In last week's discussion about AGE OF CONAN, I really got to thinking about how it could be possible that the reason that Nexus was so unsuccessful in translating a lot of the particulars about the license could very well be because the board games medium is simply not equipped to handle certain things. We've known this, and we've talked about this a lot- see our discussions that we've had about horror in games, or when we talk racing games and it's practically not possible to come up with one where a real sense of speed and velocity is created.
I'm beginning to feel that board games have a ceiling that they've already hit in terms of what can be depicted and how. Sadly, I think a lot of my own ennui about games has less to do with the fact that I've been playing them all of my life and that I do play a lot of what comes out and have become pretty bored with the same themes and mechanics and more to do with the fact that board games can only do so much solely because of what they are. And also, I think at some point you've got to realize that executive themes, card text, and discrete mechanics might be different from game to game, but fundamentally there is a lot of redundancy and overlap because many games are, at a root level, conceptually the same. I've come to believe that there is only small handful of things that board games can portray effectively relative to other mediums such as film, video games, literature, and music.
I'm not sure this is an absolute, and I do think that there are designers who are forward-thinking and artful enough to do more with the medium and to break through the ceiling. But these are folks who are doing a hell of a lot more than simply figuring out which mechanics to show what with. They're the folks that are using mechanics in new ways to develop new gameplay concepts. Gary Gygax did this, as did Richard Garfield. The Kramers, Knizias, and Dorns of the world that are pulling mechanics from a toolbox and assembling them different ways are not, and they're content to work within the confines.
Which is fine, I guess. I play games to have fun first and foremost and I love VIKTORY II even if it is ultimately the same game as RISK, AXIS AND ALLIES, or SETTLERS at an atomic level. Because it's fun. But I also think that there is a potential for the medium to do more, to be more, and to show us more if it can just get around the barriers. Gameshark.com has the rest of this academic babble, that I'm sure some of you are going to take issue with.
Michael is a member of the Fortress: Ameritrash staff, and a regular columnist for Gameshark.