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Bolt Thrower: Volko Ruhnke, Family Gaming

MT Updated
Bolt Thrower: Volko Ruhnke, Family Gaming
There Will Be Games

A while back I interviewed Volko Ruhnke, the designer of Labyrinth and the COIN games, for a feature about political games. I knew it wasn’t going to be a long feature, so I ask for quick, snappy replies.

He gave me a 4,000 word essay.

I couldn’t use most of it as intended, of course. But from a gamer’s point of view, much of what he said was pure gold. Comments touching on mechanics, emergent theme, the relationship of gamers to gaming and that of gaming to reality. It would have been tragedy to let it go to waste.

So I recycled it for Shut Up & Sit Down. Enjoy


Now, normally this is the point where I pick up some commentary about video games. But not this week. Because a small change in life has made profound consequences. My eldest daughter is now old enough to stay up after her younger sibling has gone to bed. And we all know what that means.

Game time.

Suddenly, I have no time to write and no time to play video games. Instead I get an extra hours’ board gaming every day. It’s fantastic fun, but it’s also a fascinating experiment in child psychology.

We started out playing Augustus which isn’t a favourite of mine, but is a great family title. That rolled until she beat me. I haven’t gone easy on her for a good couple of years and normally she only wins luck-heavy games like King of Tokyo. So when she beat me at Augustus, she earned it. She learned the game, thought hard and pulled all the mechanical leavers to get her win.

I was very proud, and she knew it. So then she decided she wanted to beat me at everything.

Trouble was she chose Splendor as her next target. I still really like Splendor. It’s like a pocket watch, a tiny ephemeral thing which hides a marvel of moving, interlocking parts. So it’s a game she can easily learn to play, but not to play well.

We played it five nights on the trot, and she got nowhere. I could see the dream crumbling. So the next game, I explained why I made every choice I made and pointed out where I thought she made bad ones. And for the first time in a long time, I let her win.

The next time I went back to proper gaming mode. And she lost, but only by a whisker. She’d learned and I thought that was good enough. So I tried to explain how some games could be hard to play even though they were easy to learn and that perhaps we should try something lighter.

She chose Kingdom Builder. Which worked much better: she beat me on her first game and that pleased her immensely. But what I found fascinating is that she couldn’t deal with the way the victory conditions changed slightly on each play. In the first game, mountains scored points. In the second, they didn’t but i took several turns before I spotted that she was still putting settlements near mountains. When I explained what was going on, she went right off the game.

Obviously, family Euros weren’t working. So I picked the lightest trash game I knew. A personal favourite. I picked DungeonQuest.

DungeonQuest is capricious. I’d tried it with her a year before, the old Games Workshop version, and on her first turn she drew a spider web tile and ran screaming from the room. In several plays of the new edition I’ve never even made it to the dragon’s chamber, let alone got out alive. So I reminded her of that, and explained that it was a difficult game with no skill and we’d probably both die but it would be funny.

On her first go she got out with 1,270 gold. It was an incredible game. My character got killed by a swinging blade trap early on. But she made it to the chamber and then and then woke the dragon on her first draw. She survived the fire and risked another turn, grabbing some gold. Then she risked yet another go in the chamber and got the Forbidden Tome. She used it, of course, and got two more treasure draws and an immediate teleport out of the dungeon.

And she loved it.

I made a little roll of honour scroll with her name, score, character’s name and a brief summary of the victory. She was desperate to play again, but DungeonQuest is a harsh mistress.

In the second game she got to the chamber late. It looked like she had no way of getting out in time so she elected to draw treasure and see if she could get the Tome again. She didn’t: but she did get the Quicksilver Potion which grants extra turns. So she ran for the exit, and was one move away on the first random game-end turn. Naturally, she rolled a 1 and we both died horribly.

And she still loved it. DungeonQuest is awesome.

There Will Be Games
Matt Thrower (He/Him)
Head Writer

Matt has been writing about tabletop games professional since 2012, blogging since 2006 and playing them since he could talk.


Articles by Matt

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Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #206128 13 Jul 2015 08:30
Fun post... I don't think I'd be able to crush kids while gaming so I salute you. I'd probably just roll over and pretend to lose.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #206177 13 Jul 2015 14:31
Mr. Ruhnke is an employee of the Federal Government (the Department of Defense no less), so expecting anything shorter than 4,000 words was naive. His weekly status reports are likely double that.

KingPut's Avatar
KingPut replied the topic: #206258 14 Jul 2015 17:35
Great read on both account. I got a kick out of the daughter running out of the room when there was a spider encounter. If my kids were younger I thing Mice & Mystics would have been cool.

I also really enjoyed reading the Volko interview. Great stuff.