Transcript of Shut Up and Sit Down Presents: Board Gaming’s Golden Age
At Gamecity UK in Nottingham
Transcribed by Grant Vaucher via Shutupandsitdown.com
Hi everybody. My name’s Quintin Smith I’m a games journalist of about ten years standing and a board games journalist of about two years standing.
Is everyone having a good festival so far (chorus of yeses) that’s good, cool.
I want to talk to you about board games today. I want to talk to you about them because their going through something really really exciting at the moment. What I’m calling the golden age and people within the industry also agree with me. But first of all I want to define my terms. When I talk about board games I’ll be talking about niche board games. I’ll walk you through a few just to make sure we are all on exactly the same level here.
So first of all Catacombs, this retails at about forty pounds. This is a game with the most trite tedious theme imaginable. Catacombs is fantasy heroes adventuring through a dungeon to try and slay some big evil at the very end of it, the problem being you’re all wooden disks, and its not played with tactics so much as its played with dexterity. If you want your barbarian to hit a monster you flick it at the monster. If you want to hide from a spider you flick yourself behind one of these stone pillars so it can’t hit you with its webs. And the amazing thing about Catacombs isn’t when it works, and it does work its an amazing really really fun game, what’s amazing about it is when it doesn’t work. That makes it way more fun. If you flick your barbarian at two trolls to hit them both and the token flips on its side and rolls between them very slowly, that’s amazing. What’s even more amazing is when the elf fires an arrow and it bounces off the wizards head to kill a skeleton. That’s just super super cool.
Next one we’ve got Galaxy Trucker. This one is more expensive at something like forty five or fifty pounds. Came out a few years ago and it’s unbelievable because it captures everything that makes people watch and enjoy Top Gear super tests. What you get is you have this ship you have to build yourself with one hand from a pile of these tokens in the middle of the table that are face down. So you will pick it up and look and it’s a laser, you put it down and anything you put down is stuck there and can’t be moved right. Which means if you build say this hazardous cargo container sticking out at the end of your ship where it can be hit by an asteroid you can’t remove that, you’re stuck with it. The amazing thing about galaxy trucker is when you all build your ships before you take off and go into space you will take about three to four minutes making fun of each other’s ships.
Because somebody forgot to put any engines on theirs, or no room for cargo or somebody just built a ship that’s shaped like an (expletive). And then you take off and the amazing thing about the modular design is that when you move through asteroid fields or get shot at by pirates bits start falling off again. It’s entirely possible that if you say have one connector that holds together the two sides of your ship and that gets shot by a laser from behind your entire ship is sheared in half. And again because its modular and every piece has its own characteristics your half of a ship can keep going, and it happens and its amazing. These little crew cabinets you might end up crossing the finish line with nothing but two crewmen in a room floating through space.
So yeah that’s super amazing
This came out just last month, this is City of Horror and it’s a zombie game. And it’s the best zombie board game ever made because it understands the greatest thing about zombie fiction which is that it’s not about the zombies, the zombies are only a backdrop. Zombie apocalypse fiction is all about how people react under pressure. Which is to say this is a game where zombies appear every turn and you will have survivors in the armory, or in the church, or in the watchtower. And it’s all about arguing with the people in that room, because when there are enough zombies out there you have to through somebody out. So in the last game I played I had a teenager up in the water tower a friend had a priest, and there were too many zombies down there and we had to decide which of us we were going to throw out. All your characters are worth different points and sure enough the priest said use your gun on the zombies and I said no I only have so many bullets, and the teenager was thrown out and fed to zombies. In other words this is a game about zombies that you play only with your mouth, it’s also about talking. It’s also the only game I have played that has elicited a genuine scream from a player, because your votes go three two one and you all point, and my friend knew which way the vote was going to go. So he knew he was going to be thrown out of the church. So he was going nonononoNONONO! And then the vote happened and everyone pointed at him and sure enough he was thrown out.
I’ll blitz through a couple more. Shadow Hunters is a Japanese board game. Board games are made all over the world. Shadow hunters is amazing, because it’s again quite a trite theme, it’s very anime. You have demons some players are demons some players are demon hunters, but the problem is no one knows who is on which team all your roles are secret you have to work out who all the other players are and try and kill them. Which means you might end up stabbing your own teammates. Basically its cluedo except instead of laboriously trying to solve a murder you are trying to kill people and not be killed yourself by working out who people are. That’s super exciting.
