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Boardgames are fun again!
April 14, 2013 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Quintin Smith (of Shut Up & Sit Down) argues that we're entering a golden age of boardgames (45m Vimeo talk).

Certainly there's a lot going on in the boardgaming sphere right now. In addition to Shut Up & Sit Down, you could peer at:

-The Cardboard Children column at Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Written by Robert Florence, it seeks to provide recommendations for games informed by Mr. Florence's personal taste.

-The Starlit Citadel YouTube channel, presented by Kaja Sadowski and Joanna Gaskell. Their reviews tend towards an in-depth explanation of the game's rules taking up most of the review time, followed by a shorter segment where both women discuss what they like about the game and any possible pitfalls or shortcomings.

-The Dice Tower, another YouTube channel. This one features Tom Vasel, Sam Healey, and Zee Garcia in a more conversational format. Their sort of signature thing is a variety of top ten lists, such as the top ten games not to play with an angry person or the top ten cooperative boardgames.

-TableTop, a show run by Wil Wheaton on Felicia Day's Geek and Sundry channel on YouTube. Mr. Wheaton plays a variety of boardgames, cardgames, and so on with some of his friends like the aforementioned Ms. Day, Nathan Filion, Sean Plott, and others.

-BoardGameGeek, an enormous site with subforums to find local gaming groups, trade games, discuss specific games, and so on. Previously.

Recent standout releases are games such as Skulls & Roses (pure bluffing and reading your friends), Cyclades (strategy and bidding), Android: Netrunner (an asymmetrical constructed deck game without the stratospheric expense of a collectible card game), and King of Tokyo (yahtzee dice-rolling around a theme of irradiated, rapidly mutating monsters competing to destroy Tokyo). There're tons of others (tons!), which means there's almost certainly something you can find that will bring a bunch of friends or family around the table to have some fun together.
posted by kavasa (157 comments total) 107 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think, with the over abundance of Kickstarter games out there now, the golden age was six to seven years ago. But it's certainly becoming much more mainstreamly popular.
posted by Windopaene at 7:06 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


One that has recently become a hit among various groups of my friends is Fiasco, which is easy to play and simply ridiculous (and one of those guaranteed to be a very different experience every time.)
posted by Navelgazer at 7:27 PM on April 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


And there's lately been something of a MeFi board game explosion, too. I've been hosting monthly board game meetups here in Brooklyn (just posted the meetup for May), Philly has a monthly one as well (their April meetup is yet to come), and I've seen meetups posted recently for other cities, too.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:29 PM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Board games are one of those things that I woke up one morning and discovered I had surprisingly strong opinions about.

Settlers of Catan is good as an introductory game and sometimes for off-nights, but I almost never finding myself suggesting to play it. Ticket to Ride I want to play a little more, but my friends aren't as fond of it, and it does feel a bit lightweight in its basic form.

Power Grid I love; it might be my favorite game at the moment. I have two of the double-sided expansion boards and, the best game accessory I've ever seen, the alternate deck of power plant cards that go from 1 up to 60. And yet last week we tried playing the suggested "long game" variant that, with six players, uses the entire board, and made the mistake of trying to introduce a new player at that time, and we had an abreaction. The game length on that one really is finely determined.

I also love Puerto Rico, in fact it might be the best game we have in regular rotation, for once everyone knows how to play it blazes along at top speed, and yet the play is complex enough that even those of us who think long and hard about game rules (like me) win far from every game.

Agricola and Caylus occupy similar positions in our group: long worker-placement games that I tend to win. Lords of Waterdeep is shorter and I tend to win a lot less, but unfortunately one of our group hit upon the tactic of hitting me with every Mandatory Quest card he got that game, giving me a total of four and sending me to distant last place, and just severely sapped my enjoyment of the thing.

I really really want to play Twilight Struggle more often, but its length combined with the fact that it's two players only make it a difficult fit with our group.

And there's lately been something of a MeFi board game explosion, too.

God, having to live in Brunswick is chafing me so hard right now.
posted by JHarris at 7:39 PM on April 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


If we are in a golden age of boardgames, right now we're at the tail end of it in terms of the games and just entering it in terms of the breadth of the hobby - which is to say, in most respects the best games have already been out a while, but their impact is only being felt as more people take up the hobby, and the games that get the most exposure generally aren't the "best" games in the first place. Critical analysis of boardgame design is relatively sparse, which mean that absolute dogshit games can be celebrated.

Like, let's take Tabletop's archive of games actually played: Formula D, Chez Geek, Star Fluxx, Last Night on Earth, Wits and Wagers, Settlers of Catan, Small World, Pandemic, Dixit, Elder Sign, Say Anything, Castle Panic, Gloom, Munchkin, Ticket To Ride, Zombie Dice, and Get Bit. (Okay, and Fiasco, but Fiasco is a roleplaying game. It's not a board game. Christ, people.)

Three of those are slightly more esoteric spins on party games (Dixit, Wits and Wagers and Say Anything) and wouldn't have needed much help cracking the mainstream anyway. (This is not to say they are not good. They are all good! Dixit in particular is an amazing idea.) Then you have a bunch of games that are primarily luck-driven and vary widely in quality, from "good but quick" (Zombie Dice, Elder Sign) to "oh my god this game is actually shit and if you just want to spend time with your friends play something that is not shit or go play basketball and get some exercise, but for god's sake don't play this" (Munchkin, Chez Geek, anything with "Fluxx" in the title).

Then there are some co-ops, which for new boardgamers have a lot of novelty value because hey! We're not trying to beat each other, but the game! The problem with co-ops is that, in terms of design, many of them are just solvable problems that derive their play factor from whether A) players can recognize the solution and B) get the other players who don't to follow their instructions - Pandemic is an excellent example of this. This is not to say that there are not elegant co-op designs: Hanabi is brilliant, for example. But many co-ops are just tweakings of the bland Pandemic engine.

And then there are the "everybody plays them" entries: Settlers, Ticket to Ride, Small World, that sort of thing. I own both games, mostly because my non-boardgaming friends sometimes want to play a boardgame and they know them. But that's mostly it. Settlers was brilliant game design twenty years ago, but not now, because everybody has learned its lessons and applied them. Ticket to Ride is, when you get down to it, just a clever re-theme of rummy whose play flow can be easily disrupted by a player who card-hoards. Small World is a fun casual game, but lends itself too easily to mathematical solutions which present the most optimal play, and that takes a lot of the fun out of it - the more you learn about how to play it, the less fun it gets, and that should be exactly what games don't do.

I know I am being a grump, but so what? There are better games, at every level of complexity - and I mean wildly better - than what tends to be most popular. Android: Netrunner and King of Tokyo are two major examples of games which are both excellently designed and popular, and they're also the only two I can think of. (Twilight Struggle is still too niche to make it to that level.)

(Oh, and for JHarris: you might want to look into VASSAL. It's how I get regular plays of most of my GMT games.)
posted by mightygodking at 7:42 PM on April 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Cyclades is fantastic. It blends Euro-style bidding and role-choosing with American-style FIGHTAN MANS wonderfully, and my roommate just got the Hades expansion, so I'm eager to see how that changes things.

mightygodking, you might try tracking down a copy of Vinci, the game Small World originally was. (Small World is in fact explicitly a reworking of Vinci by the same creator.) The rules and gameplay are somewhat different, and most people I know who've played both have very strong opinions as to which one they prefer- though not everybody prefers the same!
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:47 PM on April 14, 2013


anything with "Fluxx" in the title

Pistols at dawn!
posted by LionIndex at 7:49 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pistols at dawn!

The player who has Revolver and Sunrise on the table wins.
posted by solarion at 7:56 PM on April 14, 2013 [18 favorites]


mightygodking, you might try tracking down a copy of Vinci, the game Small World originally was.

I've played it. Vinci is even more mathy than Small World, since you know everybody's victory point totals at all time. Small World improves on it by having hidden VP totals, which makes it more unpredictable (assuming you simply can't remember generally how much VP everybody has, which is not that hard), and the greater power spread makes the game more unpredictable as well, which is why I don't call it a bad game. It isn't. But it's not a great one.
posted by mightygodking at 7:57 PM on April 14, 2013


Yeah, top ten games to not play with angry people should include Diplomacy. I was brought into that with a state-based attack/defense/support explanation and fucking LOST IT when, after five hours of dickering, a carefully planned attack fell apart because it ran afoul of an exception, listed in a series of rules exceptions spanning 12 pages, a great many of which could have followed the previously explained state-based system but chose not to for whatever reason.

Schrodinger's game piece grumble grumble grumble
posted by Slackermagee at 8:01 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


the over abundance of Kickstarter games

Oh noes! People being excited by too many things!
posted by Artw at 8:06 PM on April 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I played Elder Sign at DragonCon 2012. Didn't enjoy it at all. That experience has kept me away from the iOS app.

On co-ops, I also got to play an early copy of Flash Point: Fire Rescue at that same con, and we all enjoyed that a lot. I haven't played Pandemic, but we've played a bit of its predecessor by the same designer, Forbidden Island, and we generally like it, although it's very short.

Ticket to Ride is, when you get down to it, just a clever re-theme of rummy whose play flow can be easily disrupted by a player who card-hoards.

Guilty. In fact, it seems the best strategy is to hoard cards until you basically have an entire route in your hand, since while you have the cards in your hand you aren't locked down towards trying to connect your target cities in a specific way.

Oh, and for JHarris: you might want to look into VASSAL.
I might have heard about VASSAL somewhere before.... Anyway, TS' VASSAL module is buggy on the current version, but WarGameRoom's client is nice. Alas, searching for an opponent of suitable skill level and coordinating times with someone I've never met have been too forbidding a barrier towards getting a match started.
posted by JHarris at 8:09 PM on April 14, 2013


One thing probably helping to drive the current popularity of board games it that there are now a *lot* of ipad versions of board games, most of them pretty good, especially if you don't mind playing against an AI. It's practically become the whole point of owning a tablet for me, and the main reason I have an ipad over an android (although one of my favourites, Tigris & Euphrates, was just ported to android).
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 8:09 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh noes! People being excited by too many things!

The problem with Kickstarter and board games isn't that there's too many fun games. The problems are:

1.) Many Kickstarter board games have not been sufficiently playtested
2.) Many Kickstarter board games are, when you get to it, retreads of existing designs with a new bell or whistle of some kind, if that, and are just flooding the market
3.) Many Kickstarter board game companies are run by well-meaning amateurs
4.) Kickstarter board games are directly hurting the bottom lines of game retailers (be they internet or brick-and-mortar), which drive the growth of the hobby
posted by mightygodking at 8:10 PM on April 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


Pistols at dawn!

I have never played a game of Fluxx that anybody won on purpose. You draw cards, play cards, and at some point somebody says "Wait a second, I think Andy techncially just won."
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:11 PM on April 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


2.) Many Kickstarter board games are, when you get to it, retreads of existing designs with a new bell or whistle of some kind, if that, and are just flooding the market

Heartbreakers are a long tradition of hobby gaming.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:12 PM on April 14, 2013


It's practically become the whole point of owning a tablet for me, and the main reason I have an ipad over an android

I like my Nexus 7 a fair bit more than my iPad, but yes, the only really good Android board games I can mention are Don Quixote, which isn't even exactly like the physical version (on Android, it's solo-only), and the amazing and free Androminion, which has been on the verge of getting taken out of the Play store any minute now for six months (if you have an Android machine, GET THIS NOW). On iPad there's (looking at Board Games folder) Puerto Rico, Forbidden Isle, (a different) Dominion, Small World, Tigris & Euphrates (although I haven't gotten into that one), Caylus (great) and Le Havre (greater). And word is before long it'll have a port of Agricola.
posted by JHarris at 8:15 PM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


*surreptitiously starts looking for Edmonton MeFites*
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 8:16 PM on April 14, 2013


The best part about board games is that it's not the game you're playing, it's the people you're playing with. If we are entering a golden age, I look forward to having more people to play with!
posted by The Ted at 8:17 PM on April 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love playing Fluxx with my kids - it's chancy enough to give the poor players a bit of a go, but convulted enough to give the meaner kids a fun time too. I meant to get the kids to make up some additional groups these holidays, thanks for the reminder!

