Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gamer Stereotypes

Regular gaming has taken a backseat the past couple of months as I've relocated cities and was in the process of transitioning into a new job / role.

I am trying to setup a small weekend gaming group in Gurgaon with preliminary success. 4-5 sessions with an average turnout of 4. Given that I host at my place and can't have more than 8 people in any session, this is a happy enough success.

One of the key challenges has been explaining to people why board gaming is not necessarily a kids' hobby and helping them overcome their reluctance to try out something new. On a related note, I've always wondered if there were stereotypes associated with gamers and today, I came across this thread on BGG and it was enlightening to read some of the common ones and to see how much they apply to me.

1. Gamers are single and childless - I'm currently dating someone regularly but am committed to a childfree living. So partially true.

2. Gamers are unemployed mooches, or work super nerdy jobs - Not true. I'm employed full-time in a strategy / consulting role at a major IT hardware company. Definitely a niche role but not nerdy

3. Gamers are hermits who minimize interaction with society - Not true. I travel frequently and socialize with fellow travellers. While I am selective about whom I spend my personal time with, I'm not a hermit by any stretch of imagination

4. Gamers are all super nerdy / geeky - If by nerdy / geeky, one means having an interest in learning new things and being curious, then yes. But I don't lack any social skills and am very comfortable in corporate and social settings as well.

5. Gamers contribute nothing to society - Not true. My average monthly income tax is greater than the average per capita monthly income in the country as of 2013. I occasionally teach on weekends and my annual donations to charities of my choice are also in the hundreds of dollars.

6. Gamers love / hate "classics" such as Monopoly, Scrabble etc. - Partially true. I am neutral about Monopoly (although at one point of time, it was my favourite game) and am a Scrabble fan. Other classics such as Settlers of Catan are on my "wont play" list.

7. Gamers do not understand anything about sports - Untrue. I follow tennis.

8. Gamers have poor personal hygiene - Absolute tosh. 

9. Gamers take games too seriously - if "seriously" is playing to win, then yes. But at the end of the day, it is a game, so victory and defeat are fleeting. Just like in life, at the end of the game, the king and the pawn go back into the same box.

10. Gamers are men - Well, I'm a man, so I suppose that applies. However, I've met plenty of women who are gamers. In fact, the gaming club at which I got introduced to modern board gaming was founded by a woman.

11. Gamers want women in games to be sexualised - Eh, what? Definitely untrue.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Game Play Log Jul - Sep 2013

Tue, Jul 2 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
Burrows* - 1 play
Condottiere* -  1 play
Glory to Rome* -  1 play (trainer version only)

Sat, Jul 13 @ Paulites Meetup 
Bottle Imp* - 5 plays

Tue, Jul 16 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
Glory to Rome* - 1 play (full version)
Sneaks & Snitches* - 1 play
UNO^ - 1 play

Tue, Jul 23 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
High Society* - 2 plays
Hey! That's My Fish* - 2 plays
Dominion* - 1 play
(This was one of those rare days when I won every single game that I played)

Tue, Jul 30 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
Hey! That's My Fish* - 1 play
Dragon's Gold* - 2 plays
Gloom+ - 1 play

Sat, Aug 3 @ Saturday Afternoon (Geeky) Games
Hey! That's My Fish* - 3 plays
Sneaks & Snitches* - 1 play
Caylus* - 1 play

Tue, Aug 13 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
For Sale* - 3 plays
Rummikub* - 1 play

Independence Day Getaway @ Forest Hills, Masinagudi
For Sale* - 1 play
Glory to Rome* - 3 plays
Dragon's Gold* - 1 play

Tue, Aug 20 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
Blokus* - 2 plays
Thurn and Taxis* - 1 play
Hey! That's My Fish!* - 1 play

Fri, Aug 23 @ Friday Evening (Geeky) Games
Hey! That's My Fish* - 2 plays
Cleopatra & the Society of Architects* - 1 play

Tue, Aug 27 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
Caylus* - 1 play

Sat, Aug 31 @ Saturday Afternoon (Geeky) Games
Hey! That's My Fish* - 2 plays
Forbidden Island* - 2 plays
Bridges of Shangri-La* - 1 play
Blokus* - 1 play

Tue, Sep 24 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
Love Letter* - 2 plays
7 Wonders+ - 1 play

Fri, Sep 27 @ Friday Evening (Geeky) Games
High Society* - 2 plays
Bottle Imp* - 3 plays
Thurn & Taxis* - 1 play

