Taking the Video Out of the Game

Looking through the historical progression of games, there seems to be a fairly smooth path that points towards video games being the current end point. This makes sense considering that video games and VR are the peak of gaming technology, but what about the games that go back in time? As an avid board game player, I wanted to take a look at some of the great video games that have expanded their reach into the realm of tabletop play. Are the games any good and why are they made?

Let’s start off with what is arguably the most popular video game-board game transition, which is Dark Souls The Board Game. Initially a Kickstarter project, the game hit its target in 3 minutes and ultimately raised over $4,000,000. For those of you who don’t know much about Dark Souls (the actual video game) it was released in 2011 to much critical acclaim and commercial success. While it could be frustratingly difficult for players, there is an intricate lore, great mechanics, and an open world platform that allows for so many different strategic maneuvers. Turning back to the board game, it actually held up pretty well against the original video game. There were interestingly layered game mechanics, high end design, and of course mercilessly unforgiving combat.

dark souls memeWhere things get interesting is how this game helps Dark Souls make the transition from spiteful multiplayer video game to a collaborative and hopefully fun for all video game. In the video game the player-relationship is complex as everyone has similar common goals, but they can also take over another player’s human form by killing them. By changing the board game to be completely collaborative Dark Souls developers FromSoftware are potentially trying to take away some of the negative impressions players are left with after playing Dark Souls. The board game serves as an avenue to build a stronger community around Dark Souls, which would ultimately lead to more players and game play.

dark souls board gameWhile it’s nice to think about a lot of the community and “for the sake of the game” aspects of expansion into board games, the bottomline is of course going to be money. Particularly with games that achieve massive success, a board game is a quick way to make some easy cash. For this we turn to the lamest of all video game iterations, the Monopoly edition. Don’t take this as a sign of me bashing Monopoly, it’s probably the first game I really loved playing and I still playing with some regularity even today. The point I am trying to make is that some game companies simply opt to get lazy when making the transition to board games and that’s not at all exciting for fans of the game. Just to name a few there is Zelda Monopoly, Fallout Monopoly, and Mass Effect Monopoly. While I am sure that these all sold a few copies, none brought another dimension to the original video game, doing little if anything to make the experience worthwhile for fans of the original game.

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At the end of the day it’s easy to tell, which game companies are really looking to provide something new and exciting for their fan base. Some video games such as BioShock, Assassin’s Creed, and Dark Souls have provided an opportunity to expand upon gameplay and grow the fandom and community. On the other hand countless video game makers have come out with board games that provide little other than funding, or just simply aren’t good games. So before making that transition from the screen to your kitchen table be sure to do a little bit of research as a great video game doesn’t always translate to a great board game.

  • Sam Grossman
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On Running Backs and Thimbles

Jake Karlsruher

When my friends and I first got to high school we were plagued with the Freshman Curse; the girls we hung out with in junior high ditched us for the cooler, more mature seniors. Dejected, we turned to the only comfort we had left: Madden ’06. We logged countless hours in my buddy’s basement, sitting on his torn corduroy couch, mashing the Xbox controller until our fingers hurt. We talked very little; instead, we let the 40-yard dash, fantasy draft, and franchise mode engulf us. Being good at Madden became a necessity in our social circle. If you couldn’t play well, your Friday night consisted of watching someone else play and waiting anxiously for your turn. Because of our competitive nature, the game couldn’t be confined to the basement. It seeped into our school lives and our cafeteria conversations. “You’re done tonight, I have a new team” was usually met with “Yeaaah rigght, I twenty-one O’d (21-0) you last week”. I distinctly remember a heated argument that arose when someone proposed ranking each other for an upcoming tournament (you are not better than me). It was about that time that we laid down the controllers and started to enjoy high school.

