Social impact of board games

Posted: February 26, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

I have what I would consider a fairly typical group of gamer friends.  These guys have grown up on D&D, board games and table-top games.  We all love games and have our own relationship to them.  Something unusual happened over the last few game sessions.  We abandoned the game we all loved and respected for a shallower version of the same game.  Our sin was liking the experience more but we took so much joy in the fact that we were all on speaking terms by the end of the night.  I have so much respect for the game that brought us so much misery, that I had to take a deeper look.

The game that we all loved, and loved to play, but hated how we felt at the end was Twilight Imperium.

This is possibly my favourite board game of all time.  It’s amazing.  It has everything you need in a sci-fi galactic conquest game.  The problem wasn’t the game, it was the players, or was it?

This game had it all.  Battles, alliances, back-stabbing, exploration, high technology and cool little plastic spaceships.  We all loved this game.  But given the richness of the game, and at its core it was a competition, all of us used the game to advance our social agenda.  Brothers would ally against the rest, brother would betray brother, friends competing for who’s the best strategist.  Any betrayed pact would be paid for in blood.  By the end of the evening (8 hours of play or so) a victor would emerge, but the victory would be hollow.  Everyone would grumble about this or that being imbalanced or the game is about victory points and not killing or they got the wrong race or something.  The point is this, almost all the players left the table unsatisfied.

After years of playing several editions of the game, we switched to StarCraft for a few games.  StarCraft is by the same company and influenced by the same designers.  Much to our surprise we had a great time.  A lot of the same pieces were there.  Battles were abundant.  Turtles could turtle.  There was technology and awesome plastic spaceships.  So, why did we have a better time?  We all acknowledged how much more Twilight Imperium offered.  It had every amount of richness while starcraft was so very streamlined.

I believe that the largest difference came down to two things, the time to play and the politics.  Eight hours of play is too much for most people to play.  The political element of Twilight Imperium is amazing and powerful.  It’s also is the largest source of social drama.  StarCraft had told us, everyone else is the enemy, FIGHT while Twilight Imperium told us make friends with your neighbours long enough to find a stick bigger than theirs.  This opportunity for friendship and partnership made the highs higher, but made the lows very much lower.

Maybe my gaming group is unusually competitive, or perhaps Twilight Imperium did too good a job of allowing us to show our true feelings.

I took a few lessons from this experience.  First, a competitive game can be made more competitive by introducing flexible co-operative mechanics into the game.  Second, an eight hour play experience is in general not a good thing.  Lastly, in competitive/co-op experiences, when having the players take on a role, its dangerous to ill define the role.  A well defined roll is necessary to help the player decide when betrayal is the right thing or not otherwise it is the baggage the players bring to the game which helps them decide. Given that, I’m going to write up some new rules this weekend to see if  can fix it.

Good Night All.

  1. jagMouttMor says:

    Hello guys,

    My name is Thomas and I am from Stirling in the UK. I have not long ago discovered this forum and I like it alot.
    I am a bit shy so I wont talk much about myself but maybe when I will get confortable, you will get to know me better!
    My main hobbies are playing piano and watching movies. I also like outdoor activites but the temperature has been bad for the last days or so here in Stirling.

    I was wondering if anyone else here is from the UK too?

    I am happy to have joined this forum!
    Have a nice day!


    PS: Sorry if this was posted in the wrong section. I could not find the right one!

  2. hughseyp says:

    hi guys new here, forums looking good


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s