Tue, Oct 1 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
Dragon's Gold* - 1 play
Forbidden Island^ - 2 plays

Wed, Oct 2 @ Paulites Group Meetup
Sneaks & Snitches* - 1 play

Summary for July - September quarter
Glory to Rome - 2 plays
Burrows - 1 play
Love Letter - 2 plays
7 Wonders - 1 play
Condottiere - 1 play
Bottle Imp - 8 plays
UNO - 1 play
Sneaks & Snitches - 2 plays
High Society - 6 plays
Dominion - 1 play
Forbidden Island - 2 plays
Hey! That's My Fish - 8 plays
Blokus - 1 play
Bridges of Shangri-La - 1 play
Dragon's Gold - 2 plays
For Sale - 3 plays
Rummikub - 1 play
Gloom - 1 play
Caylus - 2 play
Cleopatra & the Society of Architects - 1 play
Thurn & Taxis - 2 plays

21 games - 49 plays

* game I own

+ game owned by someone else
^ game I own but in this play someone else's game set was used

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Game Play Log Apr - Jun 2013

Starting this quarter, I am going to keep track of all the games I play. I hope this will help me understand the table time each game gets and to observe trends over a significantly long period of time.

Tue, Apr 9 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
Rummikub* - 1 play
For Sale* - 2 plays
Bottle Imp* - 2 plays
Mow+ - 1 play
Saboteur+ - 1 play

Thu, Apr 11 @ Ugadi Afternoon Games Session 
For Sale* - 4 plays
Cleopatra and the Society of Architects* - 1 play

Sat, Apr 13 @ Monthly Paulites Meetup 
Jaipur* - 1 play
Mr. Jack Pocket* - 2 plays
Othello* - 1 play

Tue, Apr 17 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
The Bridges of Shangri-La* - 1 play
Citadels^ - 1 play

Tue, Apr 23 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group

Archaeology* - 2 plays
For Sale* - 2 plays
Citadels^ - 1 play

Tue, May 14 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group

Thurn and Taxis* - 1 play
For Sale* - 1 play

Sun, Jun 2 @ Sunday Afternoon (Geeky) Games
Sneaks & Snitches* - 1 play
Mr. Jack Pocket* - 3 plays
Checolo* - 1 play
Pandemic+ - 1 play

Tue, Jun 4 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
Burrows* -  1 play
Sneaks & Snitches* -  1 play
FITS (Fill In The Spaces)+ - 1 play

Tue, Jun 11 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group

No Thanks!* -  2 plays
Sneaks & Snitches* -  2 plays
Saboteur+ - 1 play
Bottle Imp* -  2 plays

Tue, Jun 18 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
Quoridor* -  1 play
Glory To Rome* -  2 plays (trainer version only)

Sat, Jun 22 @ Saturday Afternoon (Geeky) Games
Blokus^ - 1 play
Archaeology* - 2 plays
Shadows Over Camelot* - 2 plays

Tue, Jun 25 @ Bangalore Board Games Meetup Group
Forbidden Island* -  2 plays
San Juan+ - 1 play
Bottle Imp* -  2 plays

Sat & Sun, Jun 29, 30 @ Sachin + Harini's Place
Bottle Imp* -  3 plays
No Thanks!* -  9 plays
Blokus* -  2 plays
Thurn & Taxis* -  1 play
Sneaks & Snitches* -  3 plays

Summary for April - June quarter
No Thanks! - 11 plays
For Sale - 9 plays
Bottle Imp - 9 plays
Sneaks & Snitches - 7 plays
Mr. Jack Pocket - 5 plays
Archaeology - 4 plays
Blokus - 3 plays
Saboteur - 2 plays
Thurn & Taxis - 2 plays
Citadels - 2 plays
Shadows Over Camelot - 2 plays
Forbidden Island - 2 plays
Glory to Rome - 2 plays
San Juan - 1 play
Cleopatra and the Society of Architects - 1 play
Mow - 1 play
Burrows - 1 play
Checolo - 1 play
Pandemic -1 play
Quoridor - 1 play
FITS - 1 play
Rummikub - 1 play
Jaipur - 1 play
Othello - 1 play
The Bridges of Shangri-La - 1 play
25 games - 72 plays

* game I own

+ game owned by someone else
^ game I own but in this play someone else's game set was used

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The board between us

I am an ambivert with a dominant inclination towards introversion. Obviously, this isn't true when I am with  close friends but with strangers and acquaintances, this is a pretty accurate description. That said, I'm not anti-social or a loner.