Now Puzzle Strike is just (garbled noise of confusion). There was a puzzle fighting game, a video game that came out a while back called puzzle fighter and puzzle strike emulates that. It’s a card game, but it uses chips instead of cards. So what we have here, and I hope I get this right, is a chip game simulating a card game simulating a video game simulating a fight.
All of these games that I’m walking you through all have one thing in common is that they are
(Laughter, Slide text: They are (expletive) weird)
Really good pieces of game design is the way I’d put it.
Now here’s the thing, so this is my board game site (gestures to screen). We started it two years ago and I was wondering if there was a reason we started it when we did, and its not just us. We’ve got Penny Arcade doing not just blog posts about board games, but actual strips. We’ve got Rock Paper Shotgun’s weekly column on board games. We’ve got continue magazine just launched. This is a magazine that covers video game culture and board game culture both. And something’s happening here so I went and did some homework and I talked to Esdevium games who distribute board games in the UK, and I talked to them with regards to sales figures. What’s coming up is not a real graph really.
But the intent behind it is real. For the last ten years board game sales have been going up every single year by between ten and twenty percent, that’s enormous. And there are two things that are amazing about this, first of all is the sort of phoenix like return of board gaming, why did that happen? And the other thing is the sales are still going up. We are in a golden age right now. It’s not just the sales are getting better, board games themselves are getting better. The really interesting thing is that the sales of something like monopoly have flat lined or their in decline. People are realizing there are better games out there, they are buying more of these amazing board games. We are in a golden age and I’ll talk about that.
Here’s something, this was just really lucky before my talk. Three days ago I saw that in the collector’s edition of Bioshock Infinite you get this. Which is a miniature from the upcoming Bioshock Infinite board game. So that’s made, we’ve got the Gears of War board game that came out a few years ago, but this is the first case of a triple A game launching a board game before the game is even out yet. Something is happening, it’s mad, and it’s weird, and it’s strange. And it’s mostly due to something called cultural cross pollination. Which is a really good group of words that make me sound really clever so I am glad I can say them. Around here (gestures to the screen pre 1999) if you were a hardcore board gamer you spoke German. That’s not a figure of speech hardcore board gamers at my local board game club spoke a little German. Because board games were being imported, because board games are huge in Germany. For much the same reason violent video games have very stringent restrictions. Even today if you want to release a video game in Germany you have to remove the blood. So board games by contrast are good clean fun and their huge in Germany, and their designed in a radically different way. So ten years ago when we started importing them we had western designers making games along the same lines. The things I’d point to that were relevant to German games at the time is that they were just nice objects. We’ve got wooden components, we’ve got really thick good quality card stock, German games increased the physicality of the medium. Which is a huge deal because western games didn’t even have colored manuals ten years ago. This is massive.
This is settlers of Catan by the way, this is the biggest selling niche board game, its sold millions. What your basically trying to do is your all trying to colonize a virgin island with two problems. First of all there’s not enough problems. Second of all there’s not enough space. So if you want to build a road your blocking somebody else. It’s Sim City, but as you build it’s a tactical building thing where your trying to block your opponent. Anyway it’s fun.
So when I say that German games are good examples of design I’m talking about the physicality, but I’m also talking about the actual game. Roughly with western games of the time you could expect a twenty page manual. With German games you expect two or four pages, their accessible, their accessible for the whole family, their assessable for everybody. They have really simple clever bits of board game design like you don’t have leaders. You don’t have people winning the race so you know who is going to win early, everybody’s kept close.
