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bigbearkok asked me to expound on the whole German board game thing, so here's my own Beginner's Guide to What The Hell I'm Going On And On About:

There are American board games like Monopoly, Clue, Trivial Pursuit, Uno. Pretty straightforward stuff. The Germans, however, have taken these kinds of games and shot them up with steroids. The game mechanics are slightly different (for the most part - some are just too darned complex), but those subtle differences make for all the difference in gameplay.

(I should say that "German boardgames" is a bit of a misnomer - they're just the ones that made them popular first. There are lots of other countries and companies, including US ones, that make similarly styled games.)

For example, there's the Lord of the Rings board game. In America, this would have been touted as something like Life or perhaps Chutes and Ladders. Not so in the pumped-up version - instead, you all choose one of the actual characters, and you band together much like they do in the books and try to get the ring to Mount Doom before Sauron defeats you. Who plays Sauron? No one. He is just the faceless nemesis who moves ever closer to your defeat. So, basically, there's no winner - you either all win together or you all die together.

There are different gameplay genres, too, like card games, tile games, dice games, abstract games, and so on, that cover a wide variety of subjects like economies, city building, cooperative, diplomacy, trading, puzzles, etc.

There are some games that I call "gateway" games that start to straddle the line from American to these new style games - Apples to Apples, as I mentioned, is a good example. I think of Risk as one, too, since it involves a little more strategy than, say, Stratego.

One of the ones I like to introduce people to is Carcasonne, which is a city-building tile game. Each player draws a tile which is like a little square of a big map. It can have a field, a road, and/or part of a castle on it. As the game progresses, you add your tile to the ever-expanding map on the table, as long as like objects connect (field to field, road to road, castle to castle). As you build, you can claim one of those three features on the tile you place with one of your nine markers (in this game they're called "meeples"). Depending on what you claim and how it's built, it determines how many points you get.

On its face, it's a very simple, easy to learn game (not all the German games are complex or difficult by any means). When we first learned this we played it pretty straightfowardly, as one would most American games. Then during one game our very devious friend tdilliga placed a tile that completely screwed everyone else in the game. Suddenly we saw it in an entirely different light - you can build your own points up, but at the same time you're looking for ways to screw everyone else. I really consider that to be the day I got hooked on these more innovative games. :)

Mind you, you won't find these games at Target or Wal*Mart. In larger cities you'll actually have a gaming store (closely associate with SF and comics fandom, along with other non-traditional games like Warhammer or other miniature games), or you'll have a gaming section of a good comic book shop or even a genre bookstore. The one in my town is a bizarre combination of gaming store, used bookstore, cake decorating supply store, office supply store, and pool supply store (WTF?).

I'm not the one on my friends list who plays them - jsciv is quite the gamer himself (much like thomasm is), even going so far as to attend the annual European gaming show. joeyhemlock is also a fan, and mikekn runs the new gaming tent at Pennsic now, which includes period games, but also these kinds of games in a mutual friend's merchant tent.

A good resource several folks introduced me to (I think it was northboundtrain) is boardgamegeek.com, where I have an account. You can use it to rate games, review them, keep track of your gaming library, and chat with others about them. I was lucky that thomasm and jkusters had far more disposable income than I, so they regularly bought new games at the local gaming store in San Diego, and we had a group of friends (including adventdragon, minotaurs, magus_nascitur, lenniersd and others) who would play test them so I'd know which ones I actually liked and would them add them to my library. :) Alas, most of it is still in storage in San Diego, but I'm always looking to add new ones anyway, so maybe this will be my excuse.

I also see gaming becoming much more popular at local cons. jkusters ran gaming at my Gaylaxicon in 2004, and others that attend can attest to its growing popularity (I regularly see dracut and sacredmime playing games at G'con, for example). Even we in SMOFdom know that gamers are wonderful, membership-paying warm bodies that come in, plague the con suite like locusts, and then keep to themselves in the game room if we throw enough dice at them. :)

So that's how I see it in a nutshell. I'm sure others could chime in with their own views, opinions and experiences. I certainly recommend checking out the game room at your next con - all you have to say is, "What are these German board games I keep hearing about?" and in no time you'll be playing Puerto Rico, Werewolf, Acquire, Burn Rate, Settlers of Catan or my old favorite, Cosmic Encounter. :)


( 13 comments — Comment )
Apr. 3rd, 2009 05:49 am (UTC)
One merely needs to read my LJ to know that I'm a game nut. :)

I would like to also point out that Settlers and Carcasonne are indeed in some Target and Wal*Mart locations as well as most B&N stores.

