I've been having a very hard time keeping up with video games while being in college. As many of you currently attending or...heaven forbid...college graduates (those poor souls) know, classes and the optional job or student organization sucks a lot of time out of your day. I've come to a point in my life where much of my video gaming is condensed into the few breaks I get while in school. While I do have my consoles and gaming-oriented laptop with me at college, a game hardly gets booted up unless my friends are all busy.
This might have to do with the types of games I like, but I simply cannot invest the time in a long, time-soaking game with all of the stuff I have to keep up with at school. I value the time I do, and I still keep up on gaming news for the one or two titles I will be making time for in the future. Until that time comes, however, I need some sort of gaming in my life. I have to scratch that itch in my head that's screaming for a challenge of some sort that doesn't involve learning a new language or computer code.
Well, you see where this is going. I found board games.
No! Not those. Those are boring.
The board games I'm talking about are not the ones we all grew up with as children. No Battleship, Monopoly or LIFE for me. Nope. I'm playing games like Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, Munchkin, Dominion, Infiltration, Civilization: The Board Game, Settlers of Catan and so on.
I've become a big board gamer ever since I started becoming aware of how many inventive and creative ones there are out there. I never thought I'd see the day where I would be scouring the internet for the latest board game news (alas, I do now). In fact, a large part of my reasoning for not playing as many video games in my free time nowadays is because I have these board games that I can play with my friends.
With the move towards online, more connected gaming, a lot of the old-fashioned four-friends-on-a-couch style of video gaming has been lost. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, not at all; it's a natural part of the evolution of video games. It still exists in a psuedo form through custom matches and voice chat, and many games with a multiplayer component still allow for splitscreen, but the fact of the matter is that the majority of gamers will play with their friends through an internet connection most of the time. However, as video game multiplayer moves more towards online aspects, it is impossible for board games to do so. Sure, you could pick up the XBL/PSN version of Settlers of Catan and play them online, but anyone who's played the game in physical and digital form will tell you that it's far more engaging and fun with four friends at a table. This is true with all board games.
What board games bring to the table (pun intended) that video games still can but (I feel) people ignore is that 4-friends-on-a-couch feeling that made gaming so much fun 10 years ago. With a board game, everyone is at the same place. Everyone is looking at each other, everyone is communicating strategies and deviating plots in front of everyone else. Playing a board game is a very intimate event. In a game such as A Game of Thrones (the board game is probably one of the best things on this planet...but, then again, so is the franchise) you must consider where your interests lie, and where they clash with your allies/enemy's interests. The game's functions and procedures almost force you to cooperate, while encouraging backstabbing at the right time. It's a delicate balance of diplomacy and war, and such a balance would be impossible to achieve in a game. Part of what makes A Game of Thrones and other board games of the same irk so compelling is that, whatever you do, someone's going to react to it, and they're right across the table from you. You have to put up with their rage, confusion, or perhaps their own evil plots on the spot as the game progresses. It tests wit and mettle, such a test that I have yet to see a game communicate successfully. Throw in some text messaging (well call it "sending a raven") and you have strategies and plans being created without even a word being said.
Those. Freaking. Lannisters. THE NORTH REMEMBERS!
I particularly value the face-to-face aspect of board games because it allows for strengthening of friendships and sharing memories, even if you did just destroy your best friend's capital city, taking all of their tokens and laughing as they're eliminated from the game. Another aspect I value is that a board game can be completed within 45mins-4 hours (depending on the game). You get a complete gaming experience from start to finish in one sitting, often with side conversation, food, laughter (shouting, too) , and a good time with friends sprinkled in. I don't have to wonder what will happen next or look up a strategy on how to beat an incredibly difficult boss. I won't have to save my game for later. It's done. And I can come back to it again and again, and often I do, because the board games I play have multiple scenarios or variations for each game. They may have a randomly generated map. They may be completely cooperative. They may have a persistent world that changes with each game you play. They offer much the same entertainment video games do, but in a different form. A form more practical for someone like me, who would rather spend his time with his non-video-gaming friends than playing his video games, while still playing a game.
The most horrifying part about Arkham Horror is not Cthulu, but how impossible it is to win. Even if the game is cooperative.
It's funny, one would think that tabletop gaming is on the decline nowadays. Digital entertainment continues to surge in both popularity and revenue, to the common eye it would seem that the days of rolling a die and praying for anything but a 6 is over. This is not the case. Board gaming is as strong as it has ever been, and its creativity never seems to die. I've always felt that more people should wet their feet into the realm of these complex board games just once, to see if they like it. If they're already a video gamer, I guarantee you that they'll probably fall in love.