(If there is another Fluxx like game, that is better, I'd love to know it; likewise Munchkin. Thanks!)
posted by Kaleidoscope at 8:18 PM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have never played a game of Fluxx that anybody won on purpose. You draw cards, play cards, and at some point somebody says "Wait a second, I think Andy techncially just won."

Yeah, that has been my experience of it as well. Perhaps I am blind to the appeal of what its supporters might call an elegant simplicity, but it always seems like a half-finished deign to me.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:19 PM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would literally rather play Monopoly than Fluxx.
posted by aubilenon at 8:22 PM on April 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


(If there is another Fluxx like game, that is better, I'd love to know it; likewise Munchkin. Thanks!)

The problem here is: why do you like Fluxx and Munchkin? "Serious" gamers (and I am using the airquotes quite purposely) don't like these games because the gameplay quite literally boils down to "draw card, play card, see what happens" and as a result games can go for five minutes or two hours depending on how long it takes someone to draw into a game-winning combo.

Do you like Fluxx because it is a game where cards affect other cards? Because it is a game where the victory conditions change? Do you like Munchkin because it is a reasonably simple game about adventurers in a dungeon, or because of the jokes? I'm not being sarcastic - these are what people generally say they like about these games. Much like how there are multiple aspects of Monopoly which people like (buying properties, improving properties, rolling dice, negotiating trades), depending on why a person likes Monopoly will give different recommendations for what they should be playing instead.
posted by mightygodking at 8:30 PM on April 14, 2013


> I would literally rather play Monopoly than Fluxx.

I would rather play Cosmic Encounter than pretty much anything.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:33 PM on April 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


I would rather play Monopoly than Fluxx, but almost no one I have ever met knows how to play Monopoly. Seriously, read the rules.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:38 PM on April 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Cosmic Encounter is well worth your time. I spent a summer playing the original version every week. Now I have the lovely Fantasy Flight edition and all its expansions. It's one of my favorite board games ever.

I can also see the appeal of stuff like Fluxx or Munchkin: they're silly things to keep your hands occupied while you hang out and get drunk or stoned with some friends. They're not things you actually care about winning.

Although to be honest I don't care about winning Cosmic either. If I can throw the game in an entertainingly treacherous way, I'll do it.
posted by egypturnash at 8:42 PM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Although to be honest I don't care about winning Cosmic either. If I can throw the game in an entertainingly treacherous way, I'll do it.

The best part of Cosmic Encounter is convincing your opponent that you really do intend to negotiate, only to play an Attack card on them.

I'd also like to try out Game of Thrones, but as with Diplomacy, you need a big group.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:50 PM on April 14, 2013


Kaleidoscope, Murder of Crows is wonderful and doesn't have the craziness of a Fluxx. It has a great theme, simple mechanics, and plays quickly.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 8:56 PM on April 14, 2013


I think, with the over abundance of Kickstarter games out there now, the golden age was six to seven years ago.

See, this just makes me think we've entered the dark ages of Kickstarter, not that the golden age of board games has passed.

I would love to have time to play Twilight Imperium Third Edition again.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 8:57 PM on April 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem here is: why do you like Fluxx and Munchkin? "Serious" gamers (and I am using the airquotes quite purposely) don't like these games because the gameplay quite literally boils down to "draw card, play card, see what happens" and as a result games can go for five minutes or two hours depending on how long it takes someone to draw into a game-winning combo.

Uh, that's exactly why I love Fluxx.

Do you like Fluxx because it is a game where cards affect other cards? Because it is a game where the victory conditions change?

Well, no. Winning is totally pointless in Fluxx. It's like the perfect Zen game. Trying/planning/wanting/hoping to win will get you absolutely nothing. You can play a hand for hours and some guy can just join the game (anyone can join at any time) and win in one hand. Winning isn't so much a victory as an arbitrary endpoint to pick up the cards and start the process over. The whole game is about playing the game and following the silly rules, and laughing at them and yourselves for doing so; not about developing some sort of superior strategy and proving yourself. When Fluxx is viewed in this way, as opposed to the way you'd look at a traditional game, it's a goddamn game design masterpiece. I love it, and I play it completely sober.

So, I play "serious" games with some friends every other week or so, including Settlers, Ticket to Ride, PowerGrid, San Juan, Bohnanza, Bang! etc. and I generally do quite well and win my share of those games. Sometimes I just want something completely different.

I have never played a game of Fluxx that anybody won on purpose.

It happens in about 50% of the games I've played. Certain rules being in effect makes the chances of such a thing more favorable, but I admit it was quite a revelation when I realized that I did actually have a certain amount of agency in the game, even if it only lasted for one turn.
posted by LionIndex at 9:00 PM on April 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


In couples where one person is more of an optimizer, finding good games can be a challenge, because one person (the optimizer) will tend to hone in on a strategy and win all the time. For these couples, I recommend Dominion. The rules change every game, which means that every game is a fresh chance, and either person can win.
posted by pmb at 9:02 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The whole game is about playing the game and following the silly rules, and laughing at them and yourselves for doing so; not about developing some sort of superior strategy and proving yourself.

My favorite game in that genre is Strange Synergy, though the randomly-recombining silly rules have a tendency to be ambiguous enough to generate bitter, bitter arguments if you have the wrong attitude. My favorite draw-a-card-play-a-card game is Guillotine. Neither one is strategic, but they're both pretty fun.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:07 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks OverlappingElvis, I'll check it out.

Lionindex and egypturnash kind of articulated Fluxx's appeal for me (apart from the drugs and alcohol, altho my kids can be so vague it's hard to tell). I don't care too much about winning it (although I have one kid who wants to win any game he plays, at any cost), it's totally about this sort of silly "playing a game together" experience with my kids. We like the silly things about it, and the randomness. For a small group of mixed ages, of varying game playing skill, it is kind of perfect. I suppose those are things we like about Munchkin, although the kids who likes to win usually turns it into a sort of card based massacre if he can).
posted by Kaleidoscope at 9:12 PM on April 14, 2013


When Fluxx is viewed in this way, as opposed to the way you'd look at a traditional game, it's a goddamn game design masterpiece. I love it, and I play it completely sober.

Ah, yes, the "philosophical/ironic" explanation, that's always a classic reason for justifying why you like something shitty. But that doesn't make it not shitty.
posted by mightygodking at 9:12 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The board game getting the most of my time right now is Ascension, which I view to be the pinnacle of deck building games. Think Dominion, without as much shuffling and without as many insane turns in the end game. Instead, tons of strategy and replayability and luck in all the right places.
posted by andreaazure at 9:15 PM on April 14, 2013


It's only shitty if winning is important to you. Since I play the kinds of games you consider not shitty, I'm not arguing from ignorance. I don't play Fluxx for the irony, I play it because it's fun.
posted by LionIndex at 9:17 PM on April 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't play Fluxx for the irony, I play it because it's fun.

My point is that you're not really playing anything. Fluxx doesn't have agency in any meaningful sense (brief illusory moments aside). It is fundamentally not a game. It is an activity, sure. But the Zen enlightenment you get from the meaninglessness of Fluxx could just as easily be gotten from playing an endless series of games of tic-tac-toe.

Also, said series of games of tic-tac-toe could, in theory, prevent a supercomputer from starting a nuclear war, whereas if you played Fluxx with it I am pretty sure it would launch all the missles in the hopes that the cockroaches could do a better job.
posted by mightygodking at 9:22 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Much like Starlight Citadels who talk about both good and bad points to the games they review, I have found the written reviews of trenttsd also do a good job of highlighting both the good and bad of the titles he reviews. Many reviews on boardgamegeek are just someone gushing about a game or reiterating the rules, making starlight citadel and trenttsd great resources among the noise.

I've also been dismayed at all the gateway games that see play lately. It used to be easy to find a heavy game at the NYC meetups 5-7 years ago back when it was at Neutral Ground (local game store), but it seems people are stuck on the gateway games these days and never graduate to the meatier games.

Kickstarter does seem to be related to this problem as there is a stream of games that have neat miniatures and promo videos but very little in the way of gameplay. By removing the filter of having a publisher to green light the games you end up with a lot of crap. The only good games coming out of Kickstarter are from companies that are established and frankly don't need Kickstarter. It has become merely a marketing / exposure / preorder tool for them.
posted by ridogi at 9:22 PM on April 14, 2013


And instead of playing Settlers, you could go work in your garden. So what?
posted by LionIndex at 9:24 PM on April 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


The board game getting the most of my time right now is Ascension

My problem with Ascension, and a whole swath of board gaming, is theme. Historical themes are great, depictions of literature (as with Arkham Horror) are great, but once you start getting into generic fantasyland it becomes harder to care. If the game is ultimately whimsical (like Elfenland) it's easier to sustain a goofy theme in my experience, but if too GRIMDARK or extremely Manichean in its theming I suddenly start thinking of all the other things I could be doing with my time.

I realize this is ultimately a personal reaction, but something about it makes me suspect bordering on a universal principle.
posted by JHarris at 9:27 PM on April 14, 2013


something about it makes me suspect bordering on a universal principle

I like Ascension's theming and enjoy occasionally going for themed wins based on particular factions. What I'm less fond of is how little player interaction there is.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:31 PM on April 14, 2013


Our group of friends in Deadmonchuk has amassed an impressive collection of board games (mostly from Starlit Citadel sales and infrequent trips to the US) but I still haven't touched the Twilight Imperium (and expansion) box I bought 2 years ago--it's too intimidating. No one wants to play a game that takes weeks to learn, days to play through once learned.
posted by reiichiroh at 9:34 PM on April 14, 2013


And instead of playing Settlers, you could go work in your garden. So what?

You're illustrating my point earlier, which is that critical analysis of gaming is relatively sparse, particularly so in this context. Game theory is a thing, after all, and it's more than just the simple relativism of "we're having fun," which makes any critical discussion of gaming near-impossible (because people can have fun with anything, so therefore all games are equal in value because every game is fun to somebody).