Another German game that was part of the invasion of German games in the west at the time was Formula D. This is a racing game and it evinces German design because, it’s a brilliantly smart idea and design of a roll and move game. Roll and move being things like Monopoly, being things like Cluedo in which you roll a die and then move around a track. Now Formula D knew that was sort of entertaining and it figured out how to evolve it. Which is that you all start off as your cars and you all roll a D4 (noise of a car gearing up) which is a pyramid shaped dice so you roll it then at the end of your turn you can all choose to gear up, and then you roll a D6 (noise of a car gearing up) next turn it’s a D8 until you get all the way up to a D30 which is like the size of a ping pong ball. My point is that you actually want to roll the D30, because it’s just a physically object. So you have this weird simulation of speed freakery. The problem though is these red sections are corners, and depending on the severity of the corner, like you see a one there, that’s the amount of times you have to stop in that corner to not crash and die. So you’re gearing up in the straights and then you have to gear down so you are sort of doing risk reward. Making the whole game super tense and yet it’s super simple, because it’s just roll and move
There’s a problem though with German games. We do have one feather in our cap with western board game design which is that German games have super thin theme. In the west if you look at Games Workshop we’re all about simulation. You’re a space marine, you’re a soldier in World War Two. This is one of the highest rated German games and it’s about beans.
Bohnanza to bean or not to bean, and this is not me picking a straw man. This is Uwe Rosenberg he went on to design Agricola if you know your board games. (slide changes) Yup there’s some beans being traded. This doesn’t really fly in the west, ok it doesn’t work at all. But what we got is when German games started coming to the west you have these western designers asking ok, can we combine European design with our storytelling and the answer is that they could. And this is why board games are getting better. We’ve got this sort of mixing schools of thought and taking the best from both sides.
Twilight Imperium is a really good way of evincing what happened, because there are three editions of this, one in I think ninety nine, one in two thousand three, and another one much later. And you can see how it evolved during the culture clash. Twilight Imperium is a space opera game, its sort of along the lines of civ where you all have different races and your all trying to colonize planets and your building ships, it’s a wargame. Very very western, heavy theme, not very, massive manuals, and you have the second edition where fantasy flight had more money, and there’s a space lion. I love that… Yeah we’re in deep nerdery here. But they point is they had more money to spend and they gave you plastic miniatures, but they still weren’t really paying attention to these German games. You know it’s just glossier, but it’s really the same game. And then you have Ti third edition and this is huge, this is one of the best board games ever made. And what’s amazing about it is that they made it a nice object. They made it desirable. When you see this on your table it looks badass all these ship miniatures and colorful planets. Not just that but the cards and the player sheets are gorgeous, their so nice. I need to get something from my bag. Cus here’s the thing I couldn’t find a decent picture of something in Twilight Imperium, then I realized board gaming I can just bring it with me. So It’s a nice object, but more than that they wanted to improve the design so they implemented these trapezoidal strategy cards. They were saying ok one of the big problems of western strategy games is that, and this is actually true in video games so this is one of the areas where board games are pushing design forward. Is that this player has his go and everyone watches, then this player has his go, and then this player has his go, at which point this player’s asleep, this player wants to kill himself. And so the question is, it was just a really interesting design problem, how do we make it more flexible? And the answer is with these. These sort of polychromatic cards. At the very beginning of each round before everyone’s taken their multitude of turns you pick one of these, and we’ve got political, trade, initiative, warfare, and tech. And you can move your ships on your turn or you can trigger this phase. So the politics phase, you work with politics. And the thing with that is that all of the other players get involved in this politics phase as well. So you get this oil on water thing where the colors are actually shifting all the time, and even if it’s not your go you pay attention to the game, because you don’t know when you’re going to have opportunities to do cool stuff. So it’s actually an evolution and this is German games meeting western games. And of course it has really strong theme where you’re telling this amazing story to do with politics, bombardments, and race war basically.
Other examples of the state we’re in now is the amazing amazing amazing game of thrones game. This is just awesome, because it’s a perfect game of thrones game in that it just lets people be dicks to each other. It’s just horrible. I’ve seen people get in amazing fights with each other over game of thrones, because you have your house. Like let’s say you’re playing Lannister or Stark, it doesn’t matter, because everyone has the same restriction which is that you can’t really fight a war on two fronts. So you have to make friends with people. Like if your Lannister you have to say, ok Greyjoy seriously we have to be friends, and the only thing more powerful than an alliance of two or maybe even three players is backstabbing your alliance.
Because you all choose your moves simultaneously, and you put tokens down on armies and then you flip them to reveal what you’re doing. So you say can you support me and you go yeah and then you all flip your tokens and you were actually invading them. Which is fine, because they were actually invading you as well.
So yeah, and as you can see this is gorgeous you have all this lacquered plastic. So this is German and western design meeting.
