D&D Summer Camp #2: D&D Killed the Board Game Star

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A storytelling epiphany.

As the legends tell it, over the past week the young Druids Ivy and Sprax have searched for a missing dwarf with a map, ran from an Owlbear, got pummeled by a wandering Ogre, and laid low a mysterious doppleganger that confused them by changing into figures from their past. They entreated with a malicious Nothic deep in a Redbrand hideout, who then returned to attack them as they attempted to leave. They have cleverly fooled Bugbears and Hobgoblins alike, they have rescued prisoners and befriended animals. They helped a little girl lost on the edges of Neverwinter Woods find her way home and offered her father parenting advice. They've steeled themselves for a battle with a young Green Dragon called Venomfang, and they are headed to reclaim the Forge of Spells deep in Wave Echo Cave. 

I've also seen a 9 year old boy in tears because his sister went down into the crevasse and found the +1 longsword Talon, a 7 year old girl in tears because she took off one of the patches on a Robe of Useful Things she found to see what happened and I wouldn't let her "rewind" it to put the ladder back on the garment.  I've witnessed a fight that resulted in a torn character sheet and another character sheet relegated to recycling after being doused in ginger ale. And every session kicks off with squabbling over who gets which set of dice. No doubt, playing D&D with kids presents a whole host of challenges not usually encountered by DMs runnin' thangs for adult parties. I'll dig into that topic next time, because this time I want to spend the blog space to write about how rediscovering D&D is causing me to rethink board games as a narrative medium.

Over the past decade and a half I've made something of a name for myself as a board games writer and critic.  I've spent a lot of words championing narrative in games, and promoted the idea that board games can be an effective storytelling medium. I'm not talking about the nonsensical, scattershot stories that most adventure games break their backs to string together with junk miniatures, flavor text and illustrations doing most of the work. I'm talking a true sense of narrative cohesion, progression, and description. Board games that can achieve this are really rare, and I have to admit that I feel like I've been fooling myself for years pretending that a board game that strives to simulate playing a proper RPG can capture the sense of emergent narrative that I've seen every single session with my kids.

When we started with D&D, from the very first session I saw something that I had not seen in virtually any board game we had played together. A spark of imagination. A sense of wonder. The frisson of delight. A story coming to life that we were telling together.

I've never experienced anything in board games as impactful as the look in my daughter's eyes, the slight drop of her jaw, when the Nothic read her mind and telepathically described her village burning- something I pulled from her character's backstory. Or the wide-hided "oh shit" look I got when my son looked up in a ruined chapel and saw a Grick writhing in the torchlight among the rafters, just after he had made the suggestion to split the party and go it alone. My kids have never asked to draw characters and scenes from board games. I think the only specific story from any board game we've ever played that they remember is this time when Sgt. Drake was the last man standing in a Heroscape squad and he wound up beating every thing else remaining.

But more importantly, they have never felt the sense of ownership and authorship over a gaming story as they do with our D&D adventure. It's a daily place that they go, and the more we play the more actual roleplaying I'm seeing from them. They are thinking about the future of their characters and they are concerned about the DMPCs accompanying them. We went to play with some friends a few nights ago and they asked, "are Zola and Irinitis going to be there?"

This is all a lot more profound than picking a character, playing a two hour board game, and packing it up to play another one, even if you are playing one of the many games that offer a facile campaign in a ploy to fool you into thinking that playing the game over many sessions is worthwhile and fulfilling. Or that your $300 backer investment was worth it. Some board games do a whole lot, come to find out, to trick you into thinking you are playing something you are not.

Speaking honestly, I've long grown tired of the notion of "board games that tell stories", as Portal's motto goes, because I'd really rather play a design that leverages the specific qualities, limitations, and parameters of the board game format - like a great Knizia or Kramer - than a board game that strains itself to simulate playing an RPG, a miniatures game, or a CCG. It's ironic that so many designers waste so much energy and so many consumers waste so much money on games that are little more than imitative simulacra of Warhammer, Magic, and of course D&D. I have to admit that over time and in light of my recent rediscovery of D&D that I think I might have overstated the possibility of games to tell effective, meaningful stories. Which isn't to say that they can't bear themes (witness again Knizia's best), but the ability to create deep emotional attachment, engagement, and real progression through narrative development is something that board games might not be able to do as effectively as I once thought. A page of scenario setup is not a story.

