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It’s a great time to be a board gamer (I think)., posted by Derek

Over the past 4 years, I’ve gone from a board game fan to a true believer.  Perhaps even a Hobbyist, gods forbid.  Indulge me in a bit of history, before the real meat of the post….

It began when I moved to Wisconsin before my family got here.  I had three months in the (I thought at the time) dead of winter (turns out March-May is not quite winter here, but for a Texan displaced, it was close enough) with no one around except one friend from Austin. And he was a work-friend – we were great friends at work, had serious conversations, etc. But I never wanted to talk to him *outside* of work.

So I was in an efficiency apartment with cable and internet, two TVs (one for TV, one for the Xbox), and a new computer.  But even I recognized that tons of videogames, and Skype chats with home, were not enough socialization.  So I set out to find people to associate with.  Through the magic of, I found out that there was a pretty thriving board gaming community.  I liked board games, I played them in Austin with friends at game night.  So it sounded good.  One met every week in my city, another met every other Friday about an hour away, and a third met every other weekend (both days) about 30 minutes away.

In time, I came to learn that there are lots of differences between groups, but that’s for another post.  Suffice to say that most of my time was spent either playing games, or playing board games.

In that process, I learned a lot about gaming, and became very interested.  I changed from playing Munchkin to learning about Eurogames vs Ameritrash, to hang out with people who read German game magazines, because that’s where you found out about new stuff coming out.  I learned to ID game types by designer (Oh, that’s a Martin Wallace game, you know how that will play out.  Oh, Corey K?  You’ll probably love it.  Etc).  I actually spent more money on board games than video games so far this year.

In the four years since I’ve been seriously playing, things have changed a lot.  Where previously, most of my games were ordered online, or via a 1-3 week waiting period at my local game store, you can now find stuff in Target, Barnes and Noble, whatever.  A couple weeks ago, I found Munchkin, Catan, and Rune Age (a deck building game from Fantasy Flight that, while excellent, is not even remotely mainstream) on the shelves of Target.  I walk in to B&N, and go to their game section, and almost always find at least one thing I’m interested in.  The snob/hipster part of me is a bit offended that the “plebs” can get Rune Age from Target, but that’s quickly squashed as Jimmie pointed out that 1. Gaming is good for everyone and 2. I’m still far more hardcore than them. ;)  The fact that some random kid may walk in to Target, see Rune Age, with a big dragon on the cover, and pick it up, then fall in love with deck builders (and OMG do I love deck builders) is *awesome*.

And then there’s iOS (and, to a lesser degree, Android).  Because let’s be honest. As much as you might love board games, playing them consistently is hard.  Our meetup group meets once a week for 4.5 or so hours, and then once a month on a Saturday.  But even if I went to every one (I don’t, because I have a family, and work, and get tired, and….), that’s still about a day a week.  If I have 5 games I’m in love with, I’ll play maybe 2 a week, every other week.  So it’ll be 2-3 months before I get a second play on a game in some cases.  And that assumes I’m only playing *my* games – every one else there is a fan too, so they all have their games. So unless it’s a game we all love, I play a game once every 4 months, maybe.  Which is not a lot of time to develop strategies.

I got my yearly bonus last week, and rebought an iPod (I had one previously, but sold it (I thought I was getting an iPhone, but that’s a long story)).  And I have my Droid smartphone.

Between the two of them, I have a literal ton (I assume that if I put all the parts together in real life and weighed them, it would be a ton.  I haven’t checked) of games available to me at a minute’s notice, available anywhere (but certainly not in the bathroom, because that’s never where anyone plays app games), with, in most case, a reasonably good AI.

Right now, on my Droid I have Dominion, Elder Signs: Omens, Condado (which is a clone of San Juan), and Labyrinth.  Then I have a couple online card games (Urban Rivals, Cabals, Shadow Era) which have web versions, but also apps.  And that was really nice.  I spent a ton of time playing Dominion (and completely changed how I play it – I’m a ruthless ass hole playing Dominion now.  I mock people who buy feasts.  I laugh at people who still have coppers in their hand at the end of the game), and then picked up Elder Signs and loved that.  It’s probably the best boardgame app available on the Droid.

But then I looked at what’s on iOS, and was flabbergasted.  I bought an iPod *specifically* to play app versions of board games.  Which seems insane, until you realize that board games are 40-70 bucks a piece, so $200 on an iPod that plays 4 games is about the same thing.  And since this posting, I’ve upgraded that iPod to an iPad, because it had even more games.

Currently, on my iOS, I’m playing mostly ports.  I have the follow games right now:

Elder Signs (it’s so good, I bought it on iOS too).

Button Men (a great little dice rolling game)

Zombie Dice (which is mostly a time killer, but entertaining)

Dominion (not nearly as good as Androminion, which is great)

Hive Online (very few plays)

Ascension (the reason I bought the iPod. I love Ascension, and the iOS app is amazing.  I would consider $200 spent *just to play Ascension* worth it, really. Because that’s basically what I did)

Neuroshima Hex (great reviews, confuses me so far)

Bohnanza (fun bean game)

Caylus (A game I didn’t really understand in real life, but have come to really enjoy)

Kingsburg (Much harder to play on iOS, but still a great port)

RK’s Samurai (Still don’t like it much, but I’m learning how to play it)

Ticket to Ride (Hey, it was free)

RK’s Kingdoms (See Samurai)

Roll Through the Ages (much better in person, but fun solo)


I’ve added the following:

Small World (a great physical game, haven’t tried the app version)

Cyclades (a game I’ve always admired, but didn’t figure I could find players)

Ghost Stories (another game I’ve heard great things about)

I can, at any given moment, access a  library of 15 or so games (and that’s not including the games that only exist on the iOS which are reasonably good) with AIs, pausing, memory, achievements, and all.  And that doesn’t include the game I want that’s only on the iPad (Small World) and the 5-6 games in development I’m waiting on (Nightfall, Thunderstone, and several more).

It’s amazingly great for a board gamer.  I don’t have to find solo rules for Ascension and fill up my couch with the board, I just launch the app.  I play games like Caylus with a tutorial, suggested moves, and the ability to lose horribly without embarassment.  And, in the case of Caylus, it’s moved from “Eh, that game” to “Yeah, that’s an excellent resource management game, I’d recommend it.”

Then there’s the “I think” part:

I don’t have any desire to play Dominion with real people.  I play, on average, 5-10 games of Dominion a week now.  I used to play up to 50-60.  The AI is fast.  A long game is 7 minutes.  The idea of sitting down with humans, finding the cards, organizing it, shuffling them, waiting while the humans think (and ye gods humans are slow), and the like just doesn’t appeal to me.  I have a friend (who is also a friend’s mom, which is a bit odd to me) who loves Dominion.  She drives 45+ minutes to come to game night, and wants to play with me, because she knows I like it.  But the couple times we did play, I was bored.

Ascension is still great in real space.  Kingsburg is definitely better with humans, and the full board.  But even so, if I’m given the choice between Kingsburg, which I have on my iPod, and something else, I’ll choose something else.

So while I’m flush with games, I wonder if I’m losing my interest in those games.  If I had *every* game on iOS, I’d play them in real life.  But given the limits, it puts an odd focus on things.  People apparently bring their iPads to game night, and play 4 player games on their iPads.  Which is awesome, but also lacks the ability to play with wooden meeples, and cards, and all the stuff that makes gaming so fun….