Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Developing My Board Game Progression Chart

As you've probably gathered by now I've been playing lots of games recently, in particular lots of party games. All of these recent sessions have been fun, but I've begun to notice that there has too often been something missing.

I've known all along that my gaming preference is for strategy board games. Looking back on my childhood my favorites were Stratego, Risk, Monopoly, and Clue. Not always the most exciting titles, especially by today's standards, but certainly strategy games. I've never been opposed to other types of games, but when I say I want to play a board game I'm not talking trivia, party, or word game, I'm talking STRATEGY! Those other types of games are fun (usually...) activities, but generally if I'm not getting strategy I'm not getting my fix.

A Separate Category?

In fact, I would take the 'fun activity' label a step further and lump those other types of games in with other fun group activities much more readily than I would with strategy board games. So... We could play Scrabble, disc golf, Trivial Pursuit, Say Anything, Wii sports, go out for karaoke, or go bowling. On the other hand we could play Settlers of Catan or Puerto Rico. I'd probably enjoy anything in the first group, but if I really want to play a board game (and I almost always do!) the second group is the one I would choose.

What I've realized more recently is that the situation isn't really as static as I made it out in the example above. As far as board games go, instead of lumping everything into two categories, I could probably come up with a whole progression of games starting with those farthest from my ideal game (but still lots of fun in their own way) all the way to my perfect gaming experience. I've really started thinking in this way because of these recent gaming sessions that have been very light on strategy games. I've begun to notice that even when adding a game like For Sale (light 'filler' strategy game) or Pandemic (cooperative strategy game) to a game night along with party games, I still don't feel like I've scratched that board game itch.

I'll try to lay out a basic list here, although much more thought and many more plays will be needed for fine-tuning. Games will be listed from most like a fun activity at the top (group #1) to closest to my ideal strategy board game at the bottom (group #5). All games on the same line are at a similar level.

My Board Game Progression Chart

(fun activity)

  1. Say Anything, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble (#1, almost any trivia, word or party game)
  2. Wits and Wagers, Sorry Sliders (#2, party, dexterity, with slightly more strategy than above)
  3. Blokus, For Sale, Metropolys, Clue (#3, abstract or light strategy)
  4. Dominion, Alhambra, Pandemic (#4, cooperative, light strategy)
  5. El Grande, Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Fury of Dracula, Puerto Rico (#5, heavier strategy, strategy with high levels of interaction and/or theme)
(ideal strategy board game)

Some comments:

  • The number of rows I chose for my list is somewhat arbitrary. I could have condensed this to three groups of games and probably still made my point, but I felt that five groups would be much more accurate. Given enough time and thought I could probably rank every one of my games along this progression, each with its own unique position, but that isn't necessary for my purposes here.
  • Just because a game is higher on the list doesn't mean that I like it less than the games on the bottom. In fact, I like Wits & Wagers just as much (if not more) than many of the games lower on the list. The reason this chart is necessary is because simply playing games based on how much I like them isn't enough to get the most out of a game session.
  • As you can see by the group description I list in parentheses, I feel that weight is an important consideration here in many cases. Thus Dominion, one of my favorite games, falls into group #4 instead of #5 because it is simply too much lighter than the games in that group.
  • I suspect that Pandemic doesn't make it into #5 because it is both cooperative and fairly light. Perhaps a heavier coop like Arkham Horror would make it, but I don't know.
  • I don't know if my ideal game night would include only games from #5, or if some amount of balance between groups would make for a more fulfilling session.
What exactly does this chart tell me?

If a game night is featuring mostly party games, I will do my best to fit in one of the games from group #5. Two weekends ago when we were playing with Emily and Scott, I should have pushed to play El Grande rather than Pandemic. The latter would probably be best during a session including other fairly substantial strategy games, rather than in the midst of party games as it was that evening. That same weekend when we played with Chris and Lucy, the games were For Sale, Pandemic, and Say Anything. Though this might have been a slightly better mix, the group #4 Pandemic wasn't enough to make it a great board game session.

This chart gives me a guideline for planning a game night and for packing games for a trip or vacation. One of my next posts will be my thoughts for which games to bring to Vermont with us this weekend, and I will certainly consider my games progression list in that process.

Thinking about games in this way presents another useful way of deciding which games to buy next. Already I think about types of games I'll enjoy, accessible themes and simple games to attract new players to the hobby, games best with different numbers of players, and game categories in which my collection is lacking. In the future, my collection's balance in regards to my board game progression chart will be another important consideration.


Anonymous said...

Where does Neuroshima Hex fit?
Wasabi? (Wasabi I can guess)

Dominic said...

I love how Say Anything AND Wits & Wagers made it into your list!!!

:-) Cool.

(Designer of those games)

Nathaniel Todd said...

Anonymous: I was just listing a sample of games. The list wasn't supposed to encompass my entire collection. Most of the games you list will find it on there eventually...
Dominic: Thanks for the comment! I wonder if you read my 'too many puppies' post... You probably didn't realize Wits & Wagers was a bit of a bully!

Dominic said...

I had not read that one. LOL

But he was so gentle and playful when he was young. I can't believe what a mean puppy he turned out to be! He's just spoiled rotten from all the attention he's gotten. :-)