Episode 12: When Playing Board Games is my Least Favorite Part of the Hobby
The Dungeon Dive
Episode 12: When Playing Board Games is my Least Favorite Part of the Hobby
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I couldn't agree more. I had some people over the other day and they were curious about my boardgames. They wanted to play some but we just couldnt because I only remembered half the rules for 3 of them XD and with Warhammer Quest games, I woul happily get the rest of them, second hand or no-minis even, just to add some variety to the one I own. I understand they want to add some kind of a "uniqueness" or "exclusivity" to them, specially releasing so few copies, and that is their busines model. But its anti-consumer and a bit ridiculous top be honest.
I think what is wrong is that board games are not made for buying one after the other, hundreds, but to explore and live with some few of them for many years. The industry and market forces have created a paradox: the good thing (production, creativity, development) is the bad thing (lack of adherence/ loyalty and capacity of absorption). But it goes on, because we live by novelties (and die by them).
I have had bouts of this feeling off and on. This is part of the reason I've switched almost entirely to mid to heavy weight Euro games. For whatever reason I find the more concise length and rules much easier to digest than dungeon crawl style games. Also I HIGHLY recommend creating a "One-sheet" for all of your games that includes the setup and basic rules and rules that are easy to overlook on a single sheet of paper. Yes, it can add on a couple hours to the game session in which you type it up, but I have found it extremely helpful when I come back to a game after months/years. I have two goals for gaming this year – to get all of my games up to ten plays each (or sell them if I don't like the game enough to do this) and to create One Sheets for as many games as possible.
Books, movies, music, and so on are passive mediums. You can't really compare it to an interactive medium at all.
Those video game standards are looking at mass market similar genre games and ignores the nuances of a thousands upon thousands small indie titles throughout the years that don't conform to those norms.
Additionally, video games have a set number of inputs generally. Either a controller or mouse + keyboard. They don't allow the pure analog fidelity of inputs that board games do.
Also, board games don't have rule enforcement so you have to monitor that you're not breaking the rules. In a video game you can just press a button and see if it does anything. You can't just fiddle with pieces and see if a rule emerges since there's no authority besides the other players.
The closest comparison would be a simulation style video game, and you most definitely need to learn the rules to play them if there was no rule enforcement. I think most of your complains would fall away if you had rule enforcement.
As for game systems, there are plenty of games that use preexisting conditions. Look at the 18XX genre alone, that has like 200+ games just using that single system in different ways.
For me, as a designer myself, I think board games are incredibly powerful because they don't fit a specific standard and keep trying to innovate. The mass market video game industry has largely stagnated to the same genres over and over using WASD and mouse to look and so on. That's fine and all, but it stifles the possibilities of what could be done by trying completely new things. Usually, this isn't done because video games are difficult to make and prototype — that's why you see most of this creative explosion done in Game Jams. But hopefully more companies will start exploring the possibilities of what video games could become.
I think it's cool when a group of tabletop games can be grouped together under shared mechanics, but I definitely don't agree that rules should be a standarized and invisible, and that rules don't make games unique or memorable–it's often because of the rules that unique or memorable moments arise naturally through play. That's probably one of the reasons I cannot stomach roleplaying games anymore: either the people who play them act like "the rules should get out of the way"–not realizing they are just replacing shared mechanical rules with invisible social queues–or the design of the rules often feel like little more than a toolbox that the players are expected to build something out of on their own. Board games at least seem to understand that the rules should provide flavor as well, working in tandem with their art and theme.
With video games, a lot of the admin and mechanical enforcement is automatically taken care of. By being able to get those things "out of the way", they can focus on what the other things: themes, art, music, the "feel" of the game, its pacing. This is video games' strength. Not so with board games: all admin and mechanical enforcement has to be handled by the player. To me, this is what makes board games unique to other mediums; rather than being treated as a hindrance, it should be treated as its own strength.
I can empathize. Monetary and Time costs involved in games, for me, means that before I bring any game home, I have researched that game for several hours. And that’s not taking into account the thousands of other games I’ve heard of and researched only to dismiss as not promising for me. One thing I’ve noticed is that the process of researching a game is not the same at all from playing it: in terms of degrees of time and effort required. They’re completely unrelated practices, even though each enables the other.
