Tuesday, April 12, 2011

TIMELY TOPICS - Fear of the Unknown Box (Games I Have Avoided Playing)

Howdy! Glad you could stop by today. I've kinda been busy and haven't posted here in a bit. What have I been busy with? Work. Kids stuff (soccer, dance, etc). Attending part of the EGG game day. Being sick. And creating a new Ticket to Ride map. Yes, a new map. Days of Wonder is holding a $10,000 contest for the best new map submitted and will be part of an anniversary box (or some such thing) that will come out next year (for DOW's 10th anniversary). My wife, Lynda, came up with an idea and I started running with it. I'm not saying anything else until we've submitted and it's past the April 15th deadline. Not that you'd copy our ideas or anything, right?

Anyhow, so I've been somewhat busy with that. We've barely play tested it though and I need to revamp the map and the tickets again but it's been a blast seeing it come together and having fun doing graphics stuff.

But, I've also been thinking about a topic that has intrigued me. I have noticed that there are certain games I've had a 'fear' of playing and tended to avoid. By 'fear' I mean having trepidation around playing them. I get that funny twisty feeling in your stomach when I think about playing them and I'm not sure if I really want to. I've been wondering why I was avoiding certain games because, when I finally got around to playing them, I often really enjoyed them! It is silly to avoid them because THEY ARE JUST GAMES! And, if I had continued to avoid them I might have missed out on the great fun and experience of playing them.

So, here are some of the reasons I've come up with for having 'Fear of the Unknown Box' and the games that fell into that category for me.

"IT'S TOO POPULAR" - Dominion
Some people are extremely averse to popular culture whether it is games, music, etc. I'm only slightly averse to pop culture. I avoid some of the more popular music much more than I used to but am still drawn to some of it as well. Games are the same for me. I tended to avoid Dominion for a long time after it came out and likely would never have ended up purchasing my own copy had not a friend of mine forced encouraged me to play (thanks Bob!). I'm not really sure if I had a specific reason to avoid it - maybe because it was Deck Building which I'd never really done before and maybe because it was just the 'hot thing' and avoided it as a result.

But once I learned it and then tried out Intrigue and Seaside I decided I liked it enough to have it myself. AND, later I taught it to my Dad and he instantly loved it and immediately bought his own copy. I've had a lot of fun playing with my family as well as many of my friends - it is one of my daughter's all-time favorite games, so I'm glad I gave it a go.

"IT'S TOO COMPLICATED" - Web of Power, Age of Steam
Now, here's the thing that I think has affected me the most: I get an idea in my head about what the game is about and end up making it out to more or different than what it really ends up being. In other words, after learning the game and playing for the first time I went "That's it?!" and I wondered why I avoided it to begin with.

Just last week I finally played Web of Power for the first time. I admit I was intrigued by it, but I had in my mind that it was a negotiation game and had all these complicated rules and powers in it. What it turned out to be was a fast playing area control game with a card driven mechanism. When Cary taught it to me I literally thought "That's it?" as I was expecting much more. Now, the 2-player game is a bit more complicated than that, but really not all that much more. 3-player this game really shined AND it's a pretty easy game to understand in terms of the rules. Of course, how you play the game is a bit more complicated. BUT, this was a game I was nervous about playing and then found my fears were unfounded.

Age of Steam (which I finally learned to play last year) was another game I imagined in my head to be more complicated than I thought. When you read through the rules and play a turn or two you realize there's really not that much to the system itself. You take shares (money), bid for turn order, build tracks, build cities, improve your shipping capabilities, ship goods and earn income. It makes sense. The money is really tight and you have to manage it carefully, but the mechanics are pretty straight forward. Again, it comes down to the game play and the interactions that are more complicated BUT there's really nothing to fear in the game itself. I found I loved it and, even though I got trounced my first game out, I have learned to love the game to the point of buying my own copy and several expansion maps.

When I first started out gaming I avoided co-operative games like the plague. Those games were just NOT for me. I just was not interested. Well, maybe SLIGHTLY interested by Pandemic (I've read some books on hemorrhagic viruses and such and so found the topic interesting at least) but otherwise pretty much averse.

Then at my first year at Gamestorm, a couple of friends were about to play Last Night on Earth and asked if we wanted to join. Hmmmm. Ok, fine. So, here's the thing. I enjoyed it. I didn't have the most exciting character - I had a guy that could rummage around and find items so I ended up doing that most of the game rather than actually fighting zombies since we needed a lighter or something to help us win. So, I found my part a bit boring. BUT, I could see the huge potential for the game. Different scenarios. Lots of characters and items to use. Different board configurations. Being able to play heros OR zombies and working together as a team. I determined that perhaps I had mis-judged co-ops.

That same convention Rog also wanted to play Betrayal at House on the Hill. My stomach knotted. But, I persevered and listened to the rules. I liked the idea of exploring an old house and seeing what was in it....hmm, maybe this will be 'ok'. Later, as the game progressed I found myself really getting into it. Finally, when the game turned and we knew there was a Betrayer, the game REALLY started to get exciting. We had a goal and we had to work together to accomplish it. The house had come alive and we had to stab it in the heart to win! The house kept fighting back and our adventurers started dying off. We got the weapon we needed and headed for the room in which we could kill it off....and won! Woo-hoo! (oops, did I just cheer and get excited about a co-op?)

