Board games aren't just for nerds anymore

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Everything Matters

How should one evaluate board games?

Which elements of a board game matter? If I were to compare two games, which qualities would lead me to prefer one to the other?

First, there are the obvious qualities that could describe a board game. Is the gameplay high on strategy, tactics, or both? Is there player interaction, or is it multi-player solitaire? Is the game innovative? Is the production good, such as the component quality and artwork?Is it easy to play? Does the gameplay and rules evoke the theme?

But while these questions are helpful and important, they are not quite exhaustive. Most board games are designed to be played in person with other people, face to face. Ideally, the rules of the board game simple provide the contours for a story to be told by the players. How I think about a board game will necessarily be colored by who I’ve played it with. So here are some more questions: Is there a dramatic arc/Is the ending climactic? Is the game interesting throughout? How hard is it to teach to other players? How opaque is it, is it hard to grok for new players? Is there a lot of downtime? How long does it take to set up/tear down?

But even with these new questions, there’s still a problem.  Not every game is targeted to the same group for every occasion. And depending on the game, some of these questions are more important than others. Not every game can, or should, try to solve every problem. Board games that are trying to be provide very different experiences are not even competing in the same arena. But all board games do share one element in common: they are all played by people.

So instead of focusing on the qualities of the game itself, I should be focusing on the experience of the people playing the game. Which leads to a new question: “Could this game be someone’s favorite game?” A “favorite” game must be answer one question with flying colors, but it must also any relevant questions decently. It can’t just be unique; it has to work in practice. In other words, it must be pareto optimized on the questions that matter to that person.

In short, everything matters.

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