BGGCon last year was a ton of fun, but one event that happened on the first day stood out to me. Once we got our badges, the first thing we did was browse the game library and grab games that we wanted to play. Doug snagged a copy of a game that I’ve grown to enjoy in Board Game Arena: Res Arcana. As we discussed what games to play, I mentioned that I had wanted to play Res Arcana the year before, but we could never get it to the table. That’s when Andy dropped a bombshell on me. “You did a terrible job selling it. Here’s this game I hate, play it with me.” And he wasn’t wrong. At the time, I had just been introduced to the game. On paper, it looked like a game that I should love. Fantasy theme, engine builder, really nice artwork, but something about the game just didn’t click for me. I wanted to see if my experience was common or if it was just my perception. I don’t recall saying I actually hated the game, but I did say that I wanted to like the game, but for some reason, I didn’t. So, it’s no surprise that the guys weren’t all that thrilled about playing the game. Even after I mentioned that I now really like the game, we were never able to get the rest of the group interested in playing and Doug ended up taking it back to the library unplayed.
The enjoyment of games, like many forms of entertainment, is very subjective. It can be influenced by a variety of factors, some internal, others external. Factors such as whether or not we understood the rules, if we won, the people we were playing with, the list is extensive. One factor could be how the game gets described to us. This thought came up in discussion a couple of days later. I had a friend of a friend that was kickstarting a game, and he had asked if the Meeple Nation crew could playtest his game and give him some feedback. Nathan mentioned that he’d be willing to play the game ( a huge admission from him, Nathan doesn’t usually like to playtest games), but that if he didn’t like the game, he wouldn’t talk about it on the podcast because he wouldn’t want to influence people about the game.
Then he went into a recent example of the power of a negative influence on a game. A couple of years ago, a game was kickstarted called Ignite. Ignite was a combat focused game that pitted different factions against each other. The game was a deckbuilder with asymmetric starts, and a map with various features that could be exploited. It had done well on kickstarter, but when it came time for the developer to work on a more general release, a gaming youtube channel with a large following reviewed the game and gave it a negative review. Seemingly overnight, interest in the game dropped, and it failed to have a good retail launch.
I had a similar experience at a game night being held at my house. One of the regulars brought a game to the table, and my first experience playing it was, well not good. There was one mechanic in the game that I didn’t fully understand, and when it bit me hard, it frustrated me. While in the midst of that frustration, I announced out loud that I probably wouldn’t play this game again, and the player has not brought the game back to game night. It’s not the first time I’ve said something like that at the table. One of those was with Dominion at my lunch group. Fortunately, that game group persisted in pulling that game out, and I eventually started to enjoy it (minus a few cards). I told that to the player and asked him to bring the game back and I’d give it another chance, but he hasn’t done so, and I feel bad that I impacted his enjoyment of the game with my poorly thought out comment.
This discussion has led me to consider how I talk about games. I have had a tendency over time, as my interest and experience in the board gaming hobby has grown, to be a bit dismissive of games such as Monopoly, or Trouble. I might chuckle at my friend’s extensive Monopoly collection, turn down an invitation to play Sorry or Connect 4, or sigh dramatically as my then five year old asks me to play yet another game of Chutes and Ladders or Candyland. But recently, I’ve come to realize that what I enjoy most about the games is the experience, and a huge part of that is the people I’m playing with, not necessarily the game or its mechanics. And if someone enjoys playing The Game of Life, who am I to discount that experience? I think it’s entirely possible to provide a review of a game without going too deeply on whether or not they enjoy it. Alternatively, they could provide a disclaimer that just because they didn’t enjoy it doesn’t mean that others would not. It’s a tough problem, because as a gamer I sometimes get asked what is a good game that could be given as a gift, and that requires a subjective answer. What I would like as a gift is not necessarily what someone else would. What I don’t want is for people to base what a good game is off of my preferences without figuring out what they enjoy, and as Nathan mentioned, keeping games that some would enjoy from getting produced or getting to the table.
I think going forward, when I get asked about what I think of a game, I’ll start by stating my game preferences, that way if I say I enjoyed the game or didn’t enjoy it, they have some context about whether or not they enjoy it.
I’m curious, how do you talk about games with others?