Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A simile of games or "Die Polyps"

As gamers determined to proselytize the unwashed masses of non-gaming folk we need to take it upon ourselves to provide a welcoming atmosphere. In any hobby, a vernacular arises around important people, actions, and other subjects. Walk into a bowling alley on league bowling night and try to hang out with the crowd present. You will quickly see the need to know the difference between a spare, a split, and a turkey. We have some of our own in the boardgaming world: grognard, eurogame, and meeples. While it is great to have some terms that describe useful ideas and concepts within our hobby, we have to try to remember to remain as friendly as possible to newcomers if the hobby is going to continue to grow (at least I would like to see that).

In general, I find boardgamers to be some of the friendliest people I know. We’re generally not cliquish (well, aside from invitation-only conventions, but even there the folks are friendly to new faces) and are typically glad to see newcomers arrive at our gaming evenings. However, there are a few habits that sometimes arise in the online boardgame community that can be frustrating to new boardgamers. One of the common ones, and the subject of this brief post, is the boardgame simile.

In many of the reviews posted online on the Boardgamegeek and other sites, the reviewer will use one or more games to explain aspects of another. This game is like Goa’s auctions with a bit of Caylus-like worker placement and Puerto Rico’s role selection. A single game is like Goa, like Caylus, and like Puerto Rico. (Yes, its not a true modern simile, but work with me here… ) If a new gamer wanders over to a recent review, they may get very little out of it. Using some games to describe others is a great shorthand for those who have played and are familiar with a wide range of games, but it isn’t so useful for the newcomer. Like the poor soul who finds two words in the dictionary that are used to define each other, a new gamer can be awash in game comparisons before they even get a chance to become familiar with a few of them. So, lets remember out there to keep the comparisons to a minimum whenever possible, or at least be sure to follow up comparisons with a bit of further explanation.

This whole mini-rant came about during a facetious comment while I was explaining Reef Encounter to folks in my local gaming group. Known for somewhat difficult instructions, I consider the polyp tile scoring mechanism to be partially at fault. It is a difficult concept to grasp without actually playing through the game. Having to play through a game to understand the intricacies of the scoring is typically not a good sign. Regardless, I enjoy the game due to its theme (yes, it is pasted on but I like the cool pieces and the thought to trying to be the best coral reef I can be is just too enticing to a science teacher like myself.) As I tried to explain the manipulation and control of the coral ranking/scoring tiles, one player piped up: “It’s like the leader board in Die Macher!” We proceeded to tear up the game making as many Die Macher comparisons as possible. There is conflict on four different boards at a time. Your opponents are always trying to reduce your prime scoring areas. Eating your polyps could be like taking a little “vote” to score points, and so on… Since I had already mentioned the scoring is a bit strange until experienced, we decided to describe the game to anyone who asked us playing using words one might rarely expect to hear: “Reef Encounter? Oh, it’s like an advanced game of Die Macher”.


Greg J. Schloesser said...

I am certainly guilty of using such comparisons in some of my reviews. However, I will usually try to explain the mechanism, then make the comparison.

Dr. Matt J. Carlson said...

Probably the best route.

It is somewhat of a catch-22 as these comparisons (if valid for the reader) are a good time-saver and can communicate information very effectively.

The whole idea came from a few new gamers I was speaking to who had gotten frustrated feeling like they had to play all these games just to try to get a feel for what these other games are like...