Kaleidoscope explained, quite reasonably, that for her and her family, it's not really about gameplay, but the experience of spending time together. That's honestly really great (I am not being sarcastic at all when I say that), but it also makes recommending a different game a challenging exercise because from her context the rules of the game are relatively meaningless (so long as they are straightforward enough for her kids to engage with, anyway), and games are, when you get down to it, sets of rules - so for someone who likes Fluxx "for the experience," all I can say is "carry on, then, and have fun." (And recommend Coloretto anyway, because everybody should give Coloretto at least one go.)
posted by mightygodking at 9:41 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dang, mightygodking, did Fluxx kill your parents? I mean, yeah, games of chance can be pretty frustrating, particularly if they have a lot of gratuitous activity, but I have literally never seen something positive come out of an exclusionary definition of a game. Hell, the question of whether or not something can be considered a game has been argued just this week to suppress voices outside the mainstream; it may seem pretty heavy-handed of me to lump your arguments together with that, but it's kind of a sore spot, yeah? You can dislike a game without questioning its gameness.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 9:42 PM on April 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


mightygodking, I largely agree with your posts, but I'd argue that Ticket to Ride is Rummy in the same sense that King of Tokyo is Yahtzee.
posted by smorange at 9:44 PM on April 14, 2013


Another game for people who like the random "whoa I can't believe that happened" aspect of Fluxx is WizWar. It is a game where every player is a wizard in a maze guarding/trying to steal a treasure chest from the other players. To this end you can shoot fireballs, summon monsters, erect and destroy walls, and failing that throw rocks and punch the other wizards.

This is not a game for people who like to win though. My favorite story is when I was one move away from bringing my friend's treasure to my home square and winning, he was in hot pursuit but I was fairly sure there was no card he could draw to stop me. Then he drew a trap card that exploded him and everything in a 4 square radius. He had enough HP left to live and I did not.
posted by Mayhembob at 9:48 PM on April 14, 2013


The board game getting the most of my time right now is Ascension, which I view to be the pinnacle of deck building games.

I love Ascension as an app, because I can play a game in about five minutes, which is about as much thought as the game deserves. It's very luck-driven (the fact that the game has effectively two different types of currency for buying new cards means that the random tableau you are presented with can screw you over as often as not) and there's very little player interaction, and the tabletop version still has plenty of shuffling anyway. All of this makes for a fairly frustrating experience.

I find that the Cryptozoic deckbuilders (Penny Arcade, the DC Comics deckbuilder, et cetera), which have the same basic setup as Ascension but only use one currency, are more fluid as in-game experiences and less frustrating on a turn-to-turn basis. (Even so, they're still not as good as Dominion is.)
posted by mightygodking at 9:48 PM on April 14, 2013


The board game getting the most of my time right now is Ascension, which I view to be the pinnacle of deck building games.

The pinnacle of deck-building games is Puzzle Strike (3rd edition). Which you can play online for free.
posted by smorange at 9:51 PM on April 14, 2013


mightygodking, I largely agree with your posts, but I'd argue that Ticket to Ride is Rummy in the same sense that King of Tokyo is Yahtzee.

Ticket owes a lot more to rummy than KoT does to Yahtzee. Ticket to Ride's variation on rummy is essentially to play "mega rummy" by first requiring melds (e.g. lines of track), and then requiring you to create "super melds" out of your existing melds (e.g. your routes). It's two-layer rummy, basically, an iteration of rummy in upon itself, and then given a clever and pleasing theme.

Whereas KoT takes the basic idea of a set-rolling dice game, and then adds in direct player interaction and conflict and any number of cards which vary the game state itself. It's a far more ambitious exercise in design than Ticket is.
posted by mightygodking at 9:53 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another game for people who like the random "whoa I can't believe that happened" aspect of Fluxx is WizWar.

Yeah, but despite also being widely unpredictable, in my (admittedly limited) experience WizWar does give you a constant sense of agency - even if the things that happen on the board are ridiculous and interactions are really complex, nothing starts without a player deciding to do it. The cap on the number of players probably also helps.
posted by 23 at 9:57 PM on April 14, 2013


I'm baffled by all the gamers voicing support of fluxx here. It's like someone claiming to be a foodie and then extolling the virtues of cheez whiz.

I'll suggest No Thanks, Coloretto, Jaipur and Guildhall as much better card games.
posted by ridogi at 9:59 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a far more ambitious exercise in design than Ticket is.

Yeah, I'm not convinced. I think you give TTR a bit too little credit and KoT a bit too much, but it's a bit of a pointless argument, since it's obviously one of degree. I like both games, mind you, and I don't have a problem with new spins on old ideas, since that's what Puzzle Strike is. Small changes can make a big difference in the experience.
posted by smorange at 10:03 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


For card games, my friends and I have always been fond of Hex Hex.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:12 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


TableTop is definitely one of my favorite "shows" on YouTube these days. Wheaton's balancing act between "smug prick", "self-effacing monkey boy" and "affable, knowledgable host" is pitch-perfect, and the gameplay always leaves me wanting more.
posted by ShutterBun at 10:17 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're looking for a good two-player game, allow me to recommend Morels, which I found out about via a previous boardgaming thread. It's an interesting little game, and beautifully illustrated. We also play a lot of Lost Cities, a game by Reiner Knizia. He also designed Samurai, one of my absolute favourite games. I just got the newly reissued Wiz War but haven't had a chance to play it yet, and am looking forward to Guts of Glory, a Kickstarter project that looks super promising.

We play a ton of Catan, Puerto Rico, and Dominion. I got Power Grid but I don't actually like it much at all. It seems like every time we play, once someone starts winning there is very little anyone can do to stop them, and we just go through the motions for an hour until they win. Maybe we just haven't figured out good strategies yet.

I mostly agree with mightygodking about Fluxx. It looked fun but the novelty wears off quickly, and no one in our group ever wants to play it. For a fun casual game, we often play Dutch Blitz.
posted by oulipian at 10:27 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I haven't played Pandemic, but we've played a bit of its predecessor by the same designer, Forbidden Island, and we generally like it, although it's very short.

(Pandemic is the predecessor.)
posted by fleacircus at 10:30 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, yes, the "philosophical/ironic" explanation, that's always a classic reason for justifying why you like something shitty. But that doesn't make it not shitty.

Your favorite game sucks!

Time to drag out the same metric I use to judge movie reviewers, music critics etc..

Let's see *your* game that you invented and published and that anybody anywhere ever paid a penny for, and I will start caring about what you think in proportion to what you've done.

Ah, yes. Ah, yes.
posted by chronkite at 10:30 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let's see *your* game that you invented and published and that anybody anywhere ever paid a penny for, and I will start caring about what you think in proportion to what you've done.

Your metric is idiotic.
posted by fleacircus at 10:34 PM on April 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Your metric is idiotic.

you're just saying that because you haven't come up with your own metric and you're jealous
posted by mightygodking at 10:36 PM on April 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


In case anyone misunderstood my comment, I did not mean to imply I like Fluxx. The only game I might possibly choose Fluxx over is Munchkin.

I'll suggest No Thanks, Coloretto, Jaipur and Guildhall as much better card games.

I haven't played Guildhall, but those others are pretty good.

Tichu is my favorite card game. Foppen's also pretty good, though I guess it might be way way way out of print.

I love Innovation and Glory to Rome, but I guess those aren't card games so much as board games where all the components happen to be cards and there is no board. Like Dominion or Race for the Galaxy.
posted by aubilenon at 10:36 PM on April 14, 2013


Let's see *your* game that you invented and published and that anybody anywhere ever paid a penny for, and I will start caring about what you think in proportion to what you've done.

There's genuinely good board game criticism out there, but it's not done by designers. The Rumpus Room is a good example. I don't always agree with the reviews on that site, but good criticism goes beyond "this is good/bad" and delves deeply into why.
posted by smorange at 10:36 PM on April 14, 2013


mightygodking: so for someone who likes Fluxx "for the experience," all I can say is "carry on, then, and have fun." (And recommend Coloretto anyway

ridogi: I'm baffled by all the gamers voicing support of fluxx here. It's like someone claiming to be a foodie and then extolling the virtues of cheez whiz.

I once did a polite, slow crawl of a bunch of BGG ratings pages so that a friend of mine could go into Matlab and create an n-dimensional distance matrix of several thousand games based on the number of people rating them in common. The 2-d projections of the results were vague enough and banal enough to make this not worth publishing, but you could see very broad clusters about like what you might expect: traditional boardgames (Monopoly, etc.), abstract games, war games, and lightly-themed strategy games (mostly European) each shared a lot of the same players.

But there was also a cluster of certain non-strategic games (most lightly themed, but some not) and highly thematic games with obvious ties to the RPG community: Fluxx, almost every board and card game from Steve Jackson Games, dungeon simulation games, Guillotine, Zombies!!!, the original Arkham Horror, the original Tales of the Arabian Nights, etc., etc. I think we did this before Gloom, but that's exactly the kind of game I mean.

There was a pretty clear border zone between those kinds of games and strategic/Euro games, full of notable, "sweet spot," ultra-popular games like Puerto Rico, Carcassonne, Settlers, and so on. So there are games both communities / social networks / taste clusters / whatever shared.

But the point is that there are people with plenty of gaming experience who actually, really do like those non-strategic games, and they play tons of them--lots of different ones. I'm not a fan of Fluxx either, and you're not wrong to recommend "sweet spot" games like Coloretto as alternatives, but bear in mind you're talking about people who have plenty of knowledge about gaming but happen not to share your concerns.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:39 PM on April 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


Your metric is idiotic.

So what's your way of determining whether to give a damn about some webnut's opinion?

Do you just read that JIMMYGUNS666 says "DAT GAME IS SHITTY" and take it as gospel?
posted by chronkite at 10:51 PM on April 14, 2013


So what's your way of determining whether to give a damn about some webnut's opinion?

I know you weren't asking me, but the correct answer is to think about what they say and see if it makes any sense. Read a few of their other opinions and see if you generally agree with them.

Game designers have as wide a variety of opinions on what makes a game fun as game players, and just that they made a game doesn't mean I agree with them at all. Even if it's a game that I do think is fun.
posted by aubilenon at 10:55 PM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


So what's your way of determining whether to give a damn about some webnut's opinion?

Read their reasons, see if they make sense and seem reasonable. You don't have to be a good chef to say a pile of crap tastes bad.

Since we're talking about good card games, does anyone know any that work in that most difficult of situations - a largish group of somewhat drunk people?

Normally my advice would be "put the cards away", but since I have repeatedly encountered people who still want to play something despite varying degrees of intoxication I've pretty quickly come to the conclusion that cards are better than, say, darts.
posted by 23 at 11:02 PM on April 14, 2013


Since we're talking about good card games, does anyone know any that work in that most difficult of situations - a largish group of somewhat drunk people?

How large? The Resistance (or Avalon) is my favourite non-party game party game, and it's mostly just cards. Probably my favourite pure card game for many players is 6 nimmt! / Category 5 (and soon to be re-themed as The Walking Dead Card Game). Besides that, plain old party games are best, in my view.
posted by smorange at 11:08 PM on April 14, 2013


Since we're talking about good card games, does anyone know any that work in that most difficult of situations - a largish group of somewhat drunk people?

Condottiere for up to 6.
The Great Dalmuti for up to 8.
The Resistance for up to 10 (Mafia/Werewolf variant more than a card game).

And I've played in a game of Wits & Wagers with 28 people using just the basic set--you do it in teams just like pub trivia except you don't need to know answers, just guess some numbers and bet.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:10 PM on April 14, 2013


Since we're talking about good card games, does anyone know any that work in that most difficult of situations - a largish group of somewhat drunk people

Sticheln is pretty good with as many as 8. Might be hard to find in the US, but if you can/t find it anywhere else amazon.de has it.
posted by aubilenon at 11:10 PM on April 14, 2013


Anyone else like the "two rows" Ascension variant?
posted by rivenwanderer at 11:12 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're illustrating my point earlier, which is that critical analysis of gaming is relatively sparse, particularly so in this context. Game theory is a thing, after all, and it's more than just the simple relativism of "we're having fun," which makes any critical discussion of gaming near-impossible (because people can have fun with anything, so therefore all games are equal in value because every game is fun to somebody).