I find that board gaming is a perfect hobby for me because it satisfies my need for social interaction, which although not as much as needed by many other is yet not something completely absent, while limiting the possibility of uncomfortable social interactions such as too many personal questions, having to listen to a person's emotional baggage etc. for which I have limited patience unless the person in question is in my inner circle of friends.

With the board / game between us, the primary focus is on playing. Some games are conducive to table talk and allows me to get to know (and open up to) people at a comfortable pace. I find that getting to know a person over a number of weeks works better than either subjecting them to / being subjected to a barrage of questions in the first couple of meetings. Also, I can observe how a person plays and draw inferences on their personal traits - values (do they cheat? do they play fair but hard?), approach (careful, calculated, or  aggressive), abilities (understanding rules, remembering rules, developing strategies as the game progresses) - to determine the probability of us developing a rapport outside of the gaming hobby.

Even if I don't feel I can develop a rapport with some people, the time spent together is not all down the drain, because I can keep the focus on the game. Also, I am not obliged to make small talk if I don't want to and neither am I expected to continue the socialization beyond the gaming session. This works far better than  many other casual socializing avenues such as parties, for me.

Current Mood: Really looking forward to today's Tuesday Evenings Board Games Meetup.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Selecting games for a session

A good game session is one that is fun and social. It also needs to cater to various game preferences (theme, complexity, duration etc.) while ensuring that everyone has a memorable time. One essential component to a good game session is the selection of games made available for that session.

I view a game session as a good meal - it needs to be balanced while providing adequate variety. Accordingly, I've come up with a classification system based on how a game fits into a session:
  1. Filler games
  2. Light games
  3. Casual games
  4. Geeky games
  5. Party games
  6. "Only if in the appropriate mood / with the right group" games
Filler games (equivalent of little snacks that you can nibble on any time): These are games which can be played in 15 minutes or less. Typically, the rules are also easy to explain and game play can comfortably co-exist with casual conversation. The games are perfect to start off a games session or to play in-between when people want washroom / coffee breaks. These are also ideal to play with non-gamers (those who dont really enjoy playing games but are nice enough to join in if that's the activity the group wants to indulge in). Most filler games are 90% (or more) luck. Some examples from my collection: No Thanks!, UNO, Cant Stop, Yahtzee!

Light games (equivalent of a soup or dessert): These games play in about 30 minutes and the rules and gameplay are somewhat more elaborate than those of fillers. While the game allows for casual conversation, it does require a certain amount of focus and concentration (at the very least, during one's turn) to make good plays. There is a good amount of luck involved but is balanced by some meaningful decisions to be made every turn. For Sale, Archaeology, Battle Line, Stratego, Bottle Imp would be examples of light games from my collection.

Casual games (equivalent of an appetizer): Casual games are one step up from light games in mechanics and game play complexity. Even so, most casual games also play in about 30-60 minutes. Chit-chat is not a game killer but given the involvement required to play the game well, most of the banter will be around what is happening on the table. Many gateway games (i.e., games to introduce to those who are new to the boardgaming hobby to get them hooked) are typically casual games. Casual games are the tipping point where strategy begins to overshadow luck. I would classify Forbidden Island, Dominion, Blokus, Rummikub, Cluedo etc. as casual games

Geeky games (equivalent of the main course): Geeky games typically have detailed themes, elaborate gameplay mechanics, and a steeper-than-normal learning curve. Understanding the full depth of a geeky game typically takes 2-3 games. Mastering the game can take a lifetime. Chess and Checkers (despite the absence of a theme) are well known games I classify as "geeky". Geeky games can take anywhere between 30 - 150 minutes per game and require focused attention for the full duration of the game. They minimize the role of luck by incorporating "multiple paths to victory" and the mechanics typically are not conducive to the "runaway leader" phenomenon (i.e., where the gap between a person in the lead and the person in the second place can quickly become so wide that there is limited, if any, chance of any of the non-leaders bridging that gap). Thurn and Taxis, Steam, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, The Bridges of Shangri-la, Glory to Rome, and Caylus are all geeky games. Some of the cooperative games which are heavy on theme (such as Shadows Over Camelot or Lord of the Rings) are also geeky because the ability to understand and appreciate the mechanics requires knowledge of the particular topic.