X-Wing Miniatures Game came out last month. These are prepainted miniatures it’s gorgeous. And again it’s an evolution of traditional wargaming, because you pick the movement of each of your ships with dials simultaneously. So you select your tie fighters going to bank hard to the right and you put it down and then you flip your tokens and your tie fighter banks right as the x-wing you fought banks left aaghh. So that’s what it is it’s tense and exciting and just better.
But it’s not all glossy licensed stuff. Of course it’s interesting enough that x-wing like Star Wars games, and Game of Thrones games these are coming back, these are evincing how much money there is in the scene now. But the cultural thing has also resulted in games like Space Alert. And Space Alert I love holding up to people, because it shatters every single preconception you have of board gaming. First of all you’re working together, you’re running this ship, and it’s a Czechoslovakian game that has this wonderful vision of the future not American Star Trek, blue box thinking, but what if the future was (expletive).
The elevators on your ship can only hold one person, the shields are all powered down to save on battery life, there’s a screensaver and you have to nudge the mouse otherwise the whole ship powers down.
The other thing about it is that you think board games are slow. Everyone has that memory of playing monopoly with your family bored, but Space Alert takes ten minutes and those are the most ten terrifying minutes ever, because they are played in real time. You have a CD that comes with the game and that’s the ships computer and it will say threat detected off whatever, and then your communications officer, captain we have detected a threat, and the captain goes, shut up what is it! And you flip a card and it’s a black hole and you go (expletive).
And it always combines these things so you’ve got a black whole coming in here, you’ve got an alien spacecraft flying in her, and you’ve got commandos that have beamed aboard in here, and your al running around trying to solve these problems and its exhausting. And I love it because it let me experience briefly, when I was the captain and everyone looks to you, you say sort out this and put energy there. Because you’ve got these cubes, and briefly to get into the mechanics this is your central reactor which means if you want to fire your laser you need to have cubes in the port side of the ship. Which means you have to put in a fuel rod and then draw it over and then fire it. Which means technically you need three people. So three people to deal with one threat except you always have to deal with at least three or four threats and there’s only five of you. That’s the central problem, but yeah it let me experience being a captain and experience all the things humans must have felt throughout history when they just didn’t know what to do. I was just petrified and my crew said, what do I do, and I didn’t know. And I couldn’t say that I didn’t know, because then the game was entirely broken so I had to fake that I knew what I was doing.
So I can tell you that these games are good, but that doesn’t speak of the energy in the scene, that doesn’t speak of wow! And so what I instead hold up is Dominion. Not just Dominion by itself, but what happened to Dominion. So Dominion came out in two thousand and eight and I don’t know these people (an awkward smiling couple appears on the screen).
And Dominion’s central thing is that you’re all sort of medieval landowners, it’s a German game so the themes very thin so you don’t really know what it is. But the point is you have a deck and you have all these cards you can buy and your deck to begin with is a really thin reedy deck of cards and you draw a few cards off of it. And you use them. Mostly you use them to buy more cards and the object is to get these green cards which are victory point cards they don’ do anything so they clog up your deck. The reason Dominion is thrilling is that it taps into the part of the brain that enjoys watching something grow, and your deck is basically a tiny child and it starts off with all the potential in the world and as it grows it starts not doing what you tell it to. You have this engine and you go, ah yeah I’ll put in a watchtower and a bridge and that will let me do this combo, but then they never show up at the same time. And so gradually you have this thing where you have thing where you have the beginning game that is so full of potential, mid game where everybody’s trying to get a reign on their deck, and by the end you’ll see who’s made a wonderful engine and who’s made a mess. It only takes forty to forty five minutes its super accessible, you can explain the rules in sixty seconds. And then Thunderstone came out the year after that. And this was the west saying, ok Dominion is cool, but it’s got no theme. So Thunderstone’s the most masculine game ever where your deck is not land or whatever, but its heroes descending into a dungeon. You have torches, you have weapons, you have heroes, and when those heroes level up you remove those cards from your deck and you put in bigger cards. And you kill amazing things like The Unchained and when you fight it you gain a disease, because that’s how hardcore this game is.