Actually, game theory is its own separate discipline. It's not completely separate from board gaming, but goes off in its own direction.

I agree there needs to be better critical examination, not just of board games but gaming in general. And just of the superficial aspects, although those are not unimportant, but the aspects that make the game a game.

Kaleidoscope explained, quite reasonably, that for her and her family, it's not really about gameplay, but the experience of spending time together. That's honestly really great

It is. Even Monopoly is a great game if the people playing it enjoy it. I reckon anyone who enjoys it would enjoy something else more, but a lot of people don't know about these better games yet, and in the meantime, enjoy what you can.

The same goes for Munchkin and Fluxx. They're entertaining, and that matters. But a lot of the entertainment people get from them is situational, from their cultural context.

* People play Monopoly because they think they're supposed to play it, it's "board gaming" to most people.
* People play Munchkin and Fluxx because (to different degrees) they're backstabby kind of fun games, not tremendously deep, and it's also funny. There's nothing wrong with it at all as a source of humor.

A critical approach to gaming will concern itself more with the timeless appeal of games, and thus seek to discount those aspects. If we play any of these games centuries from now, well, I don't think Monopoly will be among them, except maybe as a curiosity, the way we play Parcheesi -- and probably not even then.

(Pandemic is the predecessor.)

Huh, you're right. I could have sworn I'd heard of FI earlier. I stand corrected.

Let's see *your* game that you invented and published and that anybody anywhere ever paid a penny for, and I will start caring about what you think in proportion to what you've done.

Oh please. Then Michael Bay is our greatest filmmaker, and reality television is objectively perfect. Tell it to the Ranking Monkey.
posted by JHarris at 11:17 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you have enough drunk people then you probably want to learn more towards party games like Are You A Werewolf, which are more social and scales up to 20 (in fact are best with around that number).

7 Wonders won a slew of awards, isn't that complicated, is over quickly, and supports up to 7 players.
posted by JHarris at 11:19 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Game theory is a thing, after all, and it's more than just the simple relativism of "we're having fun," which makes any critical discussion of gaming near-impossible.

Game/decision theory is descended from the mathematically formalized worldview of a paranoid schizophrenic combined with thinktank justifications for nuclear brinksmanship. Its earliest discoveries were that people do not make optimal selfish paranoid decisions unless they are unnaturally incentivized and highly abstracted. Even if you ignore all that, what's left does not apply to games as fun things so much, though patterns can sometimes be seen after the fact.

But the idea that without mathematical proof everything is relative and of equal merit is also bad. This defence against criticism gets trotted out by gamers because a lot of us like trivial or tasteless things, suffer from unwarranted feelings of persecution, or just have a limited experience of mainstream culture beyond what we experience in the education system. This is pretty much harmless. Nobody gets injured by a Diplomacy variant, or by a theatresports ripoff masquerading as an innovative rpg. But nobody should get lauded for it, either, and hobbyists, at once eager to stay positive by boosting games and pretty conservative about playing them, are not great at criticising them.

I include myself in that diss. I'd love to play Talisman again, but it sure is a piece of shit.

Right now I'd say we're in a disruptive burp that is already resolving itself through consolidation, major entrants and pruning away failures. Larger companies will crowdfund, dominate that space, and boot competitors to the e-store equivalent of having a Blogger blog out there somewhere. Any company using new funding and presages methods like these had better hav their long game planned for this reality--the same one that has ensured that despite a decade and a half of prophecy, we still have terrible, hugely successful pop music despite the theoretical reach of Internet People.
posted by mobunited at 11:27 PM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


A critical approach to gaming will concern itself more with the timeless appeal of games, and thus seek to discount those aspects. If we play any of these games centuries from now, well, I don't think Monopoly will be among them, except maybe as a curiosity, the way we play Parcheesi -- and probably not even then.

God, that would be a joyless way to study games. Anyway, Monopoly will last because you perform side deals with money. Monopoly's board only records a fraction of what is going on with the game. The properties can be abstracted and the cards changed to another random system, but the money game generated by them is pretty appealing to a lot of people, and can carry it.
posted by mobunited at 11:38 PM on April 14, 2013


Wow! I'm glad I asked about drunk people.

My specific group mainly plays Gang of Four or Daifugo if we don't have exactly four players; we sometimes have as many as eight or ten people. One catch is that we're pretty much always in bars, so things with too many components - like Seven Wonders - might be a bit much. I tried teaching them Mafia recently, but a few people were just drunk enough it was an amusing but abject failure with accidental talking and opening eyes at the wrong point and whatnot. Still, they're interested in another go, and I'm glad to have a list of alternatives too!
posted by 23 at 11:40 PM on April 14, 2013


Way upthread someone mentioned cosmic encounter - if you liked that game try and get your hands on dune the board game - very similar mechanic plus some extra ridiculous things.

My group is currently playing a lot of game of thrones the board game - it has a lot of cool mechanics from other games (negotiating from diplomacy, bidding a la cyclades, some resource generation, etc.) And it also has a lot of fun storyline elements/characters that add to the board game narrative.
posted by The Ted at 11:59 PM on April 14, 2013


The Ted: "Way upthread someone mentioned cosmic encounter - if you liked that game try and get your hands on dune the board game - very similar mechanic plus some extra ridiculous things."

The Dune boardgame is a thing of beauty, it's so wonderfully themed. I would kill for an electronic version with AI.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 12:12 AM on April 15, 2013


God, that would be a joyless way to study games.

Speaking as someone who has thought a lot about games independent of their theme and in context of their mechanics, it needn't be. Indeed, the first step towards really understanding something is to seek to put it in its place. There are lots of people who enjoy movies a lot without ever thinking about them; in fact, they tend to be very manipulable filmgoers, going to whatever had the coolest commercial. To understand something you have to be able to think about it critically, and without such understanding, game design cannot advance.

Anyway, Monopoly will last because you perform side deals with money.

It innovated in that regard, but there are plenty of other games that let you do inter-player transactions. Settlers of Catan does it a lot better, because you have to make those deals frequently instead of a mere handful of times. Diplomacy is the kind of that kind of thing, since players can make all kinds of deals, and players must make deals to succeed, but then may ignore them as they wish.

The Dune boardgame is a thing of beauty

For those who aren't aware, Fantasy Flight's Rex: Final Days of an Empire, set in their Twilight Imperium universe, is a reskinning of Dune by its original designers with some minor changes and without the original property (which the Herbert estate refuses to license). Not all of them are cosmetic, but it seems to be fundamentally similar.
posted by JHarris at 1:00 AM on April 15, 2013


I would rather play Monopoly than Fluxx, but almost no one I have ever met knows how to play Monopoly. Seriously, read the rules.

Seconded. Monopoly is a good fifteen minute cutthroat auction-and-trading game with the flaw it takes two hours (which is why the Speed Dice is great). Seriously the first 15 minutes is running round the board to get a starting position, the next fifteen is working out who gets the sets, and the entire rest of the game is slowly letting whoever won the second fifteen minutes crush the opposition unless someone plays kingmaker.

Munchkin is a game for people who roleplayed as teenagers to get drunk to. And certain games (like Arkham Horror) only work as a framework for storytellers/roleplayers.

Ascension is a good game as long as people aren't trying too hard to win. There are a couple of degenerate strategies that work very well and aren't any fun for the other player.

Two I'm surprised no one's mentioned so far are the kickstarted (Zombicide and Sentinels of the Multiverse. Both are games from new companies with no rep backing them Zombicide's experience came from Rackham's art department - which admittedly meant they had contacts). Both have been extremely successful on Kickstarter. And both are superb cooperative boardgames that manage to be both highly thematic and often very tense. (Zombicide's tension comes from a Tetris-like mechanic where the more your characters level up the faster the zombies come, and Sentinels' tension comes from the villains starting at near-full strength but the heroes having to power up from their deck). Yes, 90% of Kickstarter games are crap. Sturgeon's Law. There are very few good cooperative games out there - and Kickstarter's produced two I can put right up there with Pandemic for gameplay while at the same time finding them as highly themed and good for working narratives round as Arkham Horror. (And both have had significant tweaking after their initial release with good reason).
posted by Francis at 4:32 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think an important sector of games has been overlooked here: the Putting Things On Other Things genre. Seriously, I would prefer to play a PTOOT game than almost any other, and there are classics in the field:
* Jenga (obvs) and its derived RPG Dread
* Bausack, which I've described as "not so much a game as Game Design 101 in a bag"
* Tier auf Tier/Animal Upon Animal
* Topple
* Villa Paletti, which won the SdJ in 2002

and oddities like Burp and Neolithibum, the latter of which comes with three decent-sized bags of rocks (actual rocks) in the box, making it the second heaviest game in my collection after Carabande, and obscurities like Polarity which involves balancing magnetic discs so that they levitate on each other's magnetic fields.

There isn't room here to go into the related genre of Bouncing Things Off Other Things, which begins with global classics like Shove Ha'Penny and Carrom, and moves onto the aforementioned Carabanda/Pitch Car. But it goes without saying that BTOOT and PTOOT games are almost without exception mad fun (Polarity is a piece of shit but the concept is so good it gets a pass), social, hilarious and get more entertaining the more you've had to drink.

Not only am I completely serious but I am also a professional game designer so respect mah authorial authority.
posted by Hogshead at 5:03 AM on April 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also in the PTOOT games - kind of - is the Toc Toc Woodcutter game, which is a lot of fun.
posted by 23 at 5:09 AM on April 15, 2013


I hear Torres is an excellent PTOOT game.
posted by aldurtregi at 5:50 AM on April 15, 2013


Since we're talking about good card games, does anyone know any that work in that most difficult of situations - a largish group of somewhat drunk people?

Chez Geek, which is the only game I can think of where it is possible to win by getting drunk and falling asleep. In the game, that is.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:50 AM on April 15, 2013


Since we're talking about good card games, does anyone know any that work in that most difficult of situations - a largish group of somewhat drunk people?

Cards Against Humanity is designed for exactly this situation.
posted by Coobeastie at 5:53 AM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Cards Against Humanity is designed for exactly this situation.

Or the cleaner original version Apples to Apples.
posted by Francis at 6:09 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, yes, the "philosophical/ironic" explanation, that's always a classic reason for justifying why you like something shitty. But that doesn't make it not shitty.

I think this attitude is really, really indicative of why people -- web-savvy, fun-having, internet-communty-understanding people -- will never get into board games. They will play them with their friends, maybe they'll buy their own Catan, but they'll not even attempt to integrate themselves into the community and never seek out novel or challenging experiences short of maybe getting something new for their kids.

The fact that someone can say "I really like X and Y, what else should I play" and the conversation eventually turning into "well, you like shitty things" is a whole lot worse for board gaming as a social phenomenon than people not taking their gaming seriously enough.
posted by griphus at 6:17 AM on April 15, 2013 [20 favorites]


Well, iof it's casual gaming versus "real" gaming again then it sounds like "real" gaming has all the flaws of its computer games cousin.
posted by Artw at 6:21 AM on April 15, 2013


Cards Against Humanity is designed for exactly this situation.

Or the cleaner original version Apples to Apples.


It's basically what Apples to Apples plus booze turns into anyway.
posted by Artw at 6:22 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


The fact that someone can say "I really like X and Y, what else should I play" and the conversation eventually turning into "well, you like shitty things" is a whole lot worse for board gaming as a social phenomenon than people not taking their gaming seriously enough.

