Bigger and Badder…

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 | Entertainment

…in which I talk about board games and how much better they’re getting.

So, I’ve been buying a lot of board games lately. Part of it has to do with the somewhat increased salary coming in – though most of these were purchased before that – but also because they’re just getting so much better. Most recently, I picked up Wrath of Ashardalon and Mansion of Madness. These are massive, board games, rivaling anything I’ve ever owned before, and unlike some of the very interesting and entertaining games I’ve got on the shelf, these are seeing a distinct increase in play. Is it because I’m demanding to play them, or because they’re just more appealing than, say, Monopoly.

I'm sure I'll still be playing when Ansel is old enough to understand
Ansel Playing with Ashardalon

Now, granted, Heather still won’t play them, but I have found that both of my regular gaming groups, when unable to play our regularly scheduled Role Playing games, will very happily fall to these, or similar, as a backup plan. Both “Ashardalon” and “Mansions” have distinct roleplay features inherit in them. Ashardalon is more of a role playing game translated to a board game, while Mansions is more of a board game developed with a role playing experience in mind. This makes them all to similar, but dramatically different from each other.

The primary difference between the two, is that Mansions of Madness is a “1 vs. All” game, whereas Wrath of Ashardalon is a fully co-operative experience. I definitely like both, though I think I prefer the co-operative game slightly more because I’d rather all the players work together, rather than have the effect of someone running a game for a bunch of players Which, since I own the game, I always end up being the one running.

Never-the-less, these are both excellent games, and incredible additions to my collection. I’ve always been a game fanatic, from simple board games to complex role playing games. I love strategy, planning, and the challenges presented. The challenge that has always frustrated me, however, is the act of getting a bunch of players together to actually play. No matter how many people express a genuine interest (“Oh! I’d love to do a board game night!”), it always seems to fall flat. A lot of this, of course, has to do with conflicting schedules.

When I was younger, living in the dorms, we played a lot of Magic. I mean a lot of it. We played nearly constantly sometimes, taking over several tables in the common room or cafeteria. I was never the best, nor the worst, but I was always up for a game. Still would be if I had the cards – and of course – the time. But even more than Magic, I’ve always loved board games, and the more creative and unique, the better. Sure, a good game of Monopoly is still a good game. Trivial Pursuit is always a good time, though I’m pretty short when it comes to readily accessible trivia. What I have got, however, is strategy and forethought. I definitely prefer to play games that involve a certain amount of strategy and planning. Whether it’s a fairly simple challenge, such as Connect Four, or a generally complex, and convoluted game, such as Small World, I definitely prefer to think that the outcome of the game, for better or worse, is dependent upon the power of my intellect.

This obsession with intellect and strategy, however, has really driven me toward the co-op game. While I can definitely have fun with a game, whether I’m winning or losing – it’s more about the challenge – not everyone is that flexible. And this is not to say that I win a lot, or that my intellect is somehow superior, but it’s a wholly more enjoyable experience for everyone when we all win as a team. Probably the first real co-op game I started playing was Castle Panic, which I found thanks to my brother who added it to his Amazon wish list. Sure, I didn’t buy it for him, but I bought myself a copy and started talking it up. I quickly found that people were intrigued by a co-operative game far more openly than they were a traditional competitive game. I found a lot more takers for Castle Panic than I ever did for Powerboats. So when Castle Panic went over so well, I started really looking for large group, co-operative games. This has lead me to Pandemic, Forbidden Island, and finally, Castle Ravenloft. It’s been like a board gaming explosion, and my shelves are suffering from it. The games, however, unlike a lot of the other games in the shelf, have gotten a lot more play. Wrath of Ashardalon is quickly becoming one of the most played games in my collection.

Sadly, I still do not have a regular board game night. This is something I lament, and am constantly querying myself as to how to remedy, but what I do have, are a lot of games that see a lot more play on a semi-regular basis. Games that people actually ask to play, or at the very least, happily agree to sit down to a session without warning. My game collection grows more diverse, and will continue to do so, and while some games may fade in to obscurity, others will likely see constant rotation. It’s nice to see them get some play. I’ve always had this love hate relationship with the games that I buy. I love to buy them and I love to play them, but I hate the fact that I’ve payed so much for them to simply sit on the shelf and gather dust.

I’m afraid to apply the same formula I do to video games to my board games. When debating the cost of a new video game, I look at some of the others in my history, and I think to myself: “how many hours did I play that game, and how much did I pay for it?” I effectively break down a game to it’s value per hour (Dragon Age being likely my best value, recently, with a whopping $0.25 per hour value). My board games will never be able to compete with the stats, but I always console myself by thinking how much more fun it is to sit around a table of friends and interact with them directly over a board game, than to sit in the dim light play with myself.

That all said, if you have the time and the inclination, give me a call and we’ll get a game together.

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