Inevitable first post about Boardgames: Blaugust Day 08

I suspect that everyone who likes boardgames eventually writes something on “why I like boardgames”, as if it’s something that needs to be justified. But why? You wouldn’t feel that compulsion if you liked playing chess or bridge, but chess is a boardgame (a stylised form of warfare between two competitors facing each other across a board with pieces representing real-world elements and rules that govern their movement) and bridge (which I’ve never played but I recognise as a sophisticated card game with deep strategic and tactical elements) is to all intents and purposes a boardgame too – many so-called “board games” are card-based with no board or pieces at all.

So why do boardgamers feel the need to justify themselves? And how is it that computer gamers seem to have moved on from that but boardgamers haven’t?

I’m in my early fifties (yes, really) so I grew up in the age of Monopoly and Cluedo and not a whole lot else. Waddingtons produced a lot of good games in the UK, and they were quite fun to play, but they didn’t have a lot of depth to them – if you play them now there’s a kind of retro charm to some, but they don’t tend to have the depth or generate the satisfaction you get from the strategic and play-balancing features of many modern games. So for a lot of people my age or older, there’s still a perception that board games are basically for children and are all about dice rolling and luck, because for many of that generation they still see “boardgame = Monopoly” (Monopoly lovers: please don’t write to argue that Monopoly isn’t a children’s game. I know. But I’m writing about general perception – how I was brought up, you played board games to entertain the children, and when they grow out of it, you stop. And I just don’t like Monopoly).

That’s a perception that will shift as today’s younger gamers have families of their own, and introduce their children directly to Carcassonne or Settlers of Catan without having to go through the pain of playing Monopoly first.

Computer gaming has shifted with technology, and with the creation of so many games aimed specifically at adults, so that over the past 20 years it has established itself as a semi-respectable pastime, and those who play don’t seem to feel the need to justify it – they know they’re part of a vast community, most of it online and interacting, and that’s sufficient in itself.

But boardgames? People actually having to be physically present in the same space where they can see each other, not connected over the internet and represented by an avatar? Why is that difficult to comprehend?

My own children have been brought up on boardgames. We started them young but despite playing Monopoly with them they stuck with it. We moved on to the modern games, and they’ve hosted Games Night every Friday for their friends for years – they still get together when enough of them are home from University. Other children’s parents would say how nice it was that they had that social interaction, not sitting in front of a computer screen (I know that that level of interaction is commonplace with computer games now, but it wasn’t back then). I’d sit in another room (Games Night wasn’t for grown-ups) but I could hear the banter going back and forth – it sounded like a poker school in a movie.

When we go on holiday we take a bag of games with us, some old favourites, some new ones, because a quick game of Love Letter or Rat-a-Tat Cat is a lovely way to finish an evening. And then I lend games to other people and they try them and they love them and their families start to enjoy boardgames.

Love letters

And we make our annual pilgrimage to UK Games Expo at the beginning of June, to see what’s new and what’s fun, and every year it gets bigger, and now the people who came alone when it started are bringing their children along. And that’s what’s going to make the change – the new generation of boardgamers being happy and unaplogetic to get together and enjoy this great hobby and not feeling they need to justify themselves.

(Footnote: as part of trying out blogging, I want to try to write more precisely. I started this piece with “….everyone who likes boardgames eventually writes something on ‘why I like boardgames’, as if it’s something that needs to be justified“. Did I just spend 700 words on justifying “why I like boardgames”? I tried not to, I hope I wrote about the idea of the justification, not on justifying my own love of boardgames. Feedback welcome….)

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2 Responses to Inevitable first post about Boardgames: Blaugust Day 08

  1. philcooper says:

    Hi, Howard. Found your blog via Kateri (of course).

    I wanted to leave you a comment on this coming from a videogames-first, boardgames-second point of view, mainly because I disagree with you on your point about gamers justifying themselves. I’m a “gamer” (oh, how I hate that label and what it’s come to mean in a wider cultural context) but I’d never come out and admit it straight up to someone new. There’s still very much a stigma attached to it, I feel. Videogames might be a bigger industry than Hollywood, can be doing interesting and unique things with storytelling and social interaction, but I think the public still only thinks of Grand Theft Auto and Sonic the Hedgehog, and as a 30-something grown adult, it can embarrassing to claim kinship with something so adolescent. There’s definitely some justifying goes on: oh, I don’t play *that*…


    • Hi Phil

      Thanks for the comment, and also just for reading the post! I’m still at the stage of feeling incredibly needy about people reading what I write.

      Maybe it’s having children who’ve grown up with video games, and are now in their twenties, and so between them and all their friends it’s become established that “gaming is normal”. And for a lot of those in between I’d have thought that enough people had grown up playing Sonic or Mario then “progressed” to older games that it was now established mainstream. Clearly not, from what you’re saying. Which is a pity. I can see through my boys how much of a social activity it is (Tom’s in the other room at the moment, with a headset and microphone, interacting with a lot more friends than he would doing anything else at 11:45 at night – at least, things I’d be happy with him doing at that time).

      Is it the same association as reading fantasy fiction, do you think? It’s not “proper”, it’s something you should “grow out of”? Invariably spoken by people with no experience of the subject in hand?


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