Agreed. Our best meetups have had a mix of hardcore games with more casual ones. One time we had a game of Power Grid going at one table, and another group of people played Fluxx, Skip Bo, Uno, Yahtzee, Set, etc. in the time it took the Power Grid group to finish. If we declared that only some games were welcome, I have a feeling we'd have a much smaller group, and less fun meetups.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:44 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


This summer, I was turned onto a simple and pretty great modification to Apples to Apples (it would work for CAH as well): the judge gets a random card off the stack along with all the actual cards the other players give them. Comedy gold!
posted by griphus at 6:45 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cards Against Humanity is designed for exactly this situation.
Or the cleaner original version Apples to Apples.


These are firmly party games, fun, yes, but not particularly deep. Of course, large drunk groups tend to not be the best environment for things like Power Grid or Agricola.

On Hogshead's mentioning of PTOOT (P'toot!) and BTOOT (B'toot!) games, those are awesome. I keep coming more and more often to the idea of bringing objects into board games in such a way that their physicality matters. I had an idea last night (so, you know, who knows if this would work or not) for a zombie game where the zombie mob isn't represented by counters but by a roped-off section of the board, as in physically roped with string wound around weights. When the zombie mob moves, instead of moving counters the players would physically drag one of the weights, dragging the other weights with it. When the mob gets larger, a loop would be unwound from one of the weights, making the string effectively longer, so the next time the mob moves the slack is taken up by the moving weight, and when the mob gets smaller the reverse process would happen; the string would be pulled towards one weight then wound.

Of course, a problem with this idea is that it'd require some degree of manual dexterity just to update the gameboard, and the winding is physically awkward. But maybe with weights with holes in them, through which the string could be strung, and with fasteners to cordon off sections of string? Ah well, maybe Metafilter isn't the best place to brainstorm these things....
posted by JHarris at 7:23 AM on April 15, 2013


Cards Against Humanity requires that your group have similar senses of humor, otherwise it turns into a kind of boringly gross exercise. There are opportunities for real cleverness there, but they're often drowned out.

23: the game you're looking for is definitely Skulls & Roses. I linked to a review in the main post, but the summary is that someone cut out poker's heart, gave it a biker gang theme, and slapped it on what are literally some drink coasters. It's one of a few games where getting the pieces stained with beer and whiskey only improves them. It's also capable of eliciting drunken howls of anguish and laughter from entirely sober persons.

If people haven't watched the golden age talk, I really do recommend it! It makes some great, evidentiary arguments for its thesis (such as the rapid iteration on the basic principles of Dominion). The Kickstarter thing, while interesting and exciting, doesn't provide much evidence for or against his position.

Speaking of Dominion though, I think it's a good example of the dangers of an overly mechanical criticism of game design. I'm ok with Dominion - I can have fun with it - but it's largely solitaire. Some of the expansions added some limited player interaction, but the core of the game is solo combo-building.

This is pretty common with worker-placement games too. Tzol'kin's board and concept are really really neat, but there's little to no intrinsic social interaction happening.

None of this is to say that these are bad games! They're not! But they're not games that really do a good job of pushing the buttons I like pushed.

Oh, and for the people that like the idea of Twilight Imperium but can't see themselves or their group spending 8+ hours at the table, Eclipse is supposed to have a lot of the same stuff at a much shorter (though still long) playtime. Starlit Citadel did a good walkthrough.

Anyway, the whole scene is so broad now - and broadening every year - that I wanted to just link to some of the more interesting voices talking about games right now. Although I'm in idiot and totally forgot to link to Richard Garfield's and Mark Rosewater's design podcasts. Son of a grump. =( I asked my boyfriend to remind me of anything I was missing, too. Oh well!
posted by kavasa at 7:41 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


This summer, I was turned onto a simple and pretty great modification to Apples to Apples (it would work for CAH as well): the judge gets a random card off the stack along with all the actual cards the other players give them. Comedy gold!

Rando Cardrissian as it is called in my group, because people weren't taking our lunch money fast enough, apparently.

Speaking of which, I won't say it's a great game, but another ridiculous card game is Lunch Money, which simulates a vicious riotous playground brawl at a Catholic girls' school. You know, for comedy.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:41 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're illustrating my point earlier, which is that critical analysis of gaming is relatively sparse, particularly so in this context. Game theory is a thing, after all, and it's more than just the simple relativism of "we're having fun," which makes any critical discussion of gaming near-impossible (because people can have fun with anything, so therefore all games are equal in value because every game is fun to somebody).

Right, but I think what's interesting about me and my friends is that, again, we play all the games that win Spiel Des Jahres and all that, so we're not playing Fluxx because we've never heard of anything better. I think part of the fun of Fluxx is that it basically tries to defeat game theory, but I also enjoy wandering around strange cities on vacation and trying to get lost. It's just all about the process, not about the end - I've actually felt disappointed when a game of Fluxx ends if the rule setup was amusing enough.

And actually, I'd put the mechanics of Fluxx closer to Rummikub or Qwirkle than to Tic-Tac-Toe (which I don't think was a serious comment anyway) - you have the potential to win on many turns, but that ability is very dependent on what happens to the "board" during the turns of other players. In Fluxx the board just changes a lot more.

One game that we've played recently that's all hifalutin' game theory and no fun at all: High Society.
posted by LionIndex at 7:48 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fact that someone can say "I really like X and Y, what else should I play" and the conversation eventually turning into "well, you like shitty things" is a whole lot worse for board gaming as a social phenomenon than people not taking their gaming seriously enough.

YES. This so much. Don't like Fluxx? Fine, don't like it. You don't need to try and demean people for liking it, or try and explain why they shouldn't like it until they feel bad about liking it. I don't like Fluxx or a lot of other games, but if other people do then more power to them. I'm not into people telling me how I am wrong for liking something because I just don't know any better. Meh.
posted by custardfairy at 7:52 AM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


De gustibus non est disputandum.

Play what you like.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:56 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rando Cardrissian as it is called in my group

Rando Cardrissian is an officially-recognized CAH house rule -- it's actually included on the rules sheet that most people probably glance at once and then throw away. It is a brilliant rule, mainly because the randomness results in some pretty incredible combinations, especially for the multi-card and haiku hands.

Rando has become such a mainstay of my circle's CAH games that I'm thinking of making a little blue-and-gold cape that we can drape around a 40-oz Colt 45 to represent Rando at the table. If Rando wins the game, everyone at the table has to take a swig of the room-temperature fo'tie.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:01 AM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I discovered ricochet robots last week and my wife and I are addicted. It's a great way to start game night, because people can kind of roll in and start playing in the middle, and games are pretty quick.
posted by the theory of revolution at 8:41 AM on April 15, 2013


The fact that someone can say "I really like X and Y, what else should I play" and the conversation eventually turning into "well, you like shitty things" is a whole lot worse for board gaming as a social phenomenon than people not taking their gaming seriously enough.

Which is a fair counter-criticism and I freely admit that "shitty" was an inflammatory way to describe Fluxx. BUT: in terms of game design, Fluxx is designed to be arbitrary and relatively pointless (its boosters argue that these are strengths, so let's accept that it is arbitrary and pointless, and whether that design is purposeful or accidental can be left for discussion elsewhere). People who just want to play something arbitrary and pointless aren't really engaging with the greater boardgame world anyway, and I speak from experience here - having been, previously, a semi-professional boardgame guru at a boardgame cafe, where a major part of the job was helping people pick games to play and coaching them through the games where necessary.

That doesn't make them bad people or even people who are choosing their hobbies badly. But there are people who actively want to engage with the play of game and there are people who just want to be social with their favorite people. Fluxx players fall into the latter category, and for those people anything generally heavier than a very, very light strategy game like For Sale! is "too thinky." Sometimes you have success shifting them over to bluffing or deduction games like Skull and Roses or The Resistance, and they'll enjoy that, but as often as not they'll say it's "too intense" because they don't want to spend time challenging their loved ones about lying. There are some people who just aren't meant to play poker.

For these people, what they want out of "a boardgame" is simply the shared time. Which is nice and all, but they're not really gaming. They are passing time. You could give them a copy of a simple roll-and-move game like The Game of Life and they'll have a grand old time (and I have done just that, many times), because the game is really entirely incidental to everything else they enjoy about the time they're spending with loved ones. I know a few game stores that have started a successful side business in jigsaw puzzles for exactly this reason and exactly this sort of prospective customer.

When someone tells me "I really like Fluxx," the question I ask is "why" - and it's not to challenge, because people like Fluxx for two reasons. They either like it because they like some aspect of the gameplay (moving around cards and affecting other people's cards, for example), or because it is silly and pointless. The first type of person usually is open to a more involved game and once they find it, they drop Fluxx like a bad habit. The second type of person almost never has any interest in playing more serious boardgames per se, and the Fluxx boosters here who do are frankly a bit anomalous in that regard.
posted by mightygodking at 9:00 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


...so who wants to play some Here I Stand. Eh? Eh???
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:03 AM on April 15, 2013


...so who wants to play some Here I Stand. Eh? Eh???

Have you played Virgin Queen yet? It's Here I Stand's newer, smarter sister. Now with MORE PROTESTANTS!
posted by mightygodking at 9:05 AM on April 15, 2013


I have not played either, but Here I Stand looked very interesting to me. What, in your estimation, makes Virgin Queen better?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:14 AM on April 15, 2013


Thanks to to MeFites suggesting it, my husband and I bought Escape! for Christmas. We've enjoyed it immensely-- in no little part because of the cooperative aspect of the game. I will admit it, I'm a grumpy loser and too many losses in a row makes me pout so this game has been a godsend. Now we either win together or lose together but the main thing is we are equals even in boardgameland.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:23 AM on April 15, 2013


[W]hat they want out of "a boardgame" is simply the shared time. Which is nice and all, but they're not really gaming. They are passing time.

Defining 'gaming' in a way that makes playing games not intrinsically qualify as gaming is, respectfully, neither helpful nor accurate, and that kind of thinking -- I think -- tends to do more to drive people away from trying more complicated games than anything about 'serious' games themselves.