But it’s just Dominion, but it’s Dominion with theme. So we’ve already picked up this idea, we’ve already evolved it. The very next year we have Puzzle Strike, that game I talked about earlier, and Puzzle Strike said, yeah ok this is cool we’ve got this theme, we’ve got this amazing game, but players are still playing their own game players aren’t playing with each other. So in Puzzle Strike rather than trying to amass monster cards or victory point cards you have these gem chips, and your trying to do combos that will knock gems into your opponents pile, because to win you have to be the last man standing, because when you fill up the other players sheet with gems their out of the game. So you’re not playing your own game you’re pushing gems into the other players stack and it has this amazing mechanic where the more gems are in your stack the more cards you can draw. So the closer you are to dying the harder you fight resulting in amazing back and forths. The very next year we have A Few Acres of Snow and this is a sickeningly well designed game. This is just beautiful. It’s a wargame between the French and the English fighting for control of their Canadian colonies which sounds… which sounds like whatever it sounds like. But it uses deck building to simulate the logistics of running a war in a foreign country. And again, ok, I’m not selling this. The point is you have your deck and your deck represents all your soldiers, the Indians you’ve recruited, the priests, the sort of home support, and the boats. More importantly it contains cards for every piece of territory you control and the territory cards are relatively useless. Which means the more you spread yourself the less control you have. Every hand of cards you draw tells a story, because you need soldiers and your deck, which is basically your subordinates, says we don’t have any soldiers not now, we need boats, we don’t have any boats their all somewhere else, and you just can’t do this. The amazing thing is it’s a wargame, but really you’re fighting your own logistical battles. And it’s amazingly tense, because if your deck would do what you wanted it to for just one turn. You could hit Montreal and win the game, but it never gives you that. The coolest thing about this, is that theirs actually a sort of administration card. As a general you can say this is a mess we need administration, and the administration card when it comes up in your hand lets you remove cards from your deck permanently with the twist there’s no way of getting rid of the administration card. So if you build a military of administration there’s no way to remove it, you are sort of permanently we need more desks. We need people running the war for me and that starts getting in your way as well. So that was four evolutions of the same idea in four years, which is faster than triple A games do it. So there’s an energy here that’s a big deal.
As far as to why sales are going up, there’s boring reasons as to why sales are going up which I’ll cover briefly. Which are the idea of Amazon basically means an increase of board games sales, because people don’t have to live near shops anymore. So if you live up a mountain in Aberdeen, and I don’t know if Aberdeen has mountains, but if you do live there then suddenly you can order your games from Amazon. There’s the web culture of reviews that lets you see exactly what games you should be buying. But I think a big reason board games are coming back is this (slide shows a group of friends happily playing video games together). It’s the couch co-op that we all remember that video games have dropped the ball on recently, and here at GameCity you have a lot of Indie games trying to take that back, but still the commercial scene isn’t quite there and board games fill that gap. We are hard coded to sit down with our friends and just enjoy each other’s company as animals, and board games let us do that. That’s especially important in England, because we have real trouble sitting down with people we love without alcohol and I say that not as a joke, but because I think it’s true and I think it’s a tragedy. (Slide changes to Shut Up & Sit Down crew playing Twilight Imperium) This is me and my friends sitting down and I love this, because we’re not even drinking alcohol that’s coffee, and here’s my friend laughing, and this is him invading him, and it makes me smile when I look at it, but the point is board games are there for us if we want to sit down with people and the fact that video games can’t do that at the minute means that board games are picking up the slack.
