Thursday, February 7, 2013

For the Most Part, Your Board Games Suck

Among the reasons why few American adults play board games or non-conventional card games (card games using something other than the usual 52-card-deck, that is), the most important* is that nearly all of the most famous tabletop games are no fun to play. Monopoly takes a long time to finish and gives a large advantage to whomever takes an early lead. Risk, while it involves slightly more strategy, has essentially the same problems as Monopoly; moreover, there is a fairly surefire way for a knowledgeable player to win. Clue and Battleship are guessing games enlivened, if that is the right word, by crossing possibilities off a list. Life gives the players too few choices (buy stock, buy insurance – that's about it), Candyland and Chutes & Ladders are entirely random (their purpose is to teach small children about games), chess leads to paranoid schizophrenia, Operation merely tests a rather trivial skill, Mousetrap is only fun for 8-year-olds and stoners, and The Bride Game, while accurately modeling early 20th-century American weddings, was out-of-date even at the time of its publication. (The “Get Drunk and Hurt One Another”** expansion for TBG never came out.)
            Geek-Americans have long known of the flaws of American board and card games, and given their own characteristics – a childlike demeanor, a need for constant intellectual stimulation, and contempt for social conventions – they have spent considerable time seeking board and card games that are actually fun for adults, rather than simply abandoning this pastime altogether in favor of No Limit Texas Hold'Em, or professional drinking. As a Geek-American operating a geeky website, and someone who has played entirely too many weird games over the past thirty years, I recognize that I can help non-Geek-Americans, or at least non-gamer Americans, by introducing my readers to some of the better introductory tabletop games for adults. By “tabletop,” I mean board and non-standard card games, rather than video games or outdoor games or games requiring a special table (like pool or ping-pong). My criteria for a “good” game are: 1) It must involve some thought on the part of players, 2) it has little “dead time” - players can usually perform some kind of significant action on each turn, 3) it has enough variety to allow one to replay it multiple times without becoming bored, and 4) it provides trailing players with opportunities to overtake the current leader by pursuing different strategies.
            In forthcoming entries, I will review several tabletop games that, in my opinion, do not suck, and are suitable for neophyte players, and will provide brief summaries of their structure, strengths, and shortcomings. If there's anything a geek likes more than infecting other people with his or her enthusiasms, it's rescuing them from activities that are allegedly fun (like playing Monopoly) but are actually more dreary than the mundane life one is trying to escape.


And for those who would like links to those "upcoming entries," here they are (to date):

Seven Wonders 
Small World
Ticket to Ride

Here's why a famous designer game, Settlers of Catan, isn't on this list.
And here's why one old classic should only be played with people you don't like.

* An equally-important reason why many adults won't play board or card games: they hate to lose. I don't think this is a good reason to avoid gaming; one does get better with practice, and losing gracefully is an important life skill. As Kurt Vonnegut observed, "Life is so hard most people are losers, or feel like losers, so that a skill essential to most of us, if we are to retain some shred of dignity, is to show grace in defeat."

** Also known as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"


  1. This is great! Looking forward to the reviews!

    1. Thanks, Tod! First one will probably go up next week.