards and events are thrown at you via the app in real-time, preventing you from carrying out your tasks, and potentially causing a snowball effect where you can no longer hold off the alien invaders.
As good as they are, they don’t really give you the same feel as their video game counterparts, but there are board games that attempt to directly replicate the feel and the gameplay of certain video game genres. There’s a game that specifically replicates the feel of an online multiplayer shooter, and there are 2D fighting board games, complete with a myriad of fighters who are represented in-game on a 2D plane.
In these, playing cards represent moves, both special and regular, which have an execution priority and can have a guard value, with many moves also unique to the character you choose; the more moves you execute, the more they charge your super meter, which allows you to pull off the equivalent of super combos.
There are also board games that are dungeon crawlers, ones that are 4X games, and there’s even one that is essentially Candy Crush, coming complete with coloured spheres and an apparatus to replicate the layout of the rows and columns, as well as the movement and combinations that can occur when lines of three or more single-coloured shapes are formed and then removed once they score.
And lastly, board game are also moving into the video game market themselves, with a multitude of accurate representations of them being available on Steam, Android, and iOS, where you can play against the computer or online against other players.
Board games are going from strength to strength, with a huge variety of genres to look into and play, many of which even offer a solo mode.
If you want to look into it further to see if there’s anything for you, I would recommend watching some of Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop web series, and also the board game reviews and news available at The Dice Tower YouTube channel. I would also recommend BoardGameGeek; while not the best website, it is the best repository for all things board games, their reviews, updated rules and errata, photos, and gamer forums which the designers of the games often frequent to answer any questions.
I’ve made lots of friends through board games, and frequent many conventions and am part of many gaming groups. They’re very social, hugely varied, a lot of fun, and I can’t recommend them enough.
By reader TickTockRob (gamertag/PSN ID/SW-5541-5798-6105)
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