I think at this point I’ve probably convinced you that something cool is happening just with some blunt figures and facts, and the next bit of the talk is for people who aren’t necessarily playing board games in the minute and buying them. Because any of you now having heard what I’ve said could walk past a game shop like this (slide changes to a small game store) and if you don’t play board games you’d go, oh board games that scenes getting big, but I don’t know if you would be convinced to go in and buy one of these. I think there are barriers in your way, and I’ve tried to identify those and I want to bring them up on the TV one after another and I want to judo chop them into submission, because none of them are true and I think we get tangled up in our own thoughts. So this is the big one I think. You’re all busy, you’re all playing video games, you’re all having an amazing time playing video games, and so why play board games. You’re having fun already, you have your leisure time filled and the answer is not really a pleasant truth, but video games are functionally disabled. We are so blinded by everything video games can do, because they are their own medium that we forget what they can’t, and there is a massive thing that they can’t do which is talking. Talking actually defines humans more than anything else, and video games can’t do bluffing, they can’t do alliances, they can’t really do joking, I mean there are exceptions, but broadly video games just don’t do that whole mechanic and board games do cater to that. This is the amazing Battlestar Galactica board game which I’m sure lots of you have heard of and again it’s the sort of space alert thing where you’re trying to guide a ship through all kinds of troubles. With the thing being that at the beginning of the game your all given a card that tells you whether you are a human or a cylon. So whether you’re trying to sabotage the ship or work with it. There are facilities to put people in jails or even execute them if you know their a cylon, but nobody knows who the cylon’s are so ultimately you just end up bickering. There’s a base star outside and you’ve only got two nukes and the admiral says fire the nuke and you go why would you say that, because why would you through a nuke at a base star when you’re actually ok let’s put the admiral in the brig and this all happens. The talking mechanics can be even more solid than that. So this is The Resistance and this is super important. The Resistance is one of the sexiest and most entertaining games I’ve ever played, it’s just talking. At the beginning of the game of Resistance which is for between five to ten people you’re all given a card that tells you whether you’re an actual member of the resistance or a double agent, a spy. The game then simulates all the meetings that you have as a resistance cell, and who you’re going to send on those missions. So you might say I’m going to send Louie and Kara and the mission comes back and it’s a sabotage, it’s failed. Which means I know that one of them is a spy, but we don’t know who.
(One audience member points to another)
Yeah ok, see your pointing at Louie and maybe Louie isn’t a spy, or maybe they’re both spies and it’s just talking. It’s saying I don’t trust you, it’s a game of lying to your friends faces. It is a game where you watch your friend and his girlfriend argue and accuse each other of being spies for an hour and at the end of the games it turns out they were both spies and tricking the entire table.
So my point with my chatter is that if you want to consider yourselves a gamer and you don’t think board games are important well you’re actually not getting all the genres. It’s like saying you’re a video game, but you won’t play strategy games. It’s a whole new field and I think any of us would be shocked if there was just a genre of video games that we didn’t know about and weren’t a part of.
And then there’s the stuff that board games are doing that video games could be doing and their just not, because there are so many ideas out there and video games just haven’t had time to explore them or it’s not commercially viable. So this is Descent and it’s another game of heroes exploring a dungeon and then one player controls the monsters, but here’s the thing. What Fantasy Flight released for Descent and its insane is they said what if every single dungeon that you play, which takes about four hours, was one level in a massive big campaign. Which turns Descent into Lord of the Rings with evil guys sieging cities and it takes over three hundred hours to finish and winds up with the heroes having entirely in character accidental discussions saying, well we could travel up the rivers to forge, but we really need that magical sword that’s in Greyhelm.
Then you have these amazing fights where the heroes eventually end up facing off against the lieutenant and that’s like in Lord of the rings where … Oh my God I’m drawing a blank, can somebody shout out a bad guy from Lord of the Rings who isn’t Sauron. The Witch King, that’s your actual showdown with the Witch King. The Fantasy Flight said ok, what if the heroes had a boat! And you can see here that the card stock sort of raises over the boat, that’s because you can pay money to extend your boat and get more cannons, then they said and we’re going to have an island with more cards and weapons, and this is maximalist game design. I don’t know anyone who’s ever finished a game of this, but I know loads of people who said this is the most badass thing in the world let’s get our friends together and do it. And in video games this just isn’t commercially viable. So again why should you play board games instead of video games, is because board games are exploring other sides of our hobby.
And then there’s stuff video games really should be doing and their not. This is Cyclades or Cyclaidies depending on whether you’re right or wrong.
And it’s a game where all the players are Greek soldiers trying to capture one another’s islands. You’re building boats, and soldiers, and temples, and invading, the object of the game is just to build two cities. But to do anything, too build ships or move them you need to win a bid on Poseidon with all the other players, for soldiers you need to win a bid on Ares, if you want philosophers you need to win a bid on Athena. Which means you have auctions, really vicious auctions. Where before the battle even happens you know that if you can beat the guy in a bid for Aries then he can’t even invade you at all. Auctions are an amazing piece of game design, again mostly to do with talking, and why don’t video games do auctions board games do them all the time, because their amazing fun. Auctions are just cool. Especially, because they lend yourself to bidding to much and realizing that you have actually ruined your entire gaming experience. So there is stuff happening in board games that video games are not exploring that’s reason enough alone to get into the hobby.