I would love to see some more videos from you covering house rules you implement in games. Namely Black Plague, I love it but I feel that game has so much more potential and make it less 'arcadey' with a few small tweaks (which I have done a little). Did you ever come up with more tile specific ideas or more narrative style missions/events? 🙂
Board games are a lot of work. I often don't have the energy to be bothered trying a new game. Long setup, tons of rules and complexity, long game duration, long tear down time. Not to mention a lot of time learning the rules. The first session is often the worst as there is a lot of rules checking, and even googling rules. I buy a lot of games and find them easy to buy and get very interested in, but it can be hard to get them to the table at times. The games I played the most are the ones I mastered the rules for after tons of replay.
I think with board games is a bit different. there is more than just the look of a game, there is also the balance: for instance, Isaac said that with founders of gloomhaven he went for diagonal because otherwise (with orthogonal or hexes) the math would not work out. If you would have to treat adjacency always the same way, it would limit the design space.
another example I could make is worker placement, in some you place the worker and do the action, in others you first place all, then resolve; in others yet, you resolve on placement and on retrieval. And there are more version still. should they have all to stick to one convention, I am not sure it would make sense to keep developing games.
I am not saying standardization is the reason, but I was playing first person shooters a lot, but then I stopped, they all felt the same, just different and more advanced graphics, but no real changes in gameplay
I dunno those first person shooters…seems like their for kids n simplejacks
I get your point. I watch some video explanations of games and I think that there are so many different rules and things to learn that it sort of puts you off from the start. Especially if you don't have a lot of free time at your disposal.
Also I enjoy the fact that you are putting out a lot more content. All the best!
One time I tried learning one dungeon crawler every week. I learned 3; Sword & Sorcery: Ancient Chronicles, Batman: The Animated Series – Shadow of the Bat and Bloodborne the Boardgame. It was not a very healthy mental decision.
You hit the nail on the head here. Totally agree with what you are saying. It also the reason u still play WHQ 95. You sit down with a group of players who have never played it before on off you go. And yet it can be built into a massive experience. Great work Daniel.
It seems like 1970s board wargames had the kind of 'standard' you're talking about, and some modern games still use these conventions. Marcoomnigamer sometimes comments about how he prefers wargames where he already knows roughly how the game works.
Learning rules of a new boardgame is part of the fun for boardgame player. Sometimes part of the challenge. Or should be. They are what makes boardgames boardgames. If You don't like the rules – You don't play the game. Or You can alter the rules – You can't do that with video games, books or movies.
If You are tired of boardgames – take a break. You don't have to play them all the time or get new games every week.
And forcing standarisation in any kind of art or entertainment it's pure evil – it kills creativity and promotes narrow thinking.
Well it's both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in that it allows freedom of design and infinite possibilities. But as you highlight, it brings with it a learning curve. You mention TTRPGs but in truth they suffer it a little bit. To the point I've thought about keeping notes on each game…like a cliff note of them.
I agree that there’s an exaggerated focus on rules novelty in board games, but some distinctions are needed here. We have lots of conventions in board games that are equal to WASD or turning a page: throwing dice, hand of cards, discards etcetc. Then there are rules that are integral to what makes the game worth playing, that is linked to strategy, or at least approach. I would argue this is similar to reading – I read fantasy books differently than crime, and so on. There are many levels to this. But I do agree that on a basic level, we could benefit from a more dynamic borrowing between games 🙂
Would be great to have common themes that just work and build on them rather than trying to reinvent the wheel every time.
That being said I do really appreciate games that provide learn as you play mechanics, like This War of Mine.
Perhaps you made a YouTube channel for the wrong hobby.
I get what you mean, but disagree,for me personally, part of buying and playing a new board game is learning a new system lol
Also, I believe game designers don't copy other games because I guess they want to feel like they are creating the ultimate system for dungeon crawling etc
I could be wrong, but that's my opinion 😁
I completely agree and very well said. Lowering the barrier of entry of some boardgames by adding standardization sounds like a world I really want to live in! It's also the reason I've moved almost exclusively to solo osr rpgs. The prices of boardgames is a big deciding factor in that too tbh. I wonder if this is part of the reason why Shadows of Brimstone is such a huge hit for so many people.