While we played a lot of Madden, we experimented with other mediums too, namely Monopoly. Every once in a while, a friend of mine would bust out Deluxe Edition and we’d kill time by playing for a while. We chatted about how the Phillies were playing, what homework we had to do, or what girls we liked. It was a social experience; we joked, laughed and ate microwave pizza. Usually we would get bored before we finished and rarely completed the game. I enjoyed the time I spent playing Monopoly, but it was clearly a different experience than playing Madden. Both Madden and Monopoly are strongly based on rules. They both can be classified as emergence games — games in which altering a strategy or game play style produces a wide range of outcomes — so why did I feel little emotional attachment to our Monopoly games but see Madden as a way of life?

In my last blog post, I commented on the importance of a viewer being able to relate to a character in a film. The phenomenon is transmedial. In games, as well as films, the person who seeks entertainment wants to connect to their subject, to feel what their subjects feel. Madden offers a first person option in which the player can see the field through a running back’s eyes. The rumble feature literally lets the player feel a chop block or a devastating hit-stick. It is much harder to relate to the Thimble as it builds its commercial empire, investing in properties up and down the Jersey Shore. Perhaps my friends and I took little interest in Monopoly because we couldn’t connect with it.

In class we discussed categories of games and assigned each genre a ratio of emergence to progression. One game might be 25% emergence and 75% progression while another might be a 50-50 split. I consider Monopoly to be more emergence based than Madden. With a console sports game, one can choose to play through thirty seasons of a franchise or turn a rookie into a superstar.  Monopoly had more emergence qualities, but we were less immersed in the game. My group’s preference was a game with more choice and progression. That being said, we never truly did reach the endgame of Monopoly. The game takes too long. Perhaps the desire for completion, the aspect of winning and losing that drives our competitive egos, is what kept us away from board games. Or maybe it’s just us. Could it be that our collective generation has lost the patience for board games? I like my Blackberry and my Internet and I’m used to instant gratification. At some point, reaching down and physically pushing Thimble to Reading Railroad became obsolete. I don’t have time for that.

My friends and I spent more time playing console games than board games. Monopoly Deluxe was enjoyable, but Madden ’06 engulfed us entirely. However, all good things have to end and eventually we had to move on… to Madden ’07.

-Kar-El

Face to Face

Matt Thumser

The difference is personal. Board games and console games are really not all that different, if you look at it. Sure, console games like Halo and Madden may be more immersive; but with a little imagination, board games like Risk and Monopoly can place us in their own world for hours on end. Both types of games follow Jesper Juul’s definition of a game. They both pit us against each other, making a winner and a loser. They both serve to entertain us.

I have no preference when it comes to playing each type of game. I’ve had great experiences with each type, and I’ve had really bad experiences with each type. Who hasn’t felt the adrenaline rush fueled by the cash you earn at the end of a grueling game of Life; and who hasn’t grown frustrated with the tediousness of a game of Monopoly that drags on for hours? It’s the same with console games; the joy of scoring a touchdown to win as time expires in Madden, and the anger of an unbeatable level of Super Mario Bros.

Indeed, console and board games are very similar. The difference between them, however, is personal. The interactions between players are vastly different in the two media of games. Board games are personal; you know all of the players in the game. This isn’t present in console games, where you can just shut off the console if losing. In most cases, your friends won’t let you do that in the middle of a board game.

A Board Game is Forever!

The Game of Life… the classic board game played from high school graduation to retirement. Throughout my youth, the game would sometimes give a sense of direction to where my real-life was heading. What usually brought me out of my fantasy world, was when I’d draw a card for my occupation and become a doctor, then I’d draw a card for my salary and its $20,000 a year. The idea of being able to play out my entire life in less then an hour was quite mindboggling for the average 9 year-old. There is absolutely no strategy or skills needed to play this game, except maybe knowing how to read and count. It’s pure luck based on the number you spin and even if you don’t retire first, there is always a chance you could still win if you ended up with more LIFE Tiles then everyone else.

