19 December 2013

Little Gray Tokens by Another Name

As I started reading this article, I feared I might have sleep-plagiarized it in my previous blog post.  I knew I was safe when the author recommended backgammon as offering the right balance between choice and randomness.  I won't pretend that I've every played backgammon correctly.  Not that I didn't try as an 8 year-old kid when my only alternatives were Monopoly and Chess; however, we always seemed to have the board and pieces but not the rules.  After reading this article, I'm beginning to think backgammon may have been a lost artifact from Atlantis--the last relic from the first Golden Age of board games.

Even if I'm missing out for never having played backgammon, certainly no one can blame me for not getting excited over the THEME, which is non-existent.  Theme and presentation (game pieces, artwork) is an important factor in the gaming experience, and the old standby games have been hit or miss in this category (Monopoly and Life are okay, Chess is passable, while Sorry, Checkers, and backgammon are atrocious).  There is nothing inherently wrong with a simply presented game with a killer game mechanic.  But to me, playing a game that is just colored squares on a board or just cards with numbers is kind of like work.  The game becomes all about figuring out the mechanic, doing the mental calculations and statistics, and trying to optimize (like Poker, which I hate, though maybe also because I always lose).  Those are elements of the experience, but a great board game allows you to do all those things in a way that aligns with the theme.

Part of the fun is building the story around your game play.  Which sounds better to you: being the player that won for collecting the most little gray cardboard tokens, or being the scientifically-minded, inter-galactic species called Hyrda Progress that conquers the galaxy by focusing your research on critical technologies, creating an intricate web of diplomacy, and turning traitor at the last moment to crush a player with an inferior star fleet (after which you earn all the little gray cardboard tokens and win!)?

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