"IT'S TOO SIMPLE" - Forbidden Island
Ok, so I finally gave in to co-ops and I became more interested in Pandemic but never had an opportunity to play it. Then Forbidden Island came out and I thought "I don't want to play that - I just want to play Pandemic". However, Bob brought Forbidden Island over and we played it with my kids. We had a blast! Yes, I still say that maybe I like games with a little more going on, but with my kids or with my family it's actually a really great game. It has great tension (which you can ratchet up a bit by starting at a harder level) and it encourages everyone to work together.

Here's the thing here - sometimes simple games are among the best. They shouldn't be avoided but embraced for what they are. Yes, I may not want to play them all the time, but I have to drop the angst and just enjoy them.  

"IT'S A WAR GAME" - Wings of War, Memoir 44
I have typically avoided war games. I don't know why. In my mind, a war game is long and complicated and has a rule book that is 1000's of pages long with tiny single-spaced print and every rule is numbered.

Well, I have to say war games have come of age. There are still the heavy war games with long and complicated rules, but there are now also simpler war games that bring a certain level of excitement with easy to understand rules. The great thing is that you immediately are at odds with each other. It's a battle of wits, akin to chess or similar strategy games.

Rog suggested playing Wings of War when we were at an Ashland Library gameday. I wasn't sure but thought I'd give it a go. It basically was like RoboRally (which I love) but in the sky! You pick your next three aerial maneuvers then execute them one at a time. Each move you check to see if you have the other plane in range to shoot and, if you do, you get to see how much damage they take! Great simple rules and a lot of fun!

Ok, maybe this isn't a TRUE wargame, but that fear of it being a war game and finding out it was and yet wasn't and that it was actually a great game helped start to get me over my fear of war games in general.

I also had the opportunity to play Memoir 44 with my friend Chris. I was a little less reluctant of this than most just because I'd heard great things about it and knew it was card-driven warfare. The great thing about this game was the map was simplified and you had a limited number of options due to the cards in your hand and only so many different types of actions are available. This helps keep the complexity down (which I think is the main fear of war games) and the enjoyment level up.

"IT'S TOO OLD" - Acquire, Caylus
What is the appeal in thrifters picking up all these older games? Well, it's because there are some classics out there that, when you play them, you realize just how good they are and that you shouldn't be afraid to try them out.

Acquire is a game I got to play soon after I started getting back into games a couple of years ago. I haven't been able to play it since but I have my own copy now. I don't think I had a lot of fear in getting it played, but because it was older it made me wonder if I really wanted to play it over something else. Boy, was I blown away with it considering it's age! It's a bit abstracted and the artwork definitely gives it that 'old game' feel, but it also makes you have some respect for 'older' games and shouldn't be ignored or avoided.

Caylus isn't quite as old but it's kind of in that 'classic' range where it's almost passe to want to play it (even though it's only 6 years old!). There are newer and better games out there now, right? Plus, I had heard it was 'hard core' and a very unforgiving game which can also put the fear into some gamers. When I played it for the first time I could see why it was such a great game and why some people maybe had fear in playing it. BUT, something that this game reminded me of is that we don't just have to play the latest and greatest games. There are some true classics out there that shouldn't be avoided just because they are a bit long in the tooth.

So, what games am I still avoiding? Space Alert! Real time co-op just doesn't appeal to me for some reason, although I suspect if I play I'll get sucked into it and have a good time. But for now, that funny twisty feeling in my stomach will remain for this game.

I also still have some fear of playing Twilight Struggle. Here's the interesting thing about this - as time goes by I have more fear again about playing it. I had only played it 1-1/2 times initially and I loved the first play of it (yes, I had tremendous trepidation playing it the first time). I liked it enough to buy it and wanted to play it more. I played a partial game with Bob. However, it has been quite a while since I last played it and there is still some fear of this game due to all the different cards available and their interactions. And, for me, perhaps it's the political aspect since I'm not much into politics. It's sort of a war game/political game but at it's heart it's fundamentally just area control (a mechanic which I love). This is a game that I think I will need a lot more experience with to get comfortable with it.

This whole topic seemed like it might be need a geeklist as a supplement so I have created one. Please feel free to add an item to it that you yourself have experienced fear of, why you avoided playing it and whether you have actually ended up playing it or not.

Now go out and try a new game you've been afraid to try out. You just may find that you have nothing to fear....


  1. I only recently learned of your blog but I like it a lot and I'm going through the archives.

    Also, I DON'T mind a post on BGG with a click-through to the blog.

  2. hi matt, i first came across your blog on BGG, in the BGG blog format. do you manually create the version on BGG, or is there some automated way that you feed into the BGG blog? i have a blog on blogspot too and am thinking of feeding it into a BGG blog to reach a wider audience.

  3. I do it manually. I wish there was something that did it automatically, but I think formatting incompatibilities might be an issue. I *do* use to send it to Facebook though (although I don't actually twitter :) )

  4. thank you matt. i auto-post to facebook too, but using a feature within facebook itself. you can automatically import rss feeds to your facebook notes.

  5. What's interesting about Space Alert is it's "skillful" in a way that most games aren't. In your first game or two, you simply suck. It's not bad strategy, it's just inability to execute actions competently. So yeah, that can be a bit uncomfortable and is perhaps what you're avoiding. It's great fun if you can do your first few games with other newbies, and some booze.


Comments are open to anyone. Criticism is fine if it's clean and reasonable. Anything deemed inappropriate by me will be removed.