I don't disagree with your analysis of Fluxx, or with games you'd recommend to players who like it, but it's completely possible to recommend Fluxx-like games without criticizing Fluxx itself.
posted by cjelli at 9:34 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


BUT: in terms of game design, Fluxx is designed to be arbitrary and relatively pointless (its boosters argue that these are strengths

Yeah, it's published by Looney Labs, from whom this kind of game is pretty common. It's not bad for what it is, but the core of the resurgence of board gaming comes from ingenious design and strategy, not the kinds of random party games which we've already got many hundreds, with slogans printed on the box like (quickly runs back to bookstore's board game shelf for real world examples, these are paraphrased because my note taking app immediately lost all the quotes I gathered):

The game of hilarious comparisons! (Apples To Apples, of course)
Even if you're a dumb ass you can win! (Smart Ass, yeah there's a cartoon picture of a donkey on the front, you're so original Smart Ass)
Stretch the truth and your nose may grow! (Fibber, the exclamation point here makes me nervous. Why are you shouting this at me, Product Box? Is this a warning? A threat?)
The QUICK question game of What Am I? (Headbanz, brought to us by the Disney monolith, run by people who still think replacing S's randomly with Z's is cool)
The classic rack 'em and score game (Rack-o, with yet another of those taglines that tells you nothing about the game while trying to conince you to buy it)
Mix, match, score and win! (Qwirkle, see what I mean?)
The unpredictable party game where you OBEY the CARD (Quelf, that's a bit more descriptive at least)
The classic dice-rolling, risk taking game (Farkle, is really a classic?)
The 20 second crossword race you can play any place! (Zip-It, I wonder how many additional sales a tagline with internal rhyme is worth? I bet marketing folks have put a precise number to this.)
Connect fruit instead of dots! (Fruitominoes, making it slightly more interesting to play Muggins. "I got a multiple of oranges, so I score banana!")
The game of putting things in order (Sort It Out!, the game for compulsive alphabetizers)
The fast-play way to build your dream city! ([groan] CityVille Monopoly)

Meanwhile good games like Settlers of Catan, 7 Wonders and Dominion say little to encourage sales. I like this sense that an understated box tends to contain a better game.

having been, previously, a semi-professional boardgame guru at a boardgame cafe, where a major part of the job was helping people pick games to play and coaching them through the games where necessary

TELL ME WHERE YOU FIND JOBS LIKE THIS
posted by JHarris at 9:51 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


my husband and I bought Escape! for Christmas

Is that this game?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:52 AM on April 15, 2013


The first type of person usually is open to a more involved game and once they find it, they drop Fluxx like a bad habit. The second type of person almost never has any interest in playing more serious boardgames per se, and the Fluxx boosters here who do are frankly a bit anomalous in that regard.

I mean, I guess almost everyone I board game with -- not a big group, admittedly -- must be anomalous as well? That's sort of an identical argument to "people who drink Miller High Life either stop drinking it when they find a good beer, or they have no interest in good beer," which is a statement that is equally wrong, from my experience. They drink Miller High Life when they want to drink it because it's Miller High Life, and they drink fancy, complex microbrew when they want that.

I game with people for whom Catan is too complex, and people who can rattle off Arkham Horror errata as quickly as their social security number. Some like Fluxx, some don't, but never once has "there are objectively better games we can play instead" has been the reason to not play it. Some people don't like it for the exact reasons you mention, certainly, but I can't claim for any of them that either of your two scenarios holds.
posted by griphus at 9:54 AM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


What, in your estimation, makes Virgin Queen better?

Here I Stand is a great game, but one of its major problems is that the religion phase is essentially dominated by the Protestants and the Papacy - which, duh - and as a result a good chunk of every game with more than two players is generally spent waiting and watching those two players do the religion stuff so everybody else can get back to actually playing the rest of the game. On top of that, a couple of factions (England and to a lesser extent the Hapsburgs) don't do that much in the early game and only come into their own halfway through. The result is a game that can really take a couple of turns (e.g. "three or four hours") for some players to really start playing the heavy, deeply thinky, interactive, negotiation-mad game that is what most people love about Here I Stand.

In Virgin Queen, the religious aspects of the beginnings of the Elizabethan era - the Dutch revolt, the Hugenot uprising, the various intricacies surrounding Mary, Queen of Scots, etc. - are all folded into the other mechanics and there is no "religion phase." There's just actions for you to take, some of which are religiously-themed in nature (e.g spreading Protestantism or, if you are one of the Catholic powers, "rooting out heresy"). The action options are even more broad than they were in HiS - scientific advances, assassinations, et cetera - and the tying of religion into the main action phase makes action points precious resources that you have to expend very, very carefully. (Unless you are the Ottomans, in which case you don't care about this wacky Christianity and just want to go to war with Spain and/or the Holy Roman Empire, and not having to worry about religion makes you all the more terrifying.)

It's that "I only have so many action points and so many things I need to do" balancing factor that makes Virgin Queen, and Here I Stand before it, probably the absolute best simulations I've ever played of actually running a country, and they are both great games. It's just that Virgin Queen does it all a bit better.
posted by mightygodking at 9:54 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Defining 'gaming' in a way that makes playing games not intrinsically qualify as gaming is, respectfully, neither helpful nor accurate, and that kind of thinking -- I think -- tends to do more to drive people away from trying more complicated games than anything about 'serious' games themselves.

mightygodking is talking about gaming as a competitive activity. It's like the difference between hitting a ball around the tennis court and really playing tennis.

I don't disagree with your analysis of Fluxx, or with games you'd recommend to players who like it, but it's completely possible to recommend Fluxx-like games without criticizing Fluxx itself.

I'm not sure what's wrong with criticizing things. I don't like the Transformers movies. I'd say that in many ways they're not good movies. That doesn't mean people who enjoy Transformers are bad people, but it does mean that they like bad movies. We can get all po-mo, values-are-all-subjective, what-you-like-is-what-you-like if you want, and I'm happy to have that conversation, but it gets old. Now, telling people they like bad things can be rude, mean, and counterproductive. But that's a problem with the messaging, not the message.
posted by smorange at 9:56 AM on April 15, 2013


I mean, I guess almost everyone I board game with -- not a big group, admittedly -- must be anomalous as well?

Not to be rude, but yes - or, at least, a definite rarity. Over the years I have literally encountered hundreds, possibly even thousands at this point, of people who have played Fluxx, and it almost always goes "I like Fluxx because I haven't played anything else - oh, wait, Anything Else is better" or "I like Fluxx because it is silly and I don't want anything heavier." Both of which are valid opinions, but... you guys are honestly statistical outliers in my experience, and my experience is broader than most.
posted by mightygodking at 10:00 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I don't doubt that last part, so fair enough!
posted by griphus at 10:01 AM on April 15, 2013


Fluxx was born dead to me, because my nerd group in high school took Bartok so seriously that
  1. We started keeping rulesets across games
  2. that were so complicated that we had to write them down,
  3. and eventually we just started playing Nomic instead.
After taking a long journey from crazy 8s to "laugh at the funny things we're making each other do!" to "hey, we should write all of this down so we can keep track" to "hey, actually, the process of lawyering the rules is so much more interesting than the card game that we should just jettison the card game," going back to "laugh at the funny things we're making each other do!" was completely unappealing. Especially because fluxx has basically none of the cool meta-rules that made Bartok fun and of which Nomic is entirely made.

We were and are weird people and your mileage may vary, but that's my personal story about why I personally find fluxx uninteresting.

But I'm not here to talk about fluxx. I'm here to reach way back upthread and talk about Small World. So people have observed that it invites players to search for mathematical solutions and have identified that as a problem with the game. And to an extent, I agree. Because each individual turn is nearly solvable, and because there are few random elements (the last-attack die and the next revealed race/power combination being the primary ones), the 2-player game, especially, takes on a chess-like feel, especially once both players learn to maximize the sum of points gained for self and points removed from opponent. Winning becomes a matter of being able to game out several turns in advance; being able to, when you take a race/power combo, predict how long you'll keep it, how long your opponent will keep theirs, and what you'll take next. I am attracted to this sort of game (I play a lot of blitz chess, for example), but I can see why others wouldn't be.

The thing is, though, if by some fluke you're in a multi-player game in a group where every player, or most of the players, have learned to game out the math, the game stops being about math and starts being about diplomacy.

What? So, like, when I kill an opponent's active race token in two players, I think of it as three points for myself: one for the territory I've gained, one for the territory I've removed, and one for the inactive race tile that my opponent will have to remove when they take their active race into decline early cause I keep killing their active tokens.

It's not so simple in (say) four player. Taking out someone else's active race token results in me getting three points relative to that player, but only one point relative to each other player. Because in most situations killing active race tokens takes a much larger investment than killing inactive race tokens or just taking empty squares, this deal is one you only want to take when you're absolutely, completely sure that removing two points from someone else is worth it.

Once everyone's got that math down, the game becomes about convincing other people to kill the leader for you1, about forging alliances with other players in order to reduce the game back to the simpler 2-player scenario, about learning to jump out of alliances that will make you the weaker player in a 2-player scenario, and so forth. It's less like a Euro and more like Kissinger's favorite board game, but it's really, really satisfying.

The problem, of course, is finding a play group consisting of people who are interested in doing the math and who also enjoy lying to their friends recreationally.

1: We've been playing Small World: Underground more than the base set, because the races/powers in SW:UG are just more interesting. One of my favorites is "flame," which I've been thinking of as a "blue shell." Flame is terrible for taking points for yourself, because you're not given that many tokens. But the special power for Flame is (more or less) "take over any territory as if it were empty." This makes them really, really good at totally ruining someone else's day, because you can chew through their active tokens with impunity. If I'm in second and the person in first has a strong active race, I might want to take Flame. But really, I'll want to convince someone else to take Flame for me, because that hurts both the player in first and also the poor chump who took Flame.

posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:04 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


This weekend I trotted out 25 Words Or Less which I hadn't played for over 10 years. It was the GAMES game of the year in maybe ... 1997? As a party game it holds up really well. It's a standard "clue giver says things to get partners to guess answer words on the card" with a cool twist: Before each round the clue-giver for each team looks at the 5 answer words and they then bid, Name That Tune style, on how many total spoken words it'll take them to get their teammates to guess all five answers. Lowest bid gets the card. Answer all 5 within the bid and you get a point; fail and the other team gets a point. And no skipping around. You have to do all 5 in order ... in one minute (we changed to two minutes after people had trouble).

The cards aren't dated the way Trivial Pursuit or Outburst are ... fast and fun.

I like reading everyone's suggestions. Games are very clearly a personal taste. We love playing Family Fluxx now and then especially because anyone can win, which means we can get our 6-year-old to join in. And even when playing games with adults only, there's a big difference between theoretically well-designed games for gamers who love get deep into strategy and games, and games for playing with people who may just want to play games casually without too much commitment. We know a lot of very smart people who nevertheless would never want to play a game that takes over an hour or has billions of tiny markers.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:08 AM on April 15, 2013


mightygodking is talking about gaming as a competitive activity. It's like the difference between hitting a ball around the tennis court and really playing tennis.

I get that. What I'm saying is: I think both of those are tennis. People on a tennis court using tennis rackets to hit a tennis ball back and forth is tennis, in the common sense of the term. Neither competitiveness nor seriousness are the defining qualities of tennis-ness, any more than they are of gaming. You can (and should) certainly draw valid distinctions between two people going to the court on a nice afternoon for fun and the British Open, but that doesn't make one "really" tennis.

There are definitely games that are designed with competitive gaming in mind, and there are people who play games as a competitive activity, and I certainly think that's a useful thing to think about in terms of categorizing games and figuring out what games people like (or might like) and why. That doesn't make non-competitive gaming 'not really gaming.'
posted by cjelli at 10:37 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


You're illustrating my point earlier, which is that critical analysis of gaming is relatively sparse, particularly so in this context. Game theory is a thing, after all, and it's more than just the simple relativism of "we're having fun," which makes any critical discussion of gaming near-impossible

No, but I wouldn't be surprised if people avoid having these conversations with you, because you are apparently not good at separating '$design critique' from 'it is shitty and you should feel bad for enjoying it'.
posted by jacalata at 11:08 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's excellent You Can't Tip a Buick. It makes me annoyed all that much more with the neglected iPad Small World App, which has only supported two players since its launch years ago. (Yes I know about the Kickstarter.)
posted by JHarris at 11:10 AM on April 15, 2013


Neither competitiveness nor seriousness are the defining qualities of tennis-ness, any more than they are of gaming.

