Dear Game Companies: Maybe we need to see other people for a while

I love games. Not so much video games, though I do play them occasionally. I’m talking about boardgames and card games; the kind of games where you read a rulebook and sit down with your friends and move little thingies around on a table. I LOVE them. And I am buying too many of them, and I need to stop.

Let’s take a look at the list. In the past few months I have acquired Nightfall, Battleship: Galaxies, Conquest of Nerath, Rune Age, Gears of War, Ikusa, and Star Trek: Fleet Captains. Over the next three months I am eagerly looking forward to Mage Knight, Legend of Drizzt, Risk Legacy, and Civilization: Fame and Fortune, and that’s after winnowing the list down to a still-not-necessarily-manageable size (I cut out all the Conflict of Heroes games, for example, and two different Napoleonic wargames). Dear game companies: I realize that I’m probably single-handedly propping up your industry with my addiction, but I need to take a breather. Can you please stop making awesome stuff? I barely have time to play the ones I have.

I’ll be reviewing all of these games over the next few days, because I love you so much, but first let’s talk about the ones I’m not buying. This week sees the release of two new sets of incredibly popular collectible games–both games that I love–and I have made the painful decision to not buy into either one of them. The first is HeroClix, a superhero-themed minis game (ie, “toy soldiers”), which is releasing a new set with a Superman theme–all of Superman’s greatest allies and enemies, together in one set. There are a few figures in this set that I’d like to have, but nothing that I need, so I’m just saying no altogether. I’m not a Marvel-is-better-than-DC guy; Green Lantern is my favorite superhero, and the new Wonder Woman comic is one of the best I’ve ever read. I just have no real interest in this set for some reason. The Legion of Superheroes figures look cool, though, so maybe I’ll–no. I will be strong. No more HeroClix until December, when the Hulk set comes out, and I’ll have to make another very painful decision.

The other collectible game I’ve been looking at is the mother of them all, Magic: The Gathering, which I like a lot but haven’t played in a long time. They just released their new set, called Innistrad, which has a gothic horror theme that I absolutely love. The art is evocative and gorgeous, the monsters are spooky, the villagers are terrified–how could I not try it out? So I went to a prerelease and tried it out, and…I don’t know. It didn’t work for me. It’s the same old Magic, which is good and bad; the new theme just didn’t come across in the gameplay. If I want to play a horror game I have Nightfall, Mansions of Madness, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Last Night on Earth, and so on. If I want to play a game of Magic with some horror tropes pasted on, Innistrad is an option, and I know that if I invested a ton in it I could build a really meaty theme deck about werewolves or possessed children or whatever, but for now I’m going to stay away. I have to make some choices, and Innistrad doesn’t make the cut. (I may change that tune when the next set comes out and develops the theme further, but we’ll see. I doubt it.)

There are many, many games that I want, but I trimmed the fat and kept only the absolutely coolest, must-have games on my “get this” list. Mage Knight is ostensibly based on an old fantasy minis game by WizKids, the same people who make HeroClix, but the new one is a boardgame far removed from both the mechanics and the flavor. What makes it so appealing is that it’s designed by Vlaada Chvatil, a Czech game designer who combines the “efficient use of resources” mentality of European games with the “dragons and robots beating each other up” mentality of American games. In Mage Knight he combines fantasy questing with territory control, sprinkled with a bit of deck-building (the gaming world’s hot new thing), used in what appears to be a very cool and clever system. I desperately want it, but I have yet to convince myself that I need it, no matter how clever it looks. I have quest games and army games and deck-building games a-plenty, and I don’t think I need any more. That said, it’s still on my “get this” list for now.

Legend of Drizzt is a dungeon-crawler in the same series as Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, which I have praised effusively in the past. They’re very simple, even slightly abstracted, takes on dungeon delving, with cooperative mechanics based on 4th Edition D&D and a very slick monster automation system that scales well for different numbers of players. The games are simple and fun, perfectly filling the slot between “I want to play a fantasy adventure” and “I don’t have time for a big game.” Legend of Drizzt is exciting because, well, it has Drizzt, and Wulfgar, and Artemis Entreri, and all the other characters I know and love from the Bob Salvatore books. How could I not get this game?

Civilization: Fame and Fortune isn’t really a full game, it’s an expansion for the board game version of Civilization. It will add new nations, new mechanics, new map tiles, and most importantly a new player, bringing the total to five. I realize that I shouldn’t be complaining about this, because some people have no game group at all, but my game group is so big and active that we rarely ever get a four-player game on the table. Five is still problematic, but the game is a lot of fun and this will help us play it more often. Hooray!

The final game on the list is the weirdest, and the one I’m most excited about, and the one that if you’d told me a month ago I’d be excited about it I’d have slapped your dirty mouth. Risk, despite the fact that pretty much everyone in the world has played it, is a horrible, horrible game: the balance is off, the mechanics are silly, and meaningful strategy is virtually impossible. There have been a few versions I enjoy, such as Godstorm and 2210, but none of them stand high enough in their category to overshadow something like Conquest of Nerath or even Rune Wars. I never play Risk because there is always, invariably, something more interesting to play instead. So how could someone make me excited to play it again? By adding what is essentially a world-shaping campaign mode. Risk Legacy, due sometime in December, has the most brilliant gaming concept I’ve heard of in ages: physically altering the board, and the game itself, as you play it. Do you build a city in a certain space? Then you get to name it, and every time you play on that board that city will be there–until someone destroys it. Continents will be named by their conquerors; battles both glorious and horrific will be remembered by later generations; rules will change and grow as the game world goes on, and your battles will affect not just the current game but every game thereafter. You are creating, then, a literal legacy each time you play the game. Lots of boardgames have campaign modes (though not nearly enough of them), but I’ve never seen this type of thing reflected so extensively. It’s an almost sinful idea, writing on the gameboard and ripping up the cards, but that’s part of the allure. A game that never resets itself, where your decisions can never be unmade. I’m fascinated. I’ll probably buy multiple copies of this one, because that’s the kind of innovation I love to support.

