Archive for the ‘Boardgames in the News’ Category

There is some chance that the next big global event will be an Israeli air attack against Iranian nuclear (and possibly oil) targets.  Apparently there have even been reports that Israel has already decided to launch such a strike and is only waiting for correct timing.  The New York Times recently published an article which tries to explain some of the difficulties involved for Israel.  It’s a good article but it probably overstates the military difficulties facing Israel.   Seth Owen at Pawnderings has posted his opinions which are educated by studying and playing the excellent and highly detailed wargame Persian Incursion, a highly  researched pseudo-simulation covering both the Israeli airstrikes themselves as well as some of the larger diplomatic and political events that might preclude or follow them.  Seth’s thoughts after playing the game are pretty clear:

the Iranians, plainly have absolutely no chance militarily. Oh, sure, a lucky shot here or there may shoot down an Israeli jet or two or land an occasional missile in a Tel Aviv city block, with the consequent propaganda ‘victory’ for Iran, but the Iranians have no ability to impede the Israeli raiders in any significant military sense. Whatever the Israelis decide to destroy will be destroyed. The Israeli challenge is almost purely a technical and logistic one caused by the extreme distance and some limited resources. As such, however, it’s also one that thorough planning by a highly professional military such as Israel’s can be expected to overcome.

What the Israelis won’t have to deal with is much of the way of unpredictably effective defensive action by the Iranian military. Their available aircraft and anti-aircraft missiles are several generations behind the Israeli attackers and, for the most part, will likely be completely neutralized. As I said, one can’t completely discount a lucky shot, so there’s some small risk for an unpleasant (for the Israeli side) incident or two, but losses will be minimal and damage extensive.

It’s interesting to hear how strong his opinion is on this and I frankly have more faith in the people who developed Persian Incursion than I do in a New York Times reporter.  While it’s frightening to think about the possible consequences of such an airstrike, it’s likely also frightening for Israel to consider its future with an extremely hostile and nuclear armed Iran.  This is something to watch very, very closely.

For a great non-boardgamer review of the wargame see this review on Foreign Policy magazine.


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I just read this absolutely fascinating column about what is happening to the pencil and paper role-playing game industry right now, specifically D&D.   The column is written by Ryan Dancey who has a long history in the industry and who ran the D&D unit at Wizards of the Coast for a while back around 1999-2001 time-frame.  Times are not good for Tabletop Role-Playing-Games (TRPG), of which Dungeons and Dragons is the industry standard and market leader and possibly one of the most influential games in the entire history of hobby gaming.

The statistics in the article are grim; in 1995 Dancey estimates there were approximately2,500-3,000 full-line hobby stores in the US that carried TRPG products, along with about 2,500-3,000 mass market book stores that also carried TRPG products and were responsible for roughly half of the sales.  Today he estimates there are fewer than 1,000 hobby stores remaining, possibly as few as 500… and the bookstores have not fared well either, with only around 700 left in business.  In addition, business practices have changed; stores used to buy large lots of product from the publisher, giving the publisher an immediate influx of cash after releasing a new product and putting the risk of sales on the retailer.  Now many stores are buying on consignment, meaning the publisher is now holding all the risk and is only paid when the product actually sells.

The reasons for this decline should be fairly obvious; a general and significant decline in serious hobby tabletop gaming of all kinds, and a lack of adoption by a new generation of gamers due to the much stronger appeal of online MMORPGs.  Dancey doesn’t offer any sales numbers but it’s fairly obvious the drop has been precipitous.

That’s not to say D&D hasn’t tried to vary their business model to adapt… the D&D Online MMO was a (largely failed) attempt at entering the MMO market while Wizards has also been increasing the amount of online resources for the tabletop game, including using a subscription model for online content which I don’t believe has been very successful.

More recently Wizards has turned to the general boardgame community with the D&D Heroscape releases, which met only limited success, and the more recent D&D boardgames which seem to have met a much more solid reception.  Conquest of Nerath looks like it has been a decent hit and the co-operative boardgame series that started with Castle Ravenloft (which I own and have written about here and  here) has continued with Wrath of Ashardalon and Legends of Drizzt and has done very well.

I’ve never played D&D (or any tabletop RPG for that matter) so I have no personal attachment but just out of interest in the industry and the D&D legacy I’m also highly interested to watch how Wizards proceeds forward from this rather unenviable position.

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I’ve been pretty busy lately so I’ve had difficulty finding a lot of time to post, but I saw this in the news today and thought it was interesting:

The oldest known Monopoly board has been auctioned by Sotheby’s for £90,000 (or approximately $145,000).  Interestingly, the early boards were not boards at all but pieces of oilcloth handmarked with the board art.  The board is not square either, but round.

You can read the short article here.

Monopoly as a game design is heavily criticized by most modern gamers, for good reason, but that doesn’t detract from its value as a historical part of American boardgaming culture.  Hasbro’s lame attempts to keep milking it as a cash cow intellectual property are kind of sad, but like it or not Monopoly is here to stay and if it gets families gathered around playing a game together, all the better I say.

Interestingly, Monopoly is based on an even older game called the “Landlord’s Game” which was designed right around the turn of the century by a woman named Elizabeth Magie partly as a teaching tool to show the corrupting powers of monopolies and the ability of landowners to impoverish tenants through rents.  It was never widely manufactured but the idea for the game was developed by several groups of people and several decades later Charles Darrow, having played some of the derivations, was caught up with the idea and produced the first boards similar to what are used today on oilcloth.  He marked the outlines of the boards with a drafting pen while his wife and kids filled in the colors.  Eventually he sold the rights to the game to Parker Brothers in around 1935 and the game finally went into full mass production.  Charles Darrow is largely attributed as the only designer of the game, but in reality Elizabeth Magie was the true original designer and the design was developed by several people before Charles Darrow ever worked on it.  The full interesting history is very well documented in the wikipedia article.