And then we have the next issue, which I think might be a thorny one that may not apply to people in this room as much as it might apply to people watching online. Which is that board games are a nerdy pursuit. And if you don’t know if you would believe that, then the question is whether you would be comfortable playing one of these games in a pub, or whether you would be comfortable reading a manual and having a dummy game alone in your own home or apartment, or whether you would be comfortable trying to persuade six of your friends to play Twilight Imperium for eight hours. And that’s weird. That’s weird and it’s very strange. It’s interesting, because that means your head goes to this (a game of monopoly appears on screen) and goes into the public image problem that board games have at the minute, and your head doesn’t go to this (The screen shifts to James Bond playing poker).
There’s a really important thing about board games that I want to express which is that board games, within all of gaming, are about the only aspect of it that allow the players to be cool. Right, video games have reached a degree of cultural acceptance, but even the coolest video games if you play those games you’re just in this vegetative state and it’s the game that looks cool. But because the board games are about the players they are only as cool as you are. And again with the pub analogy you might think board games are nerdy and I could never play them in a pub, but if you walked into a pub and you saw a bunch of good looking entirely confident people laughing over a game and you didn’t know what it was they would be cool, wouldn’t they? … I think so.
And I think the reason that board games have this degree of cool, is because their actually endemic throughout human history. There is imagery there, because they are ancient. Board games, and card games, and table games in general have been kicking around for as long as the human race has, and play has been kicking around for longer. I mean to say that board games aren’t cool is one thing and then I say what the (expletive)!
It’s built into our actual language, like metaphors to do with rolling the dice or playing cards close to your chest. That’s interesting and it bugs me, because I think we should be taking this back. It really weirds me out when we have gamers saying we’re part of a legacy that dates all the way back to the nineteen sixties.
We should be claiming things like Twister as ours, and I think Twister’s (expletive) cool, because we can point at video games and say what is happening in our culture is amazing and cool, but we have never achieved anything as awesome as letting teenagers rub up against each other.
Twister actually circumnavigated certain social norms by letting us rub up against each other like cats, and that’s awesome, that’s massive, we should take this. I want a statue of Kip Marlow. I want it to be raised, Kip Marlow was one of Shakespeare’s nemesis and he was stabbed in the eye after a card game. These are our people it’s not (expletive) Peter Montague.
I’m saying this without a shred of irony. I think it’s really important that we reclaim gaming as a history instead of leaving it to the wolves. I think it’s a shambles that we’ve let board games become uncool and have let monopoly become the buzzword for this five thousand year old hobby of ours. I think reason enough to buy board games is that they need our help right now, games are ok games have sort of reached cultural normalcy. Now as gamers we need to take back this injustice. Also the fact that if board games are in a golden age right now and I’m right then getting involved in board games and playing Twilight Imperium third edition now. That’s like Zork in nineteen ninety two, that’s like Half-Life in nineteen ninety eight. In board game terms it’s the Sex Pistols in nineteen seventy seven. It’s massive, and I don’t want any of you to have that slip you by.
I’m coming on super strong at the minute and I’m sure some of you are thinking, ok we’ve got video games right now, surely I can sit comfortably knowing that I am looking forward. That I’m looking at amazing games like Half-Life two, or Metal Gear Solid three, or Brave amazing examples of game design rather than board games which in some light seems like this brackish milk which video games have grown out of like mold. And that’s wrong, because board games are actually the bedrock of game design. You can’t think of board games as separate to video games, because board games are just game design in exactly the same way that video games are. In a brief show of hands who’s played and loved the new xcom. We’ve got some people. I thought it would be more, but that’s ok. It’s incredible, but the lead designer Jake Sullivan in an interview stated that when he was designing this it didn’t work and he went to Sid Meier’s house, Sid Meier of Civilization fame, and they designed a board game with little plastic men and dice, because that let them get back to the earth of game design. And the game that Sid Meier designed is the game tat’s in the new xcom. It’s massive and it’s important, and paper prototyping is yet more evidence that we can’t really shrug off board gaming. Paper prototyping is this movement where indies make games in paper to make sure the mechanics work and it speaks of the strength of board game design tools, because there’s another problem video games face. Another problem that we aren’t willing to look at quite in the face. Which is that if you want to design a game, if you have this amazing vision for a game about a rhino who solves puzzles and crimes.
