Board games have evolved so far beyond the traditional tropes so associated with the hobby, that the new games hover in spacecraft overhead as traditional games celebrate making fire
My journey along the many varied roads of the board game landscape is approaching its second birthday. Two whole years spent around the table. Two whole years of time well spent in much loved company, under a blanket of joy, against a soundtrack of debate and laughter.
Together, our little band have entered the darkness of winter and its shuffling undead, we have smuggled goods into Nottingham, we have built railroads and dream homes, fought great armies, and led them too, we have travelled through time, and space, we have been werewolves, vampires, spirits, and gods, we have spoken with the dead, and sent the living to death, we have been heroes and villains, mighty and weak, victorious and defeated, and we have done this together.
However, one thing we haven’t done a lot of is roll and move.
Apologies for such an overblown introduction and its subsequently weak follow on. I can’t help it. But, that truth does ring true regarding the old roll and move style of play that is so synonymous with board game that it almost seems incredulous to many folk that there are games that avoid such mechanics like the plague. Since we began this journey, we have played barely any roll and move games.
One of the first things I noticed when dipping a toe into some fresh new board game waters, was that long held traditions such as Monopoly were shunned by most as a low point in gaming, a blot casting such a shadow over the landscape that most of the more worthwhile games stay lost in the darkness. And it became a viewpoint I was only to happy to adopt. I had never really got along with a game that was ultimately about rolling, moving, and waiting to roll again. My own eyes had been opened to the world of possibility that board game inhabited, and it was a place I was happy to dwell. Roll and move was history.
And then, I had my viewpoint shifted again. I sat at the table to play a game called, Quest for the Antidote. It was at its core, very much a traditional roll and move board game. It added a few little elements such as some simple combat, a few items to collect, and a nice backstory to the colourful fantasy theme that adorned the board, but it was definitely about rolling dice, moving, and then waiting to roll again. And we loved it! Perhaps it was the theme that enchanted us, perhaps it was the simplicity and the fact that we had a game we could almost pick up and play, or perhaps it was that it just proved a healthy dose of good old-fashioned fun off the back of some good old-fashioned dice rolling. This old style might not be that bad for the soul after all.
It was an interesting evening and left me questioning why so many, including myself, entirely dismiss roll and move?
I asked myself why do we play board games? The answer for myself, is that perfect mix of fun and the people at the table. Board games are a social gathering, a chance to talk and laugh with one another, and if that is possible over a game such as Quest for the Antidote, or Monopoly, or Game of Life, then why have I been so quick to write them off? Why do I relegate such games to the ‘out of sight’ shelves as though they are not real games, or not serious enough, or cool enough? It’s a strange one, particularly as quite recently my family and myself enjoyed a great evening around a Monopoly board, and yes, we were actually playing.
I understand that we all want more from our games now. We want strategy, we want actions that actually affect the outcomes, we want to think and act and respond to the actions of others, we want story, or abstract wonder, and we can have it, in fact we can have it in droves. Board games have evolved so far beyond the traditional tropes so associated with the hobby, that the new games hover in spacecraft overhead as traditional games celebrate making fire, but, rather than a sneering sideways glance, I think it’s time we remembered they’re all a part of the same universe, and without the blues we wouldn’t have the rock and roll.
It isn’t that I’m now part of a campaign group to get Monopoly and other mainstream games some respect among those of us that have travelled deeper into the board game landscape, Monopoly is a really poor game, as are many other games built from a similar mould, such as Cluedo and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, but if as I believe, the people playing transcends the actual game, then there is still a place where a poor game in the right hands, and with the right frame of mind, can be elevated high above its usual stature.
I will gladly play Quest for the Antidote despite the shouts that it is an outdated roll and move abomination, and we will probably have a great laugh doing so. Monopoly was almost certainly my first introduction to board games, so I will also sit, once in a while, to sample its dubious delights, happy in the knowledge that even the weakest of games can shine strong in the right company. And, one day soon, I may even bring them back from the unseen shelves and into the daylight. Maybe.
Now, anyone for Gloomhaven?