Party games: These are excellent to play in teams to enliven a party. Rules are generally quite simple. Game play duration and win conditions can be determined by the participants depending on their mood and time available. Cranium Wow, Taboo, Pictionary are all classic party games.

"Only if in the appropriate mood / with the right group" games: These are games that are enjoyable only if one is in the right mood and with a like minded group. Cutthroat Caverns in my favourite example of this. To enjoy Cutthroat Caverns, you need to be in a "bash the leader" mood and have a group that can balance cooperative play with opportunistic backstabbing and yet not take it personally once the game is over. Similarly, Monopoly is fun only if you have a group which is OK with player elimination and "runaway leader" mechanic and the objective of ruthlessly bankrupting everyone else to be the last (wo)man standing. Other such games are Apples to Apples and Dixit (both are very subjective in determining a "win" and it helps a huge lot to know the group you are playing with as people - their personalities, hobbies, interests, viewpoints etc. - and not just as gaming buddies).

Naturally, the demarcation lines between the various categories can be quite thin and the classification of a game sometimes does not neatly fit into one category alone. Even so, I have found the above classification helpful when deciding which games to put on the table for a game session.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The top 10 vs. The top 10

I consider myself a larval geek gamer i.e., I play board games often, have played /own more titles than the average person, am open to new games, and enjoy those that are medium-heavy or even heavy in mechanics and game play. Living in India, it is hard enough to find people even willing to play board games much less the "geeky" board games.

My guess is that the following would be the top 10 board games that an average non-gamer I know would most willingly play:

  1. UNO / Card Games (incl. poker)
  2. Scrabble
  3. Taboo
  4. Pictionary
  5. Monopoly
  6. Trivial Pursuit
  7. Cluedo
  8. Chess 
  9. Checkers
  10. Battleship
And just from my current small collection of 40+ games, here are the top 10 that I am most willing to play anytime (only those games considered whose rules can be explained in 5 minutes or less):

  1. Blokus
  2. Scrabble
  3. Rummikub
  4. Jaipur
  5. Archaeology
  6. No Thanks!
  7. Othello
  8. Upwords
  9. Checolo
  10. Stratego
That's a grand total of one game in common (Scrabble) and even then, considering that most people don't like to play with obscure words, aren't aware of the word lists (especially the twos), bingo stems and strategies, so when we do play it is like we are playing two different games. Sigh.

I think it is a pity most people (and more so in India) have no opportunity to be exposed to the variety of interesting and fun board games in the market. Board gaming a cheaper, more social, more fun hobby than (say) spending time at malls shopping for stuff you don't really need, eating unhealthy food in restaurants, or watching random movies. Mind you, I've nothing against movies or eating out per se (I enjoy both on occasion) but if the default answer to "I'm bored today. What can we do?" is always one of "Let's go watch some movie / let's go shopping / let's go eat something at a restaurant", I think that's tragic.

Hopefully as more people travel abroad, learn of board games, and experiment with the hobby, board gaming will become a more preferred entertainment option. Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A close escape from Forbidden Island

The second Saturday of every month is when I catch up with my school friends. For yesterday's meeting, most of the boys were not free and based on the RSVPs, I knew it would just be three of us.

Given that during our January meet, I successfully introduced 5 of them to two new games - No Thanks and Blokus - and saw their receptivity to board games, I decided to take along Forbidden Island this time around. It is definitely my favourite gateway game and plays well even with 3 players.

Forbidden Island, designed by Matt Leacock (also the designer of FI's much more famous sister game, Pandemic), is a cooperative game. In a cooperative game, all players work together to accomplish one or more goals. Players all emerge victorious or lose together. The theme of Forbidden Island is as follows:

Since it was the first time Swami and Guru were playing FI, I decided to go with the basic tile layout* (the tile layout representing the shape of the island at the beginning of the game before the island starts sinking) and kept the flood marker at the "Novice" level.