I'm always very impressed with your ability to articulate your opinions on these ideas! Well done sir!
Also, listening to a new album every week is also a great idea! You must have a huge variety of music in your life. I'd like to try something like this too.
@7:50 You want to know why? It's because of influencers and reviewers, an example yourself or Tom Vasel. "Oh, this board game adds nothing new to the market. Oh, this board game rehashes an old mechanics. Oh, this game has dated rules. Nothing new." Best way to answer the question is to look into the mirror.
I think this is why I really like FFG and CMON. They always "evolve" their game rules. Like FFG, they seem to have a toolbox auf rules for each game and they try to re-use as much as possible in other games by slowly introducing new mechanics, like Descent 2 -> Imperial Assault use the dice, card and move mechanic, Eldritch Horror -> Fallout the Board Game -> Arkham Horror LCG -> Arkham Horror 3rd uses the narrative cards and token mechanics.
Or CMON evolving rules for Zombicide -> Cthulhu Death May Die -> Blood Borne or Blood Rage -> Rising Sun -> Ankh. They always do new things but built on a known foundation.
I do agree with the licencing of rules, we have it with Pen&Paper Games from Free League or D20 System or the 2D20 System or Powered by the Apocalypse etc.
I'm with you. Many evenings, I'll set up a dungeon crawl for the first time after looking forward to it all day. After setting it up, reading the rules, making a handful of moves, then watching thirty minutes worth of YouTube trying to find clarification on something, I end up going to bed with the idea of picking up where I left off the next evening. The next evening, I'm not looking forward to playing, or the next, or the next. After the first evening, it feels like work-not relaxing at all. Then, after several evenings, I'll force myself to try to pick up where I left off. No, this feels like a chore now. Thirty minutes later, everything is put away on the shelf, and I'm off to bed again without having played my new game.
I like your idea of a common foundation system. It seems like the Apocalypse World RPG system is kind of like that too. Unfortunately, game designers have no incentive to adapt to a common foundation. Once you realize that a new game is heavier than you'd like, or more convoluted than you feel like dealing with, you've already spent $60-120. They have achieved their goal.
Of course, people will say to leave a review. Reviews will help solve this problem. Well, not really. I don't spend $120 or even $60 on a game without doing my due diligence. LOTS of homework first. And almost always, you hear from both sides. This game is a giant P.I.T.A. or this game is amazing! Being super interested in the game, you side with amazing and give it a shot. Two weeks later, it takes it's new permanent residence on the shelf, and the designer is happy either way.
I do not entirely agree on that analogy with adjacent or hexes/squares and the "common ruleset".
I am part of a larger RPG group (ERPS, currently only available in German). Yes, there is a great timesaving component for creating another RPG within the same "universe" or ruleset. But it feels exactly like another ERPS game then, just with different skills and abilities (for example a Space rulebook, a Pulp rulebook and a Fantasy rulebook). All feel the same, slightly different based on their "century" or world they play in. But still, they are different from D&D (but some similarities here) and vastly different from Fate systems. I do not like Fate at all, so there would be no benefit to use this ruleset for a world I am creating in.
The same applies for board games. Yes, I could easily use a D&D adventure system – but it has things that I (as a designer and player) do not like, and there was a reason for using other mechanics, dice and similar things.
I could also use diagonal as adjacent, but it would feel vastly different. Would it be nice and timesaving to use an existing ruleset? Yes, definitely. But if you have to change every second rule or need to make exceptions, it is easier to create your own.
Happy to license my game system to others though… 😀
There are board games that have set a standard (of sorts) – wargames. There are systems within the wargame category (OCS -operational combat system, BCS – battalion combat series, CDG – card driven games, COIN – Counter insurgencies, etc.). In these systems, there can be different time periods, so you might have a CDG that is set in the American Civil War and other that is set in WWII. If you know how to play Memoir '44 you;ll be able to pickup Command & Colors: Napoleonics easily.
