2007: A Boardgaming Year in Review

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Editor's Note:  We asked you for them, and you've been sending them--and today, we're glad to feature another Member Submitted article.  It's a great send-up of The Boardgaming Year that Was in 2007.    Enjoy!

--Ken B.

Michael Barnes' breathless report from the 2007 Trashies gala inspired this narrative review of the past year in the world of boardgames. Some of you, I'm sure, have just returned home from the awards ceremony, kicked off your Pradas, and had your staff fix you a sidecar. Compared to the glamor and glitz of the Trashies, this little review will be a quiet and contemplative reflection, rather than a roof-raising, star-studded celebration. We won't be able to match Steve Weeks' pyrotechnical duet with pop superstar Rihanna on "You Don't Bring Me Brown Cubes Anymore," but we think that the subtle clink of ice in your Lalique highball is appropriate accompaniment to our humble reminiscences on a year gone by.

[Guest author's note:  this article was originally posted December 31, 2007 on my seldom-used and little-read personal blog. ]

Most Significant Development of the Year

I was, initially, a critic of Fortress: Ameritrash. My first contributions to the comments section of the blog were sufficiently antagonistic to prompt Michael Barnes to compare me to Bill Grundy (in fairness to Grundy, he was less drunk during his disastrous interview with the Sex Pistols than I usually am when I post to F:At). Furthermore, I can hardly claim to be an Ameritrasher, myself. I mostly play German-style family games (more on this below) and block-style wargames from Columbia Games. In less than 12 months, though, Fortress: Ameritrash has become not only my favorite website, but the preeminent source of analysis and criticism of boardgames, with the most insightful and articulate writers in the hobby. Malloc's recent series of interviews, in particular, have demonstrated the fullness of the ass-kicking that F:At has been delivering to BoardGameGeek.

Most Significant Development of 2005 that I Could No Longer Ignore in 2007

I've been in denial. I thought it would be a short-lived aberration. I was wrong.

There's plenty of room for debate on the precise date on which the German gaming phenomenon died, but I think I could be most easily persuaded that the patient went terminal at the end of 2005, on the occasion of the release of CAYLUS. What's wrong with CAYLUS? Well, it's not my cup of claret, but that's not the point. The point is that CAYLUS cannot possibly be considered a German game. Its release, and its abrupt rise in popularity on board game sites like BoardGameGeek.com, represents to me a general abandonment of the lessons of the German gaming revolution.

I always thought that one of the ideals of board game design was that a game should be fun and interesting the first time it's played, and that it should remain fun and interesting the 50th time it's played. It's very difficult to fulfill both these criteria in a single game, but the great German game designers had succeeded in doing so enough times during the mid-to-late '90s that they seemed to be onto something. Their method demanded an economy of rules and game materials, so that the game could be comprehended quickly. Hard-to-remember "chrome rules" were dispensed with entirely. Rule books were developed concurrently with the games, to ensure that the completed design could eventually be explained -- in writing -- to a new player. The games were finely tuned and balanced to ensure that they could withstand multiple replays.

Though this method produced some astonishingly good games, especially in the years 1995-2000, it had its drawbacks. The emphasis on economy and the elimination of spurious "chrome" rules impaired the ability of these games to simulate any real-world activity. The insistence on fine-tuning and balance often deprived the players of any opportunity to experience a sudden reversal of fortune, so suspense, surprise, and excitement are frequent casualties of the method.

Still, the German gaming revolution was a net gain for gamers. So what happened? I think that the lessons of the revolution were seriously misconstrued, and a new type of game emerged as a result. I'll call this new species the Eurogame.  The process by which German games stopped being German games, and became Eurogames instead probably began a few years earlier than 2005, but the trend found its apotheosis in CAYLUS.

CAYLUS is a Eurogame, rather than a German game, because it lacks most of the German games' defining characteristics. There is no economy of rules or game material to be found in CAYLUS; its rules are spread across 11 dense pages of text, and the game has a surfeit of moving parts. The effort involved in learning the game is similar to that required for many of the block wargames from Columbia.   Even the rulebook in Simmons Games' huge and beautiful NAPOLEON'S TRIUMPH is a page or two shorter than CAYLUS'. Regardless, CAYLUS still displays many of the superficial (and undesirable) attributes of the German games of the '90s: it lacks any convincing setting, and its methodical style of play defeats any possibility that it might be suspenseful.  The modern Eurogame suffers all of the deficits of the classical German games of the last century, but gains none of their compelling advantages in the bargain.

