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Devon Dice – A New Year A New Beginning

(But supposedly not new enough to avoid clichéd titles)

Welcome to the Devon Dice blog. Devon Dice is a new endeavour about board games, headed up by Joel and padded out by others, including Lewis and myself – Tom. It is borne out of Joel’s excellent Ministry of Board Games podcast and I hope that we can do that justice in the refreshed Devon Dice podcast that you might well want to check out alongside this blog.

And so it is time for me to try and write these blogs regularly enough. What should we aim for? One every couple of weeks? Well, OK then. Let us go and adventure together, explore board game worlds, and hopefully come across some crackers. We are going to be going on a journey of discovery, of board games new and old, simple and complex, themed and, well, abstract. I hope you stick around… it should be fun. These blogs are going to be a bit of an exploration into not just the board games themselves and whether I like them or not, but the types of board games that are out there. And I don’t just mean that there are competitive and co-operative types of games.

Randomness, Rules and Theme.

Let me give you an example. Robinson Crusoe is a brilliant co-operative game. It is tough and complex, as long as you have at least one person with a grasp of the rules then less experienced gamers can have a great time too, immersed in the world(s) of a deserted island, stranded and lost. But I’ve found that the game doesn’t suit some gamers for three reasons: Randomness, Rules and Theme.

The game can be very thematically immersive, easily allowing players to weave a story around the characters, if they play that way. One of the mechanics relates to event cards where you can choose an immediate reward or less bad negative effect and then the card is shuffled into the event deck. Later on the game the card re-emerges and the choice you made earlier in the game has implications. You might have hidden from a tiger in the first instance, for example, but later in the game it comes back and causes a bunch of trouble in the camp…if only you had just dealt with it in the first place. But there are some gamers who just don’t get the full experience of theme that this game offers.

Thankfully, I do enjoy the theme and experience that is on offer and, in my opinion, the mechanical gameplay is interesting enough that it is as good game even without it. But for some, this area is a problem. Or, at least, it adds another layer to why they were not totally on board with the game. Which brings me to the second point of conflict about Robinson Crusoe. The randomness.

No, wait, that last one is not going to happen.

Now this one is a little strange, but it does put some people off. The game can be a little ‘random’ or ‘swingy’. You can get smashed in the first couple of turns and know that there is no hope, you can think that you are going to make it through and then a few events happen that are out of your control and particularly bad which, or you might sail through without a care in the world. No, wait, that last one is not going to happen.

The reality is that for a co-operative game to be any good, it needs to have a good dose of luck, blended with genuine choices made by the players. No luck and it is just a puzzle. Robinson Crusoe offers just that. It’s tough, don’t get me wrong. But you do have control, your choices will increase your chances of success or doom you to certain failure. For one reason or another though, the way that the game dishes out it’s punishments… and dish it does… just doesn’t sync with some people, and the result is a feeling of ‘too much randomness’. So if you are someone who likes to be in a bit more control, then this might not be for you. But if you can let it ride, and take the smooth with the rough then give it a whirl.

Finally, there are the rules. Now there are two types of things that can go wrong with rules. One is where the rules should be perfectly fine, but the rulebook is awful. In my opinion that is generally unforgivable and thankfully it is not the case here. The second thing that can go wrong with rules is if they are quite complex and can get confusing. Now Robinson Crusoe certainly has that. The rule book could have been done better I’m sure, or the scenarios (of which there are a bunch that come with the game) could have been set out a bit more clearly, however, there are a whole load of different ‘what if’ scenarios that crop up as a result of conflicts between base rules and cards because the game is complex. This is probably the game’s biggest stumbling block with those who don’t get on with it.

And this isn’t even a competitive game!

The pages and pages of FAQ’s on board game geek is testament to both the game’s popularity and confusion. You don’t need to go there of course, you could just make up your own mind what to do as your playing as and when unclear situations arise. And there is the rub. To some, such a thought is diabolical. They would rather chop off their left pinky than not know what the ‘correct’ ruling is. And this isn’t even a competitive game! So if you are one of those people, then you might want to stay away, or prepare yourself for not ever being 100% satisfied about it. Unless, of course, you memorize all of the errata and rulings. Good luck to you I say. It doesn’t bother me, I’m perfectly happy with coming up with something that feels right on the spot and just get on with enjoying the incredibly thematic, engaging experience that I get out of Robinson Crusoe.

So there we have it. Three types of gamer, or gamer spectrums I suppose. In the next blog I’ll set out these types a bit more explicitly. This is the start of understanding what characteristics of games work for you, and which ones are going to be the most likely to suit a certain game group or situation. Hopefully, this will help you choose what to buy when you can’t have them all. There was one more thing that I need to say in this first blog that will help over the coming weeks…

During my time playing games, watching and reading reviews, and chatting to my friends at the club and on board game geek I have come across one – no two – absolute truths about board games:

One, board games are different and people are different (I know that sounds like two things already). Everyone’s opinion is valid and it’s self evident that different games are going to be liked by different people. The trick is to dissect the essence of the experience and get underneath the game’s skin to unearth its subtle folds. To find its dirty secrets. The trick for you is to be honest about your own gaming habits and preferences. But don’t be fooled. This is not a scientific thing, it’s a feel thing, and with that comes uncertainty and error. I’m not always going to be right and therefore I take absolutely no responsibility for what you choose to like. But if I put you onto a winner, then I will gladly take your praise.

Two, well I’ve forgotten two. You’ll have to read the next blog and see whether or not I’ve remembered it.

Do get in touch, I’d be really interested to hear your views.

Tom Blog – A New Year A New Beginning
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