There are also specific series ( GCACW -Great Campaigns of the American Civil War is one of the most well known) where each game is set in the American Civil War and all share a common rule set. Stonewall Jackson's Way might have a few specific rules that aren't applicable if you play Roads to Gettysburg (and vice-versa), but 95-99% of the rules will be the same.
When I look at board game reviews, they often try to answer the question: "what makes this game different?" A video game review often tells you why the game is fun, not how this platformer is different than another platformer. I think designers of board games want to make their game different so their tile placement game is the one gamers keep in their collection.
The cult of the new is strong with boardgamers, but while it is there with videogamers, I think it's not as strong. I may play 200 hrs of Divinity Original Sin 2 before I feel I've got to go out and buy another game.
Although I have seen an improvement of game designs over the past decade, and understand the need for change, you make a great point. The video game industry has been evolving since the seventies though! Board games took a long hiatus in development, and have only started to become as popular, and varied since, when? Maybe the early 2000's? Perhaps the best we can get right now is what companies like Flying Frog do with supporting games like SoB and LNOE with new content.
Until then, I think we can all take a step away from the cult of the new and shiny and enjoy the great games that we have. I've been playing Shadows of Brimstone for a good 2 to 3 years. I've been playing 3e D&D and Dungeon World for decades now, yet I've still purchased and read perhaps six or seven roleplaying games of varying weights in the last year or two.
I've bought board games that are STILL in their original packaging! I am not proud of that.
Deck-builders aren’t my favorite game engine, but I like how almost every deck (or dice) builder follows the standard of starting with 10 cards and drawing 5 each turn. It always makes it feel easier to explain the game and get started. The other part is that you play your whole hand on your turn, so lay them out and I can explain what the cards are doing. I also like how games like Clank and Dune Imperium take this core and apply it to a good theme and board.
Some interesting points about video games. You’re right, there’s a significant barrier to entry from opening to box and being able to enjoy the content as apposed to playing a video game. I do think there are some mechanics that board games borrow from each other which does make learning easier. A good example is deck building. If you’ve played one, it is extremely easy to learn another. But for most games it’s still at least an hour from opening the box to being able to play a game.
Yeah good thing that board gamers aren’t building the Internet. Protocols and standards help create interoperability and foster competition while helping people understand how everything works. Interesting thoughts, very higher level lecture class discussion. When you look at the current trends in technology innovation there is so much open source software and hardware driving the disruption. I don’t see anything like these approaches in board games. I think this would be the beginning. Starting an open source movement for the mechanics while using the conferences for collaborative development of those rules.
I agree with so much of what you've articulated. I've turned the corner on the games I love but don't get played because I have to relearn set up and rules, I'm pointing at you Mage Knight. I'm done with them, just haven't yet pulled the trigger on selling.
Video games have set standards mainly for the controls and how to interact with the interface i think, but the rules and calculation that is hidden from the player are certainly very different from one game to another. Having different set of rules for games ( video game or board game) is part of the deal. The downside for boardgame is that you need to run it and play it at the same time, so yeah it will require more effort by the nature of the format, for the better or worst.
Interesting pod. The more you play these types of games the more you know exactly what to look for of course. You can also find ways to help yourself, especially if the player aids aren't up to scratch. I usually list key rules as bullet points on one side max of A4 which I find really helpful. Also, as a solo gamer I tend to leave the more complex games (DUN, Sword & Sorcery, Machina Arcana) out for several days at a time, but I appreciate not everyone is in a position to do so.
As for rolling high or low, doesn't that depend on whether it's your character strength or the strength of the test in question which is fixed? No diagonals is a strange one though. You can also add fussiness of rules in lots of other areas (moving and acting, re-equiping etc) which actions are limited, and which quick (this really confused me when I picked up S&S for the first time), exact impact of status effects and so forth, let alone combat mechanics. Quite a long list of variables which cover the same territory.
