Thursday, February 2nd, 2006
In search of better board games: saying no to nostalgia
When adults get together to play games, they too often play a trivia game, a card game or video games. Why? Perhaps because the American gaming market is dull. If you look beyond KB Toys, Target and Toys R Us, you will find board games which challenge both kids and adults. Even in the realm of simplistic toddler games, there are many choices you won’t find in American stores.
I grew up in a board game family, and I still have a lot of my old games. While doing some house cleaning I started pondering the Monopoly box sitting in my closet.
Monopoly was a source of strife growing up. Games were owned by individual siblings (all brothers) and each brother meted out his own brand of justice. Well, insofar as we could remember back to the last game argument. Family game law was eventually inscribed on the games themselves. The Monopoly box cover bears this penciled declaration: “Billy is not allowed to play!” Missing from my childhood home was the concept of a communal game closet where games were not owned; they were shared.
I would later learn many of the best games originate in Europe where gaming is a much bigger deal. We’re talking about an atmosphere where the game designer gets the treatment of a film director. The designer’s name appears above the game’s name on the game box. I don’t mean “Parker Brothers” or “Milton Bradley.” It’s the real designer, such as Klaus Teuber or Klaus-Jergen Wrede. Don’t worry, the games are also sold in English language versions.
I’m playing board games again, every other week, with a group of friends we enlisted. These games are often rated for 8-years-and-up, but they have scaling complexity which makes them great for adults, too. Try saying that about Monopoly or Life.
I tried playing Battleship with Mom a couple weeks ago, and it was duller than dull. I never realized how dumbed down and simplistic the American gaming market tends to be. Although, some old standards still hold up (says Mom), such as Scrabble and Boggle.
Our collection of games has slowly increased with additions such as Polarity, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Deflexion, Hare & Tortoise, Coloretto, Carcassonne (plus umpteen expansion sets) and Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers.
Here are some of the games I’m eyeing for Little Miss when she hits the 4 or 5 year mark (but knowing me, I’ll start trying at 3).
- Carabande (aka Pitch Car)
- Enchanted Forest (circa 1981, think eBay)
- Kids of Catan
- Penguin Pile-Up
- Reiner Knizia’s Amazing Flea Circus
Each of those game links go to BoardGameGeek.com, an authoritative game site and player community. On each game detail page I first look at the game summary, then the user-submitted photos and the “Reviews” link in the Forums listing. The game summaries are often lousy, written by whichever user submitted the game information first. The user-posted reviews in the forum section provide great information about game components, game mechanics and playability.
I’ve been buying games from a local store, as well as Thought Hammer for its steep discounts and standard shipping rate. For first-timers, it’s easier to browse a retail web site first, looking at a small selection of popular games sorted into categories such as Family Games and Kids Games. (BoardGameGeek.com lists hundreds of discontinued games.) At the bottom of each Thought Hammer detail page is a handy link to a corresponding page at BoardGameGeek.com.
Anyhow, I suppose my issue with Monopoly is that it’s 90 percent luck (dice rolls) and 10 percent strategy. Toddlers need luck games to compete with adults, but when Little Miss gets to be 6 or 7 I want her using her brain a bit more. I would like nothing more than to infect Little Miss with a love for board games, sitting around the dinner table chatting, strategizing, and provoking thought.