(Another late post, my bad! First week of school kicked in, so I haven’t had the time to build up my stockpile of posts. This week I should get back on track)
I hate Catan. There, I said it.
The Settlers of Catan, the poster child for the modern renaissance of board gaming, is a bad game, in my opinion. The theme is utterly meaningless, the mechanics are boring and mathematical, and, most importantly, the game doesn’t spur on interactions between players in any meaningful way. All you can do is trade, which is boring, aggressively place the robber, which really is just a denial of resources more than it is the creation of an interesting decision, and place roads and towns in places such that other players can’t put theirs there. Again, this is just a denial of options, not a generation of the new, interesting decisions which make up a good board game, in my opinion.
That’s why I’ve pushed for Catan to largely be replaced amongst my gaming group. Instead, we play this bad boy:
Archipelago, if memory serves me right, was designed by a fellow person-who-hates-Catan, and in my opinion it is a strictly superior game in every way. The theme of maintaining an island colony for resources is more heavily represented in the mechanics. Less abstraction means the board actually looks like an archipelago, and you can see your workers moving around and collecting resources, making it easier to imagine the stories in the game world taking place, instead of Catan‘s abstract “I rolled a 4 so I shall collect stone from my stone hexagon now”.
Most importantly, though, Archipelago‘s mechanics allow for a more complex interaction between players, which produces a bounty of new, interesting decisions. Clever movement and construction allows a player to take over a hex another player has taken root on, allowing for more directly aggressive play than Catan‘s robber, even if it requires more preparation than “Oh, cool, I rolled a 7”. The board will have to come together to solve crises, which allows for tense bargaining situations where someone will have the last couple resource cubes needed to end the crisis, allowing them to hold the game hostage unless everyone agrees to an unfavorable trade deal.
This, I think, ties into how I fundamentally feel about board games: their primary goal should be to create interesting reactions between your friends, allowing for complex decision making and individualized tactics.Thus, my favorite board game of all time:
Coup is an extremely simple card game, where players attempt to force others to discard the entirety of their two card hand using the powers and abilities of the cards in their own hand. The very clever catch is that you don’t have to show a card from your hand when you use its power, allowing you to mercilessly lie about your hand’s contents. These simple rules and cards, combined with mechanized cheating, means every game of Coup is a game centered on trying to understand your friends psychologically, figuring out when people are lying and, more importantly, figuring out how to play smart while not drawing attention to yourself.
Another game that gets pretty consistent play with my friends is The Metagame. A group of game designers’ answer to the fun but shallow Cards Against Humanity, The Metagame has players arguing that the card in their hard is the best fit for a category card played down on the table, leading to heated arguments about which is the better demonstration of masculinity, an AK-47 or a mullet.
The best part about The Metagame is that the entirety of the game is based on the social dynamics of the group you’re with, which you’ll get to explore if you play with strangers. The way things get argued, the cards selected for each category and answer, and the precise arguments made all vastly vary based on the particular people in the group. Everyone will argue points differently, even more so when you take into account the fact that players who aren’t participating in an argument serve as the jury, and thus an appeal to those people always comes out during an argument. It’s great fun.
The crux of this post, I guess, is to say that the most interesting thing that separates board games from other types of games is that it provides a very formalized set of rules for a game played by a bunch of people, in person, right next to each other, and the best board games have rules to capitalize on that social dynamic.