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In my usual scan of Google News headlines this morning, I noticed an interesting pair of articles on concern over youth board game addiction in China that caused me to do a double take.  “Board game addiction” is not exactly a common phrase… especially in comparison to the legitimate attention that various video and computer game addictions receive by the media.

The first article, by PressTV (an Islamist Iranian news source), has a video that is worth watching.  The second article by People’s Daily Online (the Communist Chinese newspaper) is longer and has more information.  The concern seems to center around Chinese youth spending too much time playing board games and/or playing games that are considered “not appropriate” for youth.  The demographics of Chinese youth, as compared to American youth, are pretty unique, due to Asian cultural differences and due to the effects of the Chinese “Family Planning Policy” (better known as the One Child Policy).  Many Chinese youths in urban environments lack siblings, and while video games are extremely popular in China they are also somewhat lonely so getting together with friends to play board or card games is apparently very popular over there.

Both articles focus on one particular game, called SanGuoSha, translated into English as “Killers of the Three Kingdoms”.  The game has a Boardgamegeek entry here, though the game is available in Chinese only and would require massive translation to be playable in English.  The game mechanics are similar to Bang!, which is in term similar to Mafia, Werewolf, and similar group games.  The card art is beautiful and obviously part of the draw, as is the exciting social large group gameplay.  Anyone who’s ever had a good group together for a game of mafia knows that the fun and energy of the game derives mainly from the excitement and interaction of the group playing it, so the potential is there for a large popular movement if the game got enough momentum on a cultural level.  Apparently there are even board game cafes in China where people gather to play this and other games.  In the PressTV video a boardgame cafe owner is interviewed and behind him is a wall of boardgames, many of them easily recognizable such as Dominion and Ticket to Ride.


SanGuoSha cover

Interestingly, the criticism seems to center on the games being addicting and harmful for youth by exposing them to violent or sexual imagry present in the games and not intended for a younger audience.  I looked up some of the card images from SanGuoSha on Boardgamegeek and didn’t find them particularly graphic, at least not by general industry standards.  Certainly they are much more mild than your typical video games, though that may be less true in China where I understand many video games are heavily edited before being approved.  I imagine this must be a cultural thing to some degree.

There are certainly a few games out there that have purposefully pushed the line of content, and plenty of games I wouldn’t play with young children.  Generally, however, most every mainstream boardgame is going to be appropriate for all but the most conservative/sheltered teenagers so I can’t understand where this criticism is coming from.  Perhaps it is some issue with the killing of other players that occurs in SanGuoSha, but again, haven’t these people seen first person shooters?  I’d rather have my kids playing a card game with friends than sitting in front of a screen committing mindless acts of virtual violence for hours.

Some SanGuoSha cards

There is also some concern that many games portray history incorrectly (a sensitive political issue in China for obvious reasons).  As far as I can see it, the addiction portion of the criticism largely stems from the youth not managing their time properly which is not really a boardgame issue at all.

Of course to the Chinese Communist government, there is no problem that can’t be solved by massive government involvement.  The Chinese education ministry has taken note of this trend and has decided to release boardgames better suited to educating youth and teaching them correct history, something I generally endorse although of course this also provides an additional platform for propaganda.

I’ve already gone on record as having stated my belief that boardgames produce a generally positive impact on society.  That said, certainly they have the potential to cause unhealthy behavior and spread misinformation so some concern in this area is understandable.  However, from what I’ve read in these articles and the research I’ve done on SanGuoSha I have a hard time agreeing with the specific criticisms noted in these articles.  I guess in my mind boardgames are almost always going to be preferable to video games from a cultural perspective.

Also interesting that the two articles are from very much non-Western news sources.  Seems like none of the major Western media outlets decided to pick this news up or were even aware of it.

For a more detailed analysis of the history and success of SanGuoSha and its relation to Bang!, see this Boardgamegeek thread.

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Can a boardgame help teach Polish youth what life was like under Communism?  That’s what the Polish National Remembrance Institute is banking on.  They have developed a game called “Kolejka“, or “Queue” which goes on sale in Poland on February 5 with an initial print run of 3,000 copies.

The game tasks players with collecting certain supplies from stores, which doesn’t sound so difficult… except this is Communist Poland.  Corruption, production inefficiency, and immense government oversight results in most stores getting goods shipments irregularly and usually not having enough goods in stock.  Players have to send family members out to stand in line at different stores, trying to have people near the front of the line when the shipments actually arrive.  To get further ahead in line players can play all sorts of cards such as “mother with child”, “party connections”, etc.

The game’s creator, Karol Madaj, wants young Poles to realize the frustrations of standing in long lines with no guarantee of even being able to buy what you wanted.  He personally remembers standing in line with his mother and the frustrations of watching people use various excuses or connections to move ahead in line.  The game’s board is evocative of a depressing era, with a dark gray largely featureless board.  While the game is being compared to Monopoly by many news media, the game uses colored meeples and looks like a Euro in terms of design style.

The boardgame will also come with a historical documentary DVD.

When it comes to sad history, Poland has a lot to remember.  There are numerous games on Poland in WWII but if you are interested in Poland’s history further back check out the 2009 game God’s Playground, which is a competitive/cooperative game covering Polish history from 1400s to 1790, a period of history during which Poland was regularly beset by enemies on all sides until it ceased to exist, gobbled up by its larger neighbors.

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