LIFE brought out a new dimension of thinking for kids like me who grew up in the 90’s. With any board game I ever played, the real fun was being able to use my imagination as if I was on the board myself jumping from square to square. I imagined myself weaving through Candy Cane Forest in Candy Land, or getting thrown in Jail during Monopoly. I was fascinated by the idea of going to college, getting married, and having my first kid all in under 5 spins of the wheel. 

Now fast forward to the new millennium, technology is booming and kids like my younger brothers and sister could careless about using their imagination. Why would they want to when they have awesome graphics on their new console game that they play religiously every day after school? Their eyesight is becoming worse as they stare into the television set for hours; their thumbs are getting arthritis at a young age from using the controller for so long; their brains are being manipulated into thinking that violence, shooting, killing, and robbing people are all fun to play and watch.

I think it’s great that technology and multimedia have reached another level of success and improvements, but seeing a 7 year-old on her cell phone, and a 10 year-old with the lasted ipod touch, and a 13 year-old asking when he’s going to get his first car, only breaks my heart because children are no longer living like children in today’s society. Kids don’t enjoy playing board games anymore, rolling the dice, waiting their turn, reading the cards, moving from space to space all seems too time consuming. Their idea of a game is fast paced; each scene is pre-designed for them, and at the click of letter B on their controller, an entire village is destroyed–that is fun.

The Game of Life… the title alone brings out a whole new understanding of what life really is. The real life we live in is a game. There are rules, there are different paths you take, there are obstacles that might make you loose a turn, there are responsibilities like work, and family, and having a house. If kids like my younger brothers and sister understood that there is more too life than playing a console game through a first-person shooters perspective, they might see one day through their own eyes that life outside a game is just as fun. Technology is always on the rise and getting updated, every year or so you have to buy the new and latest equipment so that you can suitably function the new and latest console games. But the simplicity of a board game is forever, and once technology runs out of great ideas for you, creativity and imagination will always be there to keep you enjoying the real game of life.

~Adriana

Risk over Halo anyday

By Aneel Henry

8 cans of Red Bull, 10 cookies, 6 treaties and 2 broken friendships later the game of risk ends in world domination. The winner runs around the table in a sort of victory ritual, hooting in excitement and beating his hands on his chest to clearly display his newly earned alpha male status.

I’m sure that most who have ever played an extended board game (like Risk or Monopoly) have witnessed a natural phenomenon much like the one I just described. The victory against the opponent, the conquering of the planet, and the complete and utter genocide committed upon all who stand in the victors way culminate in an immense rush of accomplishment and ecstasy for the victor. This degree of emotional investment is critical in creating a successful game. It is not the map design, or the quality of the pieces, or the rolling of die that makes board games like Risk fun. It is the intense competition that springs from direct person-to-person relations that make Risk and Monopoly universally appealing.

Unlike board games, console and online games are not direct interactions with other human beings but interpersonal competition reproduced through a medium (the TV or computer screen). Although this competition can be just as intense, it is much harder for a video game to produce the level of personal interaction achieved while playing a board game. Many companies have tried and succeeded in stimulating personalized competition with inventions like Xbox live, and massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG). These games link each unique avatar directly to a person, thereby stimulating intense competition that admittedly has the capacity to equal or surpass that of board games.

Despite attempts at recreating the intimacy of board games, I feel video games have not captured the universal human spirit of competition. Although many love video games, there is a large percentage of the population that finds the medium through which the competition is stimulated (TV, PC, etc) too confusing or not engaging enough to capture their attention. There is no equivalent to a board game. In a video game, it is impossible to fully personalize an opponent to the degree a board game achieves. There is nothing like watching the excitement melt off of your opponents face as your army wipes him off the map. Or just watching a player truly debate over the best strategy to win, concentrating so hard that you can practically see the gears turning in his/her head. Although video games, to some extent, have captured the competitive spirit of a select group of people, they have not been able to emotionally engage the player as board games have successfully done.