In a way, when I look at the sessions we've played and the stories that have come out of them and compare them to the notion of board game stories, I'm reminded of how folks gush over the latest Kickstarter miniatures. Yet I'm looking at my fully painted Adeptus Titanicus models and just kind of shaking my head at the blobby, made-in-china bubblegum machine garbage that fuels so much FOMO. It's another area where board games have gone wrong, trying to emulate the best qualities of another format yet failing. And then I think about the best recent board games - Root springs to mind - and it conveys narrative, theme, and setting by using the board games format to its best advantage. Its greatness does not lie in trying to emulate another format.

It turns out that board games are easy because they don't require the emotions, the commitment, and the immersion that made D&D, Warhammer, and Magic the pillars of hobby gaming. These games ask a lot of you beyond the table. Board games do not, which may in fact explain why game buying is more of a hobby than game playing today. It takes much more emotional engagement and buy-in to tell a cogent story together than it does to have it parceled out piecemeal in a bunch of cards and empty scenarios strung together with "thematic" mechanics. I guess the stress of "which game should I buy next" is more appealing to many board gamers today than the stress of preparing a D&D adventure and signing off on the social contract to create a mutual story with friends and family.

Every day we sit down to play, I actually feel quite a lot of stress- and it is beyond the usual DM stress. I'm not only responsible at the table for telling a good story and making sure these kids have fun; I'm also responsible for creating memories and positive experiences that will last a lifetime. I think they'll remember Sprax and Ivy and a watermelon in a bloody bag forever. They've already told just about anyone that will listen the story of that escapade. But then I think about all the board games we've played together and I wonder if their memory of those games is going to be just a blur, abstracted to "we played a lot of games with our dad".

Next time: CENSORSHIP.

There Will Be Games D & D Summer camp

D & D Summer camp
Michael Barnes (He/Him)
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of FortressAT.com and Nohighscores.com as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

Articles by Michael

D & D Summer camp
Michael Barnes
Senior Board Game Reviews Editor

Articles by Michael

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n815e's Avatar
n815e replied the topic: #298231 11 Jun 2019 08:49
It’s great that you found what you were looking for.

Board games are not rpgs. There are those that try, those that get close to their goals if done right, but they aren’t rpgs. Certainly, they create stories and there are some truly memorable ones I’ve had over the last 35 years. They also create narrative and fire the imagination — when I play Firefly and I come across some lawmen that I can fight or bribe, I can picture that in my head. It just isn’t to the extent that you are looking for. They don’t offer you the narrative experience you want.

Board games are not miniatures games, although this is easier to translate to board game format to get a reasonable game that plays on a board with miniatures. That Batman game really isn’t a board game, it’s a miniatures game played on two dimensional terrain. I’m not much of a miniatures gamer any more, I don’t have the time I used to. But I watch as more and more people buy cardboard terrain, two dimensional play mats, flat printed patterns to glue onto walls. This isn’t miniatures gaming as I grew up with it. That’s okay. That Batman game introduces gamers to the world of miniatures gaming in a way that Warmachine can’t. And those people may just move into something more detailed, get more into the modeling as a result of this. Or they may not. But GW has caught on that this is the new trend and their new games are reflecting it more and more.

When I was a teenager, I was into rpg gaming. I will still sit in sessions and have fun with them. Just about every rpg player I’ve ever known has a collection of adventure books for their favorite games and a shelf of games they never play with. They want to get ideas, they want to try them out, they want to see how the systems work, etc. Collecting is in every aspect of gaming and the collecting mentality exits everywhere.

Each medium has things it does well and things it doesn’t. People will try, with varying degrees of success, to port ideas from one into the others to provide a composite experience that many people look for. That’s cool.

We all want different things to different degrees.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #298236 11 Jun 2019 10:29
I think the substantially greater emotional commitment is what keeps me out of RPGs. And I don't mean like crying at the table, I mean the creative part of creating and running the world. I get out of bed in the morning and go to work, that's about all I can handle at this point. So in that way I think you're right in the last few passages of the piece.

