Monday, October 27, 2008

Ed and the Story of Gaming

I've invited a friend of mine to add his voice to the blog. The plan at the moment is for him to contribute about once a week. His first post is below:

Hello, my name is Ed. I share Brian's passion for gaming. Brian asked me if I'd like to contribute to his blog on board gaming. I, like him(well, because of him, really) have noticed that board gaming seems pretty under-represented on the endless waves of information and hearsay that is the internet. Brian has boldly bound forward in providing this blog as a way to share his experiences in this much-maligned realm of gaming. I shall accompany him on this journey. I'll be the Sam to his Frodo.

With introductions out of the way, let me start my inaugural entry with a subject that is very close to my heart: a thing I call the"story" of the game. Roger Ebert be damned, I DO believe gaming is the next great medium for storytelling. Most people look towards video gaming specifically as that medium, but I believe all modern gaming, from Magic: The Gathering, to Dungeons & Dragons, are part ofthis evolution of storytelling. Included amongst those historic titles, I would include games like Axis & Allies, and Settlers ofCatan.

I believe a very careful balance of game and story needs to exist to make a game truly outstanding. Having too much of one and too little of the other creates an experience that is forgetful, fun but fleeting. The right mixture of the two, however, is magic.

How this ties into board gaming is this: I believe board games need to examine this balance and take it more seriously. I mentioned Settlers of Catan earlier. I believe part of the reason why this game often times stands out as the most commercially successful of the "geekboard games" is because it is not only incredibly playable, but in between the dice rolls and the sheep cards lies a tale of making it in a strange new land. The wheeling and dealing with your fellow settlers, the plowing of roads into what is hopefully prosperity, the sheer desolation of society when no one can spare a block of stone…these stories and more are told in every game of Settlers of Catan, whether you're aware of them or not. And, whether you're aware of it or not, this is a large part of why Catan is so enjoyable.

I look at some of the other big games in my little slice of the boardgaming community, and I question the existence of this game/story balance in many of them. Where's the story in Agricola? You and your"spouse" are building a farm. That's it. Acquire? There are plenty of pretty colors, and sure, there are some stories to be had in the rise and fall of certain numbers…but it's all just that. Numbers. Honestly, I love Stone Age almost as much as Brian does…but, and I've joked about this in the games I've played…where is the savagery? It's STONE AGE…prehistoric man! Where are the wrestling matches with saber-toothed tigers? The hurling of crudely-made spears at woolly mammoths? The virgin sacrifices to pagan gods? The primitive, savage, harsh world of the Stone Age…and it's about as civil as St. Petersburg and Puerto Rico(two other games that, incidentially, could use a good shot of adrenaline, as well).

Now, I know what you're thinking…Ed is one of "those guys" who only equates gaming fun with bloodshed. Not true. Race for the Galaxy is one of the most fun games I've played in recent memory, and the military might of your settled worlds never lays a finger on another player. Though I did just kid about St. Petersburg, the game does have a certain thematic integrity to it that makes things feel authentic and interesting. And let's not forget the very game that kicked off this rant, Settlers of Catan. No virgin sacrifices there.

So, in closing, I just want to express my hope that a game comes along, either in development or already out there on the shelves, waiting to be played by me, that draws me in, not just through dice and cards, but through imagery and drama. These are the experiences I cherish the most, unmatched by book, by film, or by music. These are the games that make me happy and proud to be a gamer.

1 comment:

Rich said...

Reading Ed's heartfelt feelings about "Stone Age", I wonder if he's ever played Nuclear War -