I must admit I enjoy getting out an entirely new game of this type and poking around in the rules, but I would also be interested in games which adopt licensed rules or mechanics, on the basis that would leave much more time for creative design input.
and I was thinking I'm the only one who feel this way, that sometimes thinking, reading, exploring the components is more enjoyable than playing the game.. 😂 Glad to know I'm not alone 😀
This is what I call video at the right time. That's exactly what I was thinking yesterday about my BG dungeon crawlers… I usually jump from one to the other every playthrough. But I realized that I was confused in the rules (especially in square grids). I'm trying to focus and finalize campaigns right now.
I'm not sure why you like GW so much, they haven't made a game you like for 5 years. When I look at Cursed City I think they don't really care about boardgames, they just want to sell plastic. They could have made a modern WQ95 but they don't care about it. I hope GW changes their ways and make a killer game, because I like their adult themes.
I feel the same way exactly, it’s why I watch your channel . You and I are very alike . The effort of reading instructions and set up is quite stressful at times . I enjoy collecting very much and I do love playing games but yes it feels like work sometimes. I find it way easier to watch a video to learn to play . Your games you have are very much the ones I have as well and like to play . Great videos btw love the Channel
Oh jeez, I thought I was just a weirdo for enjoying collecting the plastic more than actually playing the games lol
Yeah and no. A standardised system for some but not across the board. I'd say there's a market for both. Sometimes new neat mechanics like blocking with attack rolls in Dungeon Run can be its best feature.
I think there are a lot of examples of game systems that get re-used a lot, especially if you are willing to step outside of your comfort zone a bit as far as genre. The Richard Borg "Memoir 44" system for example has about a dozen different games that use the same system, each individual game with tons of expansions. Historical wargaming has a lot of conventions you see over and over, such as Combat Resolution Tables, Terrain Effects Charts, Zone of Control, and tons of concepts that are shared. Miniatures skirmish games share a lot of rules systems for movement, line of sight, cover, model activations, etc. Euro games share tons of mechanical conventions like worker placement, auctions, card drafting, resource management and conversion, etc.
I'd also push back a bit that gamers don't find rules memorable. It's very common for euro gamers and abstract gamers to describe rules mechanisms as their favorite elements of their favorite games. Puzzle solving, and novel ways for players to interact with one another is a really big part of what a lot of people enjoy about games.
I think the ultimate answer to the question of why aren't games more similar is simply that such a reality isn't largely in demand from consumers. Designers create new games with novel unique rules largely because consumers want them.
Whoa! Great cast Daniel. Love this video and your thoughts about board gaming.
I may feel differently about board games than most people. All I hear over and over is how great it is to have a game that plays in 30-60min and is easily accessible. Everyone seems to want faster play and more streamlined. To me that's not a virtue. I'm never in the mood to play a board game for such a short period of time. It doesn't give me a sense of accomplishment and emotional attachment when a game is over quickly. If I only have an hour, I play video games, save and walk away with no set-up time. Board games are an EVENT for me. If a game doesn't take at least a couple hours, usually I'm not interested unless the theme is great. Invite some friends over and just nerd out for multiple hours and grill out some food in-between.
Love the example about rules for tiles! I was just thinking about having to learn different adjacency rules for each dungeon crawler. I agree that I think we can agree on some standardizations within genres without losing the creative freedom for designers.
It’s not a dungeon crawler, but one of the best games ever made is Heroscape. It’s a bit of a tabletop war game I suppose, but it was sold at Walmart and Toy’s R Us so the rules are simple, straight forward, and very intuitive. (Like, when you step in water your movement ends, if you have flying, you ignore terrain effects) The dice are either hit, or miss (they’re basically the same exact dice as Heroquest: 3 skulls, 2 shields and a blank). Each character has a simple stat sheet with, move, attack, defense and range. It’s so simple it can be learned in like 10 minutes, but the fun and replayability comes from the different little armies you can put together and the 3D nature of the terrain. If any game, anywhere, ever needed a reprint, it’s that one.
This is a very interesting proposal…standardizing/licensing in board games…but I am not as keen to explore that in practice because I think it would harness too much behind the scenes of designing. Forget trying to be different or new…we just want the game to be enjoyed.