It's significant that the Eurogames that are favored on BoardGameGeek.com tend to be the ones that come from smaller publishers. In Germany, the distinction between the old-style German games and the small print-run Eurogames is still evident in the way that games are distributed and retailed. While famous German department stores KaDaWe and Wertheim carry scores of titles from the likes of Zoch, Kosmos, Schmidt (including Hans-im-Glück), and Ravensburger, cottage-industry publications like CAYLUS, HAMBURGUM, and BRASS aren't distributed to the big department stores on the Kurfürstendamm in Berlin. To find the Eurogames, you'll have to visit a specialty game shop, just as we must do in the English-speaking world. It's interesting to note that Ravensburger has recently arranged to distribute the titles published under its Alea imprint exclusively through Heidelberger. I assume this means that even PUERTO RICO will be available only through specialty retailers, and that it will disappear from the shelves of KaDaWe.

So, the German game hasn't been replaced by the Eurogame in Germany. But in 2007, I found that I could no longer ignore the evidence that the English-speaking gaming world has moved on to browner pastures. This was the year that THE SETTLERS OF CATAN, the king of the German games, fell out of the BoardGameGeek.com Top 25 (as of this writing, it's at #29). I was particularly struck by a user comment on BGG that claimed that SETTLERS is as much an Ameritrash game as a Euro, because it has dice! The classics of the German game genre were rife with luck: SETTLERS, TIGRIS and EUPHRATES, 6 NIMMT!, ADEL VERPFLICHTET, MODERN ART, RA. Eurogames might seek to minimize luck elements, but German games never did. To argue otherwise is either to revise history or to fail to distinguish two different gaming genres.

2007, then, was the year that I finally figured all this out. Trends in board games have left me, an avowed German gamer and Knizia fan, behind. I hope all you Eurogamers out there are having fun, but personally, I think your favorite games suck.

Most Pathetic Individual of 2007

2007 was also the year that I finally lost my patience with the BoardGameGeek.com community. There were lots of obvious things that happened on the site to attract my ire this year, including the pissing and moaning about the late delivery of HANNIBAL, the righteous indignation over Mayfair Games' plans to protect their retail channel, and -- yes Van -- the unbelievable, immature wrath that was elicited by a well-meaning prank, or even a spontaneous eruption of MORNINGTON CRESCENT on some inane thread about whether or not some guy should have been banned for life from the site. I can brush those things off, though. BoardGameGeek has so many users that it shouldn't be surprising at all to find that some small proportion of them are mentally ill.

One thing that I can't brush off is this. No, not Hanno's comment. I mean, the guy is clearly an unpleasant individual (oopsie, I almost typed "douchebag"), but I'm not much worried about that. The thing that bothers me is that 37 people endorsed the comment by giving it a thumbs-up. What the fuck is wrong with you people? Don't answer that. I don't care. Each of you now has an equal share of the Most Pathetic Individual of 2007 Award. No, don't thank me. You've earned it.

Intellectual Laziness Award for 2007

Boardgamers who spend too much time online are forever inventing jargon so that they don't actually have to think about what they're saying. 2007 saw the rise of vacuous terms like "super-filler," and "animeeple," but I bear a special brand of contempt for anyone that says "engine game." Special clue: the term means nothing.

Greg Schloesser Is Actually All Right Award for 2007

The winner is Greg Schloesser! Yes, his review of CUBA is useless, but he actually expresses an opinion (and an unpopular one) in his appraisal of AGRICOLA:

Again, let me state clearly that I feel Agricola is a fine game, and I’d likely play it if the rest of the group so desired. However, I don’t feel it is as spectacular as many are claiming. There’s nothing about it that causes it to rise above other games in the genre, and it certainly doesn’t fill me with excitement or enthusiasm.

Best Fake Accent of 2007

We're onto you, MrSkeletor. The fact is that Frank was born in 'Jersey, and he's lived there all his life. He took diction lessons to learn to say "wankah."



Editor's Note:  KEEP THE SUBMISSIONS COMING!  Here's your chance for fortune and fame...or at least fame...well, hey, a chance to be featured on the front page of our website.  That's got to count for something.



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