Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

Over the past few years, I've seen a certain change in my interests. Both in how I spend my time and how I regard life in general. For instance, since summer camp '12, I value time with friends much more highly than I did before that time.

I don't play as many video games as I used to. When I was fifteen, I was playing at least eight hours of WoW every day. These days, I'd often rather be working. Sure, I still play several hours of video games every week (and the fact that I'm counting "per week" should tell you something), but I also value my time spent reading things on the internet. It's not as glamorous, say, as killing Ragnaros, but reading news is just something I enjoy now.

Today I was thinking about RPGs. Since getting Edge of the Empire (and playing it, what, twice?) I've realized the golden age of RPGs in my life has passed. I'll likely never again spend several hours each week planning, discussing and playing RPGs like did in 2009-2011 (or whenever it actually was). These days, my game time is spent playing board games. Rightly so, there are several reasons I enjoy them perhaps more than RPGs.

• I don't have to prep/write anything
• I don't get upset when the week gets cancelled, because it's not a personal blow to my ego
• Other people can bring or play board games, keeping the variety level high
• Board games are games, whereas RPGs are more like a group activity

That last part might be a little contentious. A few years I would have been extremely offended by such a claim. I argue that it's true: RPGs have no winner, no clear goal, no real competition (depending on the system of course). RPGs fail to meet the exact definition of a "game." I'm not suggesting they aren't fun. Oh contraire! Many of my best memories came from playing Savage Worlds. Many in-jokes were created that have lasted to this very day.

There are certain things that can be done with one medium that simply cannot be done in another, but lately we've seen some interesting developments in the world of board gaming that has made them draw ever-closer to the beloved RPG. In fact, video games jumped on that bandwagon years ago. These days you can't shake an AR-15 without hitting a handful of military shooters, racing games or third-person shooters riddled with all manner of RPG mechanisms. Whether it's Call of Duty's amazingly fun ability to level up your soldier, unlocking new guns and perks or The Last Of Us's slow trickle of parts to upgrade your favorite weapons, the systems are here to last. Rightly so, they reward players for continued investment. They get to tweak the game in the direction they want to take it. Go ahead and try to play Unreal Tournament 2004 again, I dare you. Without the ability to level up, the player is left with an overwhelming feeling of "why waste the time?"

Can board games do the same thing? The venerable Hero Quest was Milton Bradley's answer to Dungeons and Dragons, creating a whole new genre of board game: The Dungeon Crawl. Since 1990 that genre has seen notable entries such as Lego's Heroica and Fantasy Flight's Descent, my personal favorite dungeon crawl. These games have variable amounts of customizability and player agency in regard to their character's progression, but it's a very small amount compared to a full-fledged role-playing game.

The real question is, "how much farther can we go?" board games have only really come into popularity in the last ten years or so, due in part to the fact that they've become sophisticated and interesting enough to hold the attention span of young people. For many of my gamer friends, being a gamer extends to games in all mediums, not just ones made of pixels. There is no exclusivity, and no need for it.

What new mechanics could board games borrow from RPGs, or even video games? Games like Risk Legacy introduced the novel concept of permanently changing the game board. Descent has a progressive campaign system that allows players to "level up" their characters between adventures, including purchasing equipment from shops between quests. There's a level of permanence that has previously been unseen in this world of cardboard and paper.

I'm very curious to see where the we can go.


  1. Yeah, when the BlimeyCow group showed off their board games, and they were all the same games you play, I knew a paradigm shift had occurred. Board games are way more fun than they've ever been. :-)

  2. I enjoy reading about the evolution of William. Your interests are wide and I am so glad you see your own paradigm shift in your likes and dislikes. I think playing boardgames vs playing online in a virtual world is more healthy while it is nice to be online, I think interacting with real people in real situations is the way we are hardwired. Well written and well thought out. It makes me wish I liked boardgames.