There’s no denying that the hobby of board gaming has a broad catalogue to draw from when it comes to game titles. Given the 90,000+ listings in the Board Game Geek database, who among us could have played all the games? In my whole life, I’ve played maybe 600-700ish unique titles. Every so often, there’ll be games I’ve not played that when mentioned elicit more of a surprised reaction from people than others – these are games that have been treading the boards for a while, hit people’s tables often, yet.. Well, I just haven’t actively sought out playing them. What’s my reasoning behind this? I’m going to give a quick overview of 5 of the better-known games that have had an impact on the hobby that I haven’t played, and try to understand what it is that makes them some of the best, and what’s kept me from them despite that.
Magic: The Gathering (Magic)
This is the OG CCG. First published in 1993, Magic has been enormously influential on many card games – collectible or not – that have come after it. Be it the elements of building decks or hand management overall, or more specific elements of how cards are played and activated, it’s certainly left a mark on card gaming. I know that Wizards of the Coast do a great deal to make Magic accessible to new players, but the sheer size of the existing card pool and how many people know the game so well already is unfortunately off-putting to me. On top of that, my already budget-crushing board game habit doesn’t have much room for a collectable card game habit on top of it! All of this doesn’t quite make the game as it stands on its own something I wouldn’t want to try, however – as I came to tabletop gaming via D&D there’s a lot about Magic that’s my jam. Fantasy and magic and monsters, all the good stuff – I wonder if trying Magic out after having played so many games it influenced would be interesting, or just frustrating at this point? Time to find a “Magic for Newbies” night, I suppose!
As a mainstream release family wargame (first coming out in 1959), this wasn’t something my friends or family played so it really passed me by. Beyond the fact that it’s a reasonably generic war-themed game (which isn’t something I dig that much), I’m not keen on the idea of player elimination like Risk does it – I want everyone there til the end of the game, or hopefully not waiting more than 5-10 minutes until the whole thing is done! The parts of Risk that do sound interesting to me are the area control and area influence aspects – El Grande is one of my all-time favourite games, for instance – so there is some pull there for me. Risk is one classic game that’s had a swathe of re-themes and licensing re-releases however, so there’s potential somewhere in there for me to find a Risk that pushes my buttons.
Another 1959 release, Diplomacy is pretty much the classic negotiation game. And that is pretty much what paralyzes me with fear of trying this game. Especially considering the “friendship ending” stories I’ve heard (like, way worse than friendship ending Catan games!) about how the negotiation and backstabbing can go down. As a serious, political game Diplomacy is terrific in its structure – there’s no chance, and all outcomes for area control and influence come out of the negotiations, simultaneous action and game rules. In a game like this, you do really want things to be driven by the players and their actions – but the heavy reliance on that negotiation leading to that is what kills it for me – I’ve been really frustrated with the games of Cosmic Encounter I’ve played for similar reasons.I lean more toward a game like Twilight Imperium where there’s a balance of a little of everything going on for players, without such an emphasis on negotiation.
I really love Euro-style games, and heavy strategy games. Feast for Odin and Terra Mystica have been more recent favourites of mine, so what is it that’s kept me from trying Power Grid, a classic Euro game (even having been published not long ago in 2004)? For some reason, when I’ve seen this being played and assumed it’s a far more complex game than it actually it – BGG’s weight rating for this is solidly in the medium range. Maybe it’s the ‘mathy’ nature of play that dresses its complexity up for me. And I honestly usually don’t take too much mind of theme in Euro games, but the heavily economic nature of Power Grid’s setting is another level I’m not super interested in. I’d love to be proved wrong sometime, as I’m down with auction/bidding as well as network and route building other games I’ve tried – it could be that these aspects of the game are truly enjoyable despite my apprehension. Or perhaps I prefer my auction and bidding served up in games like Ra and For Sale and my network building in Ticket to Ride or Through the Desert!
Twilight Struggle (2005) is lauded as one of the classic 2 player games of all time. Possibly one of the bigger barriers to me trying this is the fact that I don’t play a lot of 2 player games and when I do, it tends to be along the lines of 7 Wonders Duel, Jaipur, Patchwork etc – along the lighter side of things with a shorter playing time. Struggle is purely card-driven and although low in complexity because of that, it’s still really decision-heavy. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not so much into war games – but this seems a little more interesting with influence and the like being the drive. Because of the setting of the Cold War, I love the idea of politicking with the cards and the lack of negotiation! But the same thing that came up for Magic comes up again with Struggle – anyone who’s played the game before will benefit enormously from knowing the game and the cards and how they can influence the game. That, plus the game seeming like quite a behemoth in its runtime and back and forth, leaves me falling back on my softer 2 player options rather than taking the dive.