A rhino that solves problems would be better than a rhino who solves crimes I think. The immediate question is do you know how to code, do you have an artist, do you have a sound guy, do you have a … whoever he is.
That’s a massive, massive problem. Whereas all you need to make a board game is this (slide changes to show various art supplies) and it’s not just the accessibility of these tools that’s amazing and I’m not being farcical when I say that, because look how close this is to this. Which is string railway which is a massive game in Japan at the minute. Which literally has you placing railway tracks which are just pieces of string and it’s amazing fun. The accessibility of these tools is super important anyone can pick this up and make a board game which I think is what we would all want from video game design tools. That kids can pick this up and make a game. That’s a huge deal. And there’s another thing which is that this is lossless game design. Again you can’t say board games are the past when the tools you are using for making board games provide a degree of lossless game design which is peerless within video games. Every one of these games is a shrink wrapped idea. There is no, the coder couldn’t quite get the mechanics to work, there’s no it’s too short. It’s just the person’s vision in a box for anyone who can buy it which is amazing. More even than that every board game ever shipped comes with the most powerful mod tools in existence, because you can just set fire to the manual. The Board Game Remix Kit was made by London design firm Hide and Seek, and it just takes Monopoly, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, and Cluedo, and remixes the rules. Resulting in things like War Scrabble where you’re not competing to make the most words, but the most dangerous thing, and then you have sort of fights and it needs an adjudicator, because then you get into an arguments over who would win in a fight of a UFO and Batman.
This is so important, because before anyone can even use a computer we can have them designing games, and when I’m showing you Half-Life two and Brave and all that stuff. We love that stuff not because their great video games, but because their great examples of game design, and as long as board games have the best tools in existence for making them we cannot ignore them. Because that would be to make everything harder for everyone that comes after us. We should be encouraging people to play board games, purely because it will be encouraging game design, purely because you can’t not do it. If you ever play a board game with people that don’t like it they immediately start trying to fix it with house rules.
I want to sum up all three of those points which is that board games are cool, the mod tools are powerful, and their doing stuff that video games don’t with Risk Legacy. Which came out two years ago and I think proves all of my points. Risk Legacy is a version of risk that comes in a little suitcase and you sit down to play it with five people and you all sign the board and you can do things like found cities and place arms caches around, and your game will slowly evolve. More than that the box comes with sealed sections and it says open in case of two cities being destroyed. So after about two or three games, the games have all been changed and the rules are changing. There are more miniatures, more cards your game by about five games of Risk Legacy is unique to every other game of Risk in the world which video games have never done and board games are experimenting. Remember that I was telling you that Dominion evolved once every year, this is going to evolve to and it’s going to be dong phenomenal stuff in three years time. The absolute coolest thing about it, is that my friend who owns it was lifting the inside of the inlay to make room for it, and he found another pack of cards cellotaped to the inside that read do not open ever.
And him and all of his friends have decided that once they finish their fifteen game campaign, and you can keep playing after that, they’re going to set fire to these cards. They’re going to burn them, and I love that board games are actually encouraging ritual.
So we’re sort of at the end of the talk now and I wanted to end it, well originally with me parroting Lou Ghoau’s speech at the end of Blade Runner with, the things I’ve seen, I’ve seen attack ships fire off the shores of Orion in board game form. Sort of like I’ve seen entire species crushed under the angry heels of robots who were just bored, and houses collapse killing the children inside all that and it would be true, but it wouldn’t be what’s cool about board gaming. So instead I leave you with this. My name is Quintin Smith and I am a board gamer, and I have seen my friend close himself off from the world and not talk to anyone for several days, I have seen my friend Phil almost punch a man clean out for basic incompetence, and I’ve sat down at a table and fallen in love with someone, because they remembered to toggle a screensaver.
And that won’t mean anything to you until you go out and you play Space Alert. Thank you all very muh for your time.