So now you know what I’ll be spending my money on and/or getting for Christmas. What about those seven games I listed first, the ones I’ve already played? Watch this space, and I’ll review them all.

16 Responses to “Dear Game Companies: Maybe we need to see other people for a while”

  1. Whoa, you got it bad, Dude. I so will not share this post to one of my sons. He’s bad enough, and your list is huge.

    And you must find lots of people to play with, so you have others who are addicted. It’s actually nice to see people playing board games and not just video games.

  2. Bryce Moore says:

    Oh, poor Dan. He only has 40 people in his game group, and he can’t find games that can accommodate them all. Let’s all have a moment of silence for him. :-)

    I, as you know, have quite a different problem. My game group is me. My wife sometimes. My 7 year old son if he can get all the rules more or less clear. But often, it’s me doing the strategizing, regardless of who else is playing.

    That’s where The Lord of the Rings the Living Card Game has come into my life. I’ve just got the core set and the expansions, and I’m loving it. You can play it solitaire, and actually have a fun, engrossing experience. The game unfolds just like a story, and it unfolds differently each time. Last night, Aragorn was fighting off the spawn of Ungoliant, making a brave last stand over the bodies of Theodred and Gloin. Alas, just before he could deliver the killing blow, a lone orc snuck in behind him and stabbed him in the back, bringing their quest to a bitter close.

    I really think you’d love it, Dan–if you ever had a moment where you didn’t have 8,000 other people clamoring for you to play with them. :-)

    Speaking of that–we really ought to play something on the iPad sometime. Do you have a Gamecenter account? Add me. I’m M34nDr.

  3. admin says:

    I knew this would happen: passive aggressive whining and new game suggestions. But I can’t stay mad at you, Bryce, you’re too awesome. And now I really want to try that game.

  4. Bryce Moore says:

    Awesome and me. Two words that go great together. Seriously, LOTR:LCG is epic. Although it’s a great 2 player game, too, I’ve played it a few times solo, and the feel is pretty unique–much better than Ravenloft solo, maybe because I’m familiar with the characters and the lore so much more deeply. But the nearest I can compare it to is reading a book or a short story, choose your own adventure style. And you can string different campaigns together into massive storylines.

    The game’s only like $35 for the core game. Two core games and you can play 4 player with it. Check it out on BGG.

    And . . . now I feel like a company shill. Sheesh. Maybe I should go wash my hands . . .

  5. Zenvar says:

    I have one board game, Dominion. I’d love to get Ascension, but real life says no for now. It’s hard find games close enough to me in the area where I live, so it’s not a big deal not having games. I will say, your lists sound amazing. Enjoy the games you have and the ones you will have.

  6. I need to tell you how much I enjoy your board/card game reviews and rants. I am also an enormous boardgame fan.

    Actually, and I may have mentioned it before, I bought Castle Ravenloft based solely on your review of the game and I’ve never regretted it.

    Obviously you think it’s worth it to have Wrath of Ashardalon and Legacy of Drizzt, but what do you feel it adds to the game?

  7. “…and the one that if you’d told me a month ago I’d be excited about it I’d have slapped your dirty mouth.”

    Thanks for garnerning me some nasty looks for laughing out loud in the library.

  8. Pat says:

    What? No love for Munchkin Quest? You literally build the board as you go and there is nothing better than the realization of how messed up you are when the monster move wuring their turn and suddenly are in your face when you start a turn.

  9. admin says:

    Pat:
    I’ve never played Munchkin Quest, but I never really got into Munchkin so I don’t think I’d like it.

  10. SeekingPlumb says:

    Wow! You’ve opened up a whole new world to me! I seriously need to find these games & people who play them. Thanks for sharing your addiction. LOL Risk Legacy sounds amazing!!

  11. Grant says:

    Why must I not have money? WHY!?

    Hey, Dan…I want to join your game group…Just a thought…

  12. I am positively GIDDY about Risk: Legacy. That game is the bleeding edge of strategy board gaming and I am definitely going to hop on this bandwagon.

    http://www.hasbro.com/common/documents/dad2886d1c4311ddbd0b0800200c9a66/00D721465056900B10A16E11F8F54E7F.pdf

  13. Tyler Mills says:

    After attending the Innistrad prerelase I agree with you wholeheartedly. The transform mechanic is fun I guess but its really just a gimmick. Morbid felt clunky and was hard to activate in limited.

    I am far more excited about the world building and the art and the potential planeswalker story lines then I am about the actual gameplay. I guess I would say that I look at Innistrad with artistic appreciation rather than gaming appreciation.

  14. admin says:

    Tyler:
    Part of my problem with Innistrad, as a horror game, is that it never felt scary or dangerous or horrific. They focused heavily on transformation as a theme of horror, which it is, but the transformations are almost invariably A) willing and B) beneficial. That’s not horror, that’s Power Rangers.

  15. Stoof says:

    Auuugh, why did you have to say “Mansions of Madness”? Now I’m frantic to play it. I assure you, Dan, you’re not propping up the industry singlehandedly. I shudder to think of how much of my money Fantasy Flight has. But I can’t help it! Arkham Horror is my gaming drug of choice. :)

  16. Dude. You suck. I didn’t know about a Drizz’t game. The Icewind Dale trilogy.. ah.. it’s hard to get better than that.

    How am I supposed to find time to play a game like that when I already have to wake up at 5:30 to write? But now I feel a need…

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