I then handed out the roles. Swami played messenger (allowing him to give treasure cards to a player anywhere on the island for 1 action per card; normally, one needs to be on the same tile to give treasure cards), Guru played engineer (allowed to shore up 2 tiles for 1 action; normally, shoring up each tile is an action), and I played explorer (allowed to move and/or shore up diagonally). 2-3 rounds of play was sufficient for both of them to pick up the game mechanics and things really began to get heated when we the Temple of the Moon sank even before we had captured The Earth Stone and Fool's Landing (which is the tile from which all the treasure hunters have to escape the island) got repeatedly flooded. We got The Crystal of Fire first, followed by The Earth Stone. By this time, about half the island had sunk and the flood marker had moved upto level 3 - meaning that with every person's turn, 3 island tiles got flooded. Just as the flood marker moved up to level 4, Swami captured The Ocean's Chalice. A couple of Waters Rise! cards later, Guru had all the cards required to capture The Statue of the Wind, so Swami and myself made our way to Fool's Landing, awaiting Guru to capture the final treasure and join us. Guru captured the treasure but by this time the flood level marker had reached level 5 and pretty much the whole island had sunk. We had just two tiles afloat, Fool's Landing and Gold Gate, which was flooded. Even as Guru reached Gold Gate, it also disappeared into the abyss but fortunately, it was just adjacent to Fool's Landing and Guru could swim to Fool's Landing when I discarded a Helicopter Lift and got us out! It was a superbly close game - probably the closest I've ever played. I cannot recall another time when I've played FI and had only one tile left and still won.

Rules explanation, setup, game play, and pack away were all completed in about 45 minutes. Subsequent plays should play closer to the 30 minutes as printed on the game box. And both, Guru and Swami, enjoyed the game and seemed enthusiastic enough to try it again with some of the variant tile layouts. 

Forbidden Island is a good game to play, especially with childhood friends to relive that feeling of trying to jointly accomplish something challenging. And as the objective is to steal treasures, you also feel that long forgotten thrill of doing something that you are not supposed to. 

Overall, yesterday's session cements FI as my go-to gateway game. Retailing for less than $20, its value for money quotient is simply stellar. 

All 3 of us had a great time and here's hoping for more plays in the days to come.

*To see how the basic tile layout looks, see this page

Friday, January 11, 2013

What board games aren't (and what they are)

To most people outside the hobby, Monopoly, Snakes & Ladders, Ludo, Trivial Pursuit, Cluedo are synonymous with board games. However, most board game enthusiasts rarely play these games.

The problem with many best-selling board games, which are also the most popularly known, are:

1. The target market is children. Nothing wrong with that per se, but given that store shelves are stacked with kiddie game titles, it is little wonder that most adults consider board gaming a child's hobby.

2. The game mechanics are simplistic and / or purely luck driven. There isn't any meaningful decision to be made each turn. Each game turn seems very much like the previous one and many games are just meaningless marathons of die rolling.

3. Long play times. A good game needs to be of the appropriate length for the kind of mechanics, complexity, and theme it presents. Those with inordinately lengthy end games (Monopoly, I'm looking at you), in which everyone keeps playing long after the winner has, for all practical purposes, been determined, are tedious.

4. Limited strategy. In and of itself, a game light on strategy isn't necessarily a bad thing. Games are meant to be fun and playing only brain burner games isn't everyone's idea of fun. But when a limited strategy game is coupled with boring mechanics and long play times, it is enough to put most people off playing board games forever.

5. Player elimination is generally no fun. In some games (Monopoly stands out again as an example), a player can be eliminated early in the game and has nothing to do while the rest of the group continues playing.

6. The visual appeal and aesthetics of many best selling games are just plain appalling. Contrast that with the visual appeal of modern board games such as or Forbidden Island and Cleopatra & The Society of Architects...

Forbidden Island - Capturing treasures before the island sinks!

The four treasures - Statue of the wind, Earth stone, Crystal of Fire, Ocean's chalice

The palace courtyard in the foreground; the base of the box doubles up as Cleopatra's palace with a rooftop garden!

Aerial view of the game

Cleopatra's throne and the Mosaics of the Gods garden

I think it is important to emphasize that simply having one of the above mentioned attributes doesn't necessarily make a bad game. Plenty of good board games can accommodate children. Some have luck involved. Some excellent board games have normal playing times (excluding rules explanation and setup) of 2 hours or more. It is the presence of most or all of the above attributes in a single game that makes the game a boring one.

More importantly, board games is a hobby that is not heavy on your wallet. A good board game is high on replayability. Some are playable multiple times even in the same session. For example, Forbidden Island which retails for less than $18 (at the time of this writing) can easily be played at least 20 times. It plays 3-4 players, so that works out to less than 25c (that's less than INR 15) per person per game, with each game lasting about 30 minutes.

But most importantly, every good board game is three things: Fun. Social. Offline.

PS: All the photos were taken by me using my mobile phone camera. My photography skills are fairly limited, but I hope the photos demonstrate that board games can be visually stunning.