And oh yeah, traveling to Germany for Spiel is a double play since it's both travel AND game. :)

Apples isn't a gateway game, it's a party game IMO. Today's most usual gateway games are Carc, TransAmerica, and the ever popular Ticket to Ride. Pandemic has been picking up steam lately too.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 01:16 pm (UTC)
Nice to know the addiction is speading to mainstream America. I actually picked up my copy of Dread Pirate at a Borders, and I want to pick up the Harry Potter Clue (the passages change like the stairways at Hogwarts), which I saw at Wal*Mart.

I see Apples as a gateway only because it's a newer kind of gameplay from classic American board games (of course now there are a slew just like it). If someone didn't already know Apples, it wouldn't be a bad first step to get them to start thinking differently about gaming.

What's Pandemic like?
Apr. 3rd, 2009 02:52 pm (UTC)
Come to my birthday and we'll play Pandemic and you can see! :)
Apr. 3rd, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC)
I'd love to, trust me! :)
Apr. 3rd, 2009 06:39 am (UTC)
The new one that folks up here like is "Race for the Galaxy", a neat card/resource management game. I even play once in a while. (Play, mind you. Not win.)
Apr. 3rd, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
I'll have to take a look for it.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
Race is fantastic. That and Dominion are two great new quick games that are just wonderful. Race is a little hard to teach to newbies, but it's got great replay.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 11:56 am (UTC)
I enjoy Race for the Galaxy, but it's probably not a gateway. TransAmerica is a great gateway game being easy to learn and quick to play. Fluxx is fine, but light on strategy. I enjoy Bang! and any of the cooperative games (LotR, Shadows over Camelot, BSG etc) might be good if you've got at least one experienced player, but they are all a longer commitment for rules and play time.

I'm glad to see you've taken on a mission to inform the youth of the joy of quality gaming...
Apr. 3rd, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
I humbly take credit for re-institutionalizing it at G'con. :)

I agree about TransAmerica and Fluxx being good gateway games. And I also enjoy the cooperative games, especially Shadows.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's an impressive summary. There is a nice Wikipedia article on German board games, which I was able to understand a bit more because of your post. Yay!

Apr. 3rd, 2009 02:21 pm (UTC)
Ooo, I'd forgotten to check Wikipedia. Umma go read that.
Apr. 3rd, 2009 01:49 pm (UTC)
So, if I were to go on a shopping spree today, for beginners, would you recommend:

Apples to Apples
Settlers of Catan
Ticket to Ride

Apr. 3rd, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
All good choices! I'd recommend Apples to Apples, TransAmerica and Fluxx first, then move on to Carcasonne, then Ticket to Ride, then Settlers, then the world is yours! I might also add a few simple but fun card games:

  • Burn Rate or Management Material (funny office-themed games)
  • Five Crowns (not too dissimilar from traditional games like gin rummy, but with a twist)
  • Guillotine (very funny game!)
  • Pit (an oldie, but so much fun to play in a large group)
  • Rummikub (a gin rummy type tile game)

Pretty easy games that are different enough from traditional American games that you can easily wrap your minds around them but still get a feel for the differences (like gameplay, strategies, etc.). Best bet for anything mentioned is to read the box and see what appeals to you!

FAIR WARNING - some of these aren't cheap. Most of the card games will be upwards to $20, and the board games can go up past $40.

If you make it back to Pennsic I've started bringing some of my games, plus I bought some standards (Jenga, Chess, cards, Twister!) to keep at the encampment for rainy days, plus one of the merchants there that mikekn and I know sells these kinds of games in his shop, so I picked up a few more for myself (like Tsuro, which is another easy game).

I sense great potential in you, padawan... ;)
( 13 comments — Comment )

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