Sort of. I mean, it's a family resemblance thing, right? At some point, hitting a ball back and forth isn't tennis. There needs to be some respect for the rules, otherwise it's just hitting a ball back and forth. There needs to be a mutual understanding between players that overlaps with what most of us think is essential to "tennis." Obviously, some people will have more definite ideas than others, and there's a lot of fuzziness involved. But doesn't it make some sense to say that Roger Federer is not just a better tennis player than someone who goes to the court on a lark, hits a ball back and forth, and doesn't care about winning? Federer appreciates the game for its own sake, and in a deeper way.

Likewise, some people enjoy board gaming for the game itself. Implicit in this is an understanding that the point of the activity is to win, while respecting the rules of the game. In most rulebooks, the point of the game is just assumed. For some people, though, it's not about winning, and it's really just a social activity. The telos of the activity is different. But the attitude with which you approach an activity partly determines what it is you're doing, and so I think it's fair to ask whether (most!) people who play Fluxx are really doing the same thing as (most!) people who play Twilight Struggle. Strumming a guitar doesn't make me a musician.

Still, I take your point that this is really a linguistic issue, and it's probably better to use more inclusive language than exclusive.
posted by smorange at 11:15 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, these two things aren't actually contradictory:

1. Criticism can be useful and good.
2. Splitting things into "real games" and "activities" really isn't.

And actually I think that the lighter games are or can be helpful for getting people into crunchier stuff. F'rexample, concentrating on the stories that emerge as you play the more complex games with their alliances, betrayals, and unexplored possibilities.

It's also worth thinking about how a game like Fluxx does succeed. What is it doing well? Is it the art on the cards, the wording of the concept, what? If players could just as well be assembling a puzzle, why are they playing Fluxx? Unless you can posit some answers to those questions, I would suggest that the lens of your criticism is perhaps not as sharp and clear as you think it is. (I have never played the game, I just have notions about the job of capital-c Criticism)

Finally, I'd encourage families to try out King of Tokyo. It's crazy fun, young kids can grasp it immediately, and the theme is really well executed.
posted by kavasa at 11:19 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, does anyone have any good suggestions for recent 2-player games (like, released-in-2012-2013-recent) good in a situation where one of the people isn't particularly into board games. Cooperative better than competitive.

Also it can't be a deck building game because I do not like that mechanic.
posted by griphus at 11:32 AM on April 15, 2013


Rando Cardrissian is an officially-recognized CAH house rule -- it's actually included on the rules sheet that most people probably glance at once and then throw away. It is a brilliant rule, mainly because the randomness results in some pretty incredible combinations, especially for the multi-card and haiku hands.

At a CAH-centred meetup last December, Rando played and played well. One of the three-part answer ones was answered so brilliantly by Rando's happenstance play that we were all astonished and our own contributions looked like a bunch of ugly chickens by comparison. Of course, no one thought to document it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:34 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Haha, griphus. Would you like that delivered by unicorn courier or flying narwhal?
posted by kavasa at 11:43 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


No, but I wouldn't be surprised if people avoid having these conversations with you, because you are apparently not good at separating '$design critique' from 'it is shitty and you should feel bad for enjoying it'.

Hence me already apologizing for including my personal intense dislike of Fluxx in the critique, as I should not have done.
posted by mightygodking at 11:46 AM on April 15, 2013


I'll take scuba-manticore if that's an option.
posted by griphus at 11:47 AM on April 15, 2013


In the BTOOT genre, make mine Crokinole. You can probably find a better supplier, but waiting three months for some Canadian dude to handcraft a board for me was totally worth it. It's a fast, fun 2-player game that gamers and non-gamers alike will beg to play again.

One caveat: if you happen to have visitors from anywhere either Carrom or Crokinole are truly popular, they'll give you a whipping like you haven't had in any game since you were a child playing your mean older brother.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:51 AM on April 15, 2013


my husband and I bought Escape! for Christmas

Is that this game?


Yes. I highly recommend it.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 11:56 AM on April 15, 2013


Oh, does anyone have any good suggestions for recent 2-player games (like, released-in-2012-2013-recent) good in a situation where one of the people isn't particularly into board games. Cooperative better than competitive.

There are very few co-op two-player games out there and most of them are not terribly great games, to be frank, so delving into competitives I'll suggest four:

1.) Vampire Empire is an interesting bluffing/deduction/combat game that is sort of a combination of a two-player version of Werewolf and also some "why don't we just punch the werewolves in the face." It's a little involved but I think it passes the Pandemic Test ("if someone can play Pandemic, they can play this").

2.) Morels has a neat theme (you're collecting and eating delicious mushrooms, but don't eat the poisonous ones) and offers up some neat hand-management play, which is relatively easy for non-hardcore-gamers to get used to quickly.

3.) Plato 3000 was originally Utopian Rummy when it was a print-and-play game before it went ALL CORPORATE AND STUFF, but it's still a great little rummy game where each individual meld doesn't just earn you points but also special abilities.

and 4.) Android: Netrunner is an LCG (i.e. "limited card game" - like a CCG, but cards get released in "chapter packs" rather than boosters so you don't have to worry about randomness when you buy expansions). It's not too hard to learn and it offers delicious gameplay - but deckbuilding is a major part of the fun of it.
posted by mightygodking at 11:58 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I like Fluxx because it is silly and I don't want anything heavier."

Shockingly, this does not make it a _bad game_. Crazy, huh? I mean, I seldom enjoy playing Puerto Rico, because there's invariably one or two people at the table who have worked out the math and are executing the most efficient possible path, and especially because those people can look around the table at the holdings and predict the winner a couple of rounds before the end, which makes playing them out very tedious. But I don't call it a shitty game; it's just that the people who enjoy playing it have different things they want out of a game.

Mostly you seem to want to define your likings as the only possible desire for Real Gamers, so that you can exclude and denigrate people with different desires and interests. Which is, as the poster said above, far more destructive to the hobby than any number of highly random card games.
posted by tavella at 11:58 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Shockingly, this does not make it a _bad game_.

And what I would argue makes it a bad game is the relative lack of agency, relative lack of thought involved in play and relative lack of control. Fluxx is so random a game as to be almost meaningless: I would suggest that roll-and-moves where you have multiple pieces to move - like Sorry! - are more of a game than Fluxx is. At a certain point, we have to define "game" as something more than "I am calling this a game because I like it" and by a lot of popular definitions Fluxx will not qualify.

But by all means, continue to bitch because I called it shitty and then apologized, so you can stand up for all the poor, victimized players of Fluxx. I'm sure they desperately need your defense and show of moral superiority.
posted by mightygodking at 12:02 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


If players could just as well be assembling a puzzle, why are they playing Fluxx?

For many people, it's because they don't want to use their brains, but they still want to play a game; and they want to play a game because it provides some structure around what they're really interested in, which is socializing. That's why they're not assembling a puzzle.

On the other hand, some board games, even heavy board games, aren't very interactive and are instead very puzzle-like, and there are gamers who appreciate those more than I do too. Some primarily approach gaming for the fun of puzzle-solving. I'm glad that there are games for them. But, again, it's not really what I'm interested in. It's the difference between doing a sudoku puzzle and playing chess. I'm glad both exist, but I don't often solve sudoku puzzles.

Socializing and puzzle-solving aren't bad things, obviously. One reason I play board games is to meet interesting people with whom I can have interesting conversations. It's a great way to get to know people without having to go through a bunch of small talk all at once. But because I'm not a fan of small talk, if I'm going to socialize, generally I prefer doing it without a game getting in the way. I'm happier joking and laughing without a game, and I'm more engaged when I'm having a great conversation about science, religion, or philosophy than when I'm playing a trivia game about those things. For me, games aren't really necessary for socializing.

An example of a game I hate is a party game called Quelf. It's one of those inane party games where the inanity feels forced, not embarrassing. And there's nothing worse than acting like an idiot because you're being forced to. I'm happy to embarrass myself all on my own. What makes it dreadful is how punitive it is. The game encourages players to punish each other, which builds resentment as others seize on minor slips, and it drags the game out, especially frustrating when you're not enjoying the experience and you think you're close to the end. It's tantalizing in the worst sense of the word. It's a party game that discourages players from being themselves, and I hate that from a party game. I think that makes it a bad game, not because it fails to capture the Platonic ideal of what a game should be, but because it fails at what it sets out to do, in the context within which it's being played.
posted by smorange at 12:06 PM on April 15, 2013


Hence me already apologizing for including my personal intense dislike of Fluxx in the critique, as I should not have done.

I didn't really see anything you wrote as an apology for that, but if you did then thanks. As a poor victimized player of Fluxx, I do appreciate tavella's defense.
posted by jacalata at 12:07 PM on April 15, 2013


Actually, the thought involved in the play and the search for agency in Fluxx is appealing to me. If you're just playing it like "pick something up, put something down", then you're probably not really paying attention to what the current rules actually dictate, or what power you have in your hand to change the rules (or your hand or someone else's hand). Once you get some familiarity with deck, it becomes much easier (although by no means guaranteed) to figure out a way to engineer things to your advantage. Like, if you've got some combination of keeper and goal cards where you're halfway there, you can play an action card where you draw a couple more cards and maybe you get the one that lets you swap keepers with an opponent to get the keeper you don't have and then you play your goal card and you win. The difficulty is that whatever operation you need to use changes with pretty much every turn - and I actually see this as an advantage over the "better" games where you're just doing the same wash-rinse-repeat mechanics over and over again and hoping you get lucky.

For instance, Ticket to Ride has some horrible flaws such that the game is almost over in the first turn based on what destination cards you get. If you're playing the American version, if someone is lucky enough to get the Montreal-Vancouver ticket, they're going to be incredibly hard to beat - you've got a monster route composed of half the 5 or 6 train tracks on the board, allowing you more turns because you're not going to waste turns putting down little piddly 1 track things. In the European version, although they've corrected for the inequality by giving everyone a 20-point route at the start, it's really hard to beat someone with the Palermo-Moscow route. If you get that at the outset, the rest is just endgame.
posted by LionIndex at 12:15 PM on April 15, 2013


LionIndex, my argument that Fluxx lacks agency stems from the randomness of the card draw. All of the familiarity with the deck in the world won't help you if you just have a bunch of unrelated keeper cards because the game has no innate engine for dealing with bad hands. I gave up on Fluxx after the second or third game where I just sat there for twenty minutes watching other people play because that was how the cards went this time. That's why I think it is a bad game. Good games will give every player the opportunity to play, and Fluxx just doesn't do that.

And arguing that Fluxx has a "search for agency" because if you know the game sufficiently well you can try to dig for cards (assuming you can do so) and then saying that Ticket to Ride has horrible flaws seems to be giving Fluxx credit it doesn't deserve, because veteran players of TtR know that Montreal->Vancouver is overly powerful (the 1910 expansion fixes that imbalance significantly, by the way) and that northern tickets that let you buy up the middle northern tracks can interfere with that ticket. Any game involving a deck of cards can have its balances compensated by player knowledge and skill if they know the contents of the deck, and I would suggest that TtR is more compensable in that sense than Fluxx is.
posted by mightygodking at 12:34 PM on April 15, 2013


When I'm playing Fluxx, the agency is usually involved in denying other people the ability to win, and the entertainment from such. It's akin to what makes double-deck elimination Hearts more entertaining than single-deck for me. There's also value in the fact that it does *not* privilege the more experienced player, which makes it an excellent game for a random group.