I do sometimes find rules learning taxing, but I do not agree with standardizing board gaming mechanisms. I think it could stifle or even prevent the creative or experimental flow of abilities for the designer, perhaps slowing or even halting the process of a games creation. Games not in a system will have their own set of rules, and it is in the production of those rules that I feel will inhibit or motivate a buyer to pursue the game.
There are many game systems, (D&D Adventure games, Command and Colors, Lock and Load for example), that standardize a rule set within that system, but their designer was free to shift this and that before landing on his completed ideal without having to worry about licensing, copyrights, permissions etc. These work great for each game in that system, and the uniqueness of those systems. The freedom to create is what prompted the discovery of all the elements we enjoy in gaming, and what will evolve into future hybrids, or new mechanisms, (if one can imagine that!). The learning curve 'problem' is cured all within the pages of a fantastic rulebook.
Brief overviews, outlines, logical rules organization in a well written rulebook is the thing that may make or break getting into a new game. It is all down to the rulebook. Lots of very fine arguments for or against standardization here, I really enjoyed reading them and glad you brought this topic up. Terrific podcast! 🙂
Oh yeah…and sometimes I like just "owning, having" a game…I suppose there is a little pride involved in there somewhere, but that is that! 🙂
You are a smart gamer and video producer. This video is spot on, but the people who need to watch it are game creators, not players. I enjoy your channel. I was surprised to see that you omitted a possible answer to the problem you present here. I understand the frustration with overly complicated rules, but the answer is the same to games with rules you do not like, change them. It really is that simple. Obviously it would be better if games had fun and easily accessible rules. Games are meant to be fun, if the rules they give me do not work I make my own. ''House rules'' are as old as home brew games.
The most fun I ever had gaming where the times I ignored the rules and played my own version. That is what we need you for. You should play the games and get frustrated for us, then give us a review with a better rule set to fix the problem. Your life will suck, but we will appreciate your sacrifice. I would even have to join your patreon out of sheer guilt. Seriously though, great content. Keep up the good work.
So many levels here. Broadly, it's like Gear Acquisition Syndrome for photographers, musicians, etc. As our means grow, we sometimes realize we enjoy acquiring things more than using them for their intended purpose. On a personal level, the older I get, at least, the more interest I have in Tiny Epic Galaxies and the less interest I have in Twilight Imperium. I don't need the most extravagant version of something, just the best parts in a convenient package. On a community level, we know whatever our barrier to entry in learning a game, we can multiply it several times over when attempting to share it with others.
I think I can relate with how you feel to an extent. Currently, I’m playing Bardsung (which you mentioned in the video). It’s a very divisive board game. Some love it and some hate it. However, one of the things I appreciated about Bardsung was the way that the rulebook was intended to be consumed. You read a few pages and the game throws you into a situation that puts what you have been learning up to that point to the test.
That has been a breath of fresh air for me. With that said, you are absolutely correct! Relearning games does feel frustrating and makes it difficult to return to.
I usually write some key notes on things I think are very important to note and remember about a particular board game. It really helps refresh my memory making it easier to dive into if I haven’t played it for a while.
On your point about cementing certain rules across the board ala video games, I feel mixed. Although I enjoy video games myself, too many times they feel extremely similar. That’s why I appreciate the differences in rules between board games but that absolutely requires much more work and effort to enjoy it.
You posed a very interesting question that can definitely help with jumping into new experiences without too much effort. However, that may put in jeopardy the board games identity causing them all to practically become identical.
That’s why I enjoy spin-offs. They usually include mechanics that are familiar yet create new experiences using what came before. Excellent video!
It's a fair point, plenty of games do borrow concepts from each other but I've not really seen a standard pushed in that way. Perhaps because a lot of what makes a game special is infact the unique mechanics it offers and new ideas might clash with a standardized system. For your gloomhaven example if someone used the exact mechanics of gloomhaven but put it in a sci-fi universe, wouldn't it just be sci-fi gloomhaven and not its own game? If they heavily modified it to make it unique wouldn't we be back to square one with something gloomhaven ish but veering off into a rules overload again?