Now, there's absolutely value in games that privilege knowledge and experience highly, there's absolutely value in games that are mathematically demanding, but those are _not the only values_. Nor do they determine the overall worth of a game; what determines that is do people enjoy it? Do they find it interesting and entertaining to play? Do they find it continues to be interesting and entertaining to play? And these can be met both by the most demanding levels of chess and by Fluxx, for large numbers of people in both cases.
posted by tavella at 12:49 PM on April 15, 2013


I love Innovation and Glory to Rome

Yes, Innovation is like Fluxx at first, but the more you play it, the more you realize how much control you actually have.
posted by Hubajube at 12:51 PM on April 15, 2013


mightygodking, would you actually recommend Vampire Empire? There is only review at BGG, but I am always on the lookout for good 2-player games.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 12:59 PM on April 15, 2013


Although I now see it actually isn't even out yet (at least not in the US).
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:00 PM on April 15, 2013


Finally, I'd encourage families to try out King of Tokyo. It's crazy fun, young kids can grasp it immediately, and the theme is really well executed.

QFT!

I gave this to my 10-year-old daughter on Christmas and my houseful of multi-generational relatives played this over and over. We also have Forbidden Island, which is also a good game.
posted by jeoc at 1:20 PM on April 15, 2013


mightygodking, would you actually recommend Vampire Empire?

I've only played it twice (it wasn't my copy) and my general reaction was "yeah, okay, this is definitely interesting to good." I'm not sure how much staying power it has, but that's partially because I'm never sure how much staying power a deduction game will have until I've adequately thought about the problem it poses. But it's not purely a deduction game, because there is combat involved as well, which is why I liked it so much. It has a fun theme, the games I played were suitably tense, etc. And it's very attractive to look at, and while I'd like to pretend that that doesn't matter and the rules are all - it's nice.
posted by mightygodking at 1:29 PM on April 15, 2013


I'm generally on mightygodking's side concerning Fluxx and Fluxx-likes. They're technically games, yes, but not in any enlightened sense. It's like comparing Hopscotch to Chess. There's always been a ready market for silly, fast-playing, ultra-random games, they were never in any danger of going away, while (with some exceptions) serious boardgaming had been dormant for a while before Catan.

But again, if you like them, that's fine. I enjoy a nice game of Guilotine myself once in a while. When you're tired of them (and not necessarily forever), let us know and we'll have an armful of deeper things to show you.
posted by JHarris at 1:46 PM on April 15, 2013


I'll take scuba-manticore if that's an option.
The problem with the manticores is that they don't have horns to hang the baskets from, unlike unicorns or narwhals, so they end up hanging it from the stinger. That would be fine if it didn't occasionally drip venom on the parcel or just let it slip off entirely every so often, what with it being shorter than the horns.

TBH their business model just isn't very good.

However I did some thinking about your question and I have seen people talking in approving terms about The Isle of Doctor Necreaux (skip to 17:12). Here's another review, although I'm unfamiliar with those people. I personally haven't played it, but it might work for you?
I think that makes it a bad game, not because it fails to capture the Platonic ideal of what a game should be, but because it fails at what it sets out to do, in the context within which it's being played.
These are good terms on which to conduct criticism!

Whereas when mightygodking declares that Fluxx "isn't a game" according to some popular definitions, I think he's just thrown his hands up and abandoned the project of criticism altogether. Which is odd! Because from reading both his and LionIndex's comments, it seems to me that in fact it is a game, albeit one with some fairly significant flaws that could be addressed by better game design, right? Some sort of mechanism to draw more cards, rifle through discards, search the deck, adjust deck leanness according to number of players, whatever. Because it's certainly true that sitting there for 20 minutes watching everyone else play sucks. It's also true that the central conceit of fluxx (what you play alters the game's rules) seems intuitively fun to me. Just giving up and declaring it not a game would be a shame and a failure of criticism.

I also think mightygodking has made some good points regarding fluxx (like the argument that it's more possible to compensate for ticket to ride's imbalances), and again, it's a shame to give up on that by preemptively scuttling the conversation.
For me, games aren't really necessary for socializing.
They're not necessary for me either, but they're absolutely fun. And I think that the striving between or amongst humans absolutely adds an element to games that's impossible to emulate in any other fashion. And rare are the discussions about Big Subjects that generate stories in the same way gameplay can (thus the importance of theme).
(On Netrunner:) but deckbuilding is a major part of the fun of it.
I think this is a slight mistake of terms. I think of deckbuilding games as stuff like Dominion, Legendary, Ascension, Thunderstone, etc. You're building your deck as you play the game. Netrunner is a game that is played with constructed decks. You look at what you have available, put something together according to the constraints, and see how it fares in the wild. You're definitely not building your deck as you play.
posted by kavasa at 2:00 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


When you're tired of them (and not necessarily forever), let us know and we'll have an armful of deeper things to show you.

If you didn't intend that to sound like "when you are ready to put away your childish toys, we will show you some worthwhile entertainment" then you may want to rephrase that.

kavasa: I don't think deckbuilding has to happen during the game, it's the common term in Magic:The Gathering for instance, and that's pre-game.
posted by jacalata at 2:21 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Would people who enjoy M:TG enjoy the new Netrunner?
posted by griphus at 2:35 PM on April 15, 2013


If you didn't intend that to sound like "when you are ready to put away your childish toys, we will show you some worthwhile entertainment" then you may want to rephrase that.

Maybe you should reinterpret it. As I said, I myself play Guillotine sometimes, it's the same kind of thing. I fell over my own legs trying to avoid dismissing Fluxx and games like it; if you still took offense from it, I suggest you might be a little defensive.
posted by JHarris at 2:35 PM on April 15, 2013


Or, you know, maybe it was contemptuous and offensive, JHarris.
posted by tavella at 2:39 PM on April 15, 2013


I suggest you might be a little defensive.

well, yea, given the thread. I was ticked off by the implication that fluxx players don't already know other games to play. I can see you might have meant it in a more generic way, like 'let's all check out some new games!' but in context it felt like you must have missed the number of people saying 'yea, I play fluxx, and I play other games too, so I don't actually need someone to tell me about the options besides fluxx'.
posted by jacalata at 2:41 PM on April 15, 2013


Or, you know, maybe it was contemptuous and offensive, JHarris.

The implication is that negative value judgments are okay if they're of comments about games, but not if they're of games themselves.
posted by smorange at 2:50 PM on April 15, 2013


Would people who enjoy M:TG enjoy the new Netrunner?
ahem

YES!

The original Netrunner was designed by Richard Garfield (the M:tG guy), and the new one is that same game having been picked up by FFG and rebooted as one of their living card games. I honestly think it's a better game, and I liked M:tG, I just didn't want to spend the money on it. Netrunner's rules are waaay more elegant, both sides are playing with limited information, the theme is brilliant - really, it's a lovely game. Just so good.
kavasa: I don't think deckbuilding has to happen during the game, it's the common term in Magic:The Gathering for instance, and that's pre-game.
I'd literally never encountered the term before I played Dominion? I dunno! It seems like such an important distinction to make, Dominion-style games are so different from constructed deck games.
The implication is that negative value judgments are okay if they're of comments about games, but not if they're of games themselves.
=|

No it isn't. Saying "that was contemptuous" is different from saying "I am contemptuous of this thing."

I personally didn't read JHarris's comment in a negative light, but I could easily see it happening. That's the nature of communication.
posted by kavasa at 2:54 PM on April 15, 2013


No it isn't. Saying "that was contemptuous" is different from saying "I am contemptuous of this thing."

Right, but implicit in the former is a judgment that the contemptuous comment is bad.
posted by smorange at 3:03 PM on April 15, 2013


The implication is that negative value judgments are okay if they're of comments about games, but not if they're of games themselves.

An implication, if you must. A simpler implication would be that contemptuous judgements are not ok but other forms of negative value judgements are.
posted by jacalata at 3:06 PM on April 15, 2013


"When you're tired of them (and not necessarily forever), let us know and we'll have an armful of deeper things to show you." Which implies that someone who is not tired of Fluxx must therefore be an ignorant fool who is not aware of other games, and must be educated by the True Gamers once they have become sufficiently enlightened to agree with them that Fluxx is crappy.

I've played plenty of different games. I do not need JHarris or anyone else showing me "deeper games", and I still enjoy the occasional game of Fluxx.

This thread is really reminding me of rpg.net, specifically why I do not post in the gaming forums there. Because way too much of the time when you express an opinion, a bunch of people will weigh in to gamersplain (and 95 percent of the time, it is also mansplaining) how you are Wrong.
posted by tavella at 3:16 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ok. This is a lesson that actually took me a few years to learn, smorange, and I still run afoul of it from time to time. If you want to have a courteous conversation, how you phrase things is important. There are certain things that it is impossible to phrase nicely, such as racist sentiments, but for things like comments about game design, you can absolutely go about it in better and worse ways.

Here's an excerpt from mightygodking's initial comment, made just a few minutes after the post:
"oh my god this game is actually shit and if you just want to spend time with your friends play something that is not shit or go play basketball and get some exercise, but for god's sake don't play this"
He has since explicitly apologized for it, but you can see that it still affects the tone of the thread.

Imagine if, instead, his first comment had been more akin to his later ones, where he clarified that he didn't like it because he'd had games where he spent 20 minutes doing nothing, and further that he felt that the game design didn't have any mechanism that corrected for bad card draws and was more random than anything else. The chances that people would have been upset would have been far lower (pretty close to 0, honestly).

Then with Jharris's most recent comment, he could just as easily have left out the bit about having deeper games to show people, for the reasons tavella states.

So. It is, as we can see, possible to criticize both comments about games and the games themselves. Doing this respectfully, in a fashion that doesn't derail conversation, is a learned skill. Taste is not beyond dispute and it can be changed, but if you start things off with "you like shitty things" or "you are ignorant of good things," you'll generally end up in the weeds.
posted by kavasa at 3:23 PM on April 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's also true that the central conceit of fluxx (what you play alters the game's rules) seems intuitively fun to me.

It is! Fluxx just executes it very, very poorly. For example, if you want to play a game where you alter the rules, you can play Mao with a basic deck of cards, and Mao is twenty times the game Fluxx will ever be.

Just don't ask me to tell you what the rules are.
posted by mightygodking at 3:35 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


PTOOT! I love it. Way better category name than "Action / Dexterity".

My favorite game of that flavor is Hamster Rolle. Surprisingly, there are no Youtube videos up...
posted by anthill at 5:56 PM on April 15, 2013


kavasa, fair enough. I agree that how you phrase things is important, and I apologize for contributing to the nastiness. I'm genuinely happy that tavella (and anyone else) enjoys Fluxx, but I don't agree with tavella's assertion up-thread that the way to judge whether a game is good is simply to ask whether people enjoy it.
posted by smorange at 6:03 PM on April 15, 2013


tavella: Or, you know, maybe it was contemptuous and offensive, JHarris.

About Fluxx? Really?

I know people with much worse opinions about games like Fluxx than me. But what the hell do you care? Or should you? PLAY WHAT YOU ENJOY.
posted by JHarris at 7:12 PM on April 15, 2013


I mean hell, there's Cthulhu Fluxx, how the heck could I hate that?
posted by JHarris at 7:14 PM on April 15, 2013


TELL ME WHERE YOU FIND JOBS LIKE THIS

So I know a place, but the uniforms are a bit... frilly.
posted by 23 at 12:44 AM on April 16, 2013


Thought I'd revisit this thread to post this beautifully designed Moby Dick card game that showed up on Kickstarter.
posted by oulipian at 9:52 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


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