Also, I'm sad to tell you that I'm going to need you to go through the last 10 years on this site and edit all your posts related to criticizing people who make similar/parallel points about RPGs.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #298238 11 Jun 2019 10:56
I started role-playing at age 13, after buying the ominous-looking 1st edition Gamma World box. I got into D&D shortly after that. My teenage friends weren't much more mature than your kids, although I don't recall any tears at the game table. RPGs were absolutely enthralling at first, especially during summer break when we had a lot of free time. It helped that the gaming alternatives of the time were relatively limited. There were the family boardgame classics and few relatively new hobby games like Dune and Magic Realm. There were video games. We played some penny-ante poker for a couple of years. And I went through a war game phase for a couple of years. Role-playing was the best because the entry requirements were minimal (pencil, paper, dice) and playing was limited only by time and imagination.

As the years went by, role-playing games became inconvenient. Everybody in our gaming group had college, work, or even military obligations. More niche boardgames were available, and then the whole CCG phenomenon hit. Video games were less of a thing, but there were better computer games and the early MUDs. Role-playing campaigns became a little harder to organize and keep going, but I kept at it, only taking a break once every few years. As the CCGs faded in importance, D&D came back better than ever (3.0/3.5) but the boardgames also got better. Looking back, all other forms of gaming are easier to get people into on a casual basis, due to low entry barriers. But maybe role-playing is the best because people are still willing to schedule long sessions on a regular basis for the right combination of game, campaign, and group.

Running a role-playing game can be a lot of work, and sometimes it feels unrewarding with a difficult group of players. During the last year of my four-year Ptolus (D&D 3.5) campaign, I was really looking forward to just playing boardgames for a while. Boardgames can't really compete with role-playing in terms of storytelling, but to the DM, it can feel like the difference between a decent microwave dinner and a homemade meal that requires a lot of effort plus dishwashing afterwards. And yet, I really haven't been playing a lot of boardgames since Ptolus, and I even ran a series of Call of Cthulhu one-shots last winter.

On the other hand, when I look back over my lifetime of gaming, I feel like the absolute best times were the GenCons that I attended from roughly 1994 through 2001. Those were the years when I was playing a wide range of types of games. Role-playing. Board games. CCGs. Live-action role-playing. Sometimes all of those kinds of games in one day. To this day, one of my favorite memories of GenCon is Strategic Legend of the Five Rings, which took a CCG that is usually played with just two players and turned it into an epic event with 13 teams of 6 players each. Strategic L5R was a combination of CCG, live-action role-playing, wargaming, and boardgaming. I agree with n815e that there are different advantages and disadvantages to different types of games, and it isn't wrong to try to blend those elements.
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #298242 11 Jun 2019 11:56

When we started with D&D, from the very first session I saw something that I had not seen in virtually any board game we had played together.


Yes, I've seen the same thing. Whenever I ask my kids what their favourite game is, they answer "D&D" without hesitation. I feel bad I don't play it with them more. Perhaps I will.

It turns out that board games are easy because they don't require the emotions, the commitment, and the immersion that made D&D, Warhammer, and Magic the pillars of hobby gaming.


There's a lot of great insight in this piece, a lot to chew over. But I have to pick a fault with this.

Board games don't require a whole lot of emotional commitment, sure. But neither to miniatures games or RPGs. Witness all the monty-haul campaigns, the popular of random dungeon delves, the armies of unpainted figures. You can invest emotions in those things - particularly in RPGs - but you can invest emotions in board games too. It's just a lot of people don't.

Commitment is bang on. And I'm going to ask: what's the positive here? Why is a game demanding commitment a good thing? One of the key reasons I moved away from RPGs and miniatures games was because I couldn't afford that much time commitment to a single game, a single activity after I had kids. Even now, when I have more free time, I relish that freedom.

Immersion is, I'm afraid, rot. I'm on tenterhooks most of the time for most board game nights, lost to the rest of the world. I can remember countless D&D sessions where I sat, bored, during an unengaging bit of exploration, countless Warhammer games while I sat, bored, while an opponent moved all 193 units in his Orc & Goblin army.
HiveGod's Avatar
HiveGod replied the topic: #298244 11 Jun 2019 13:40
Board games don't tell stories. Hell, RPGs don't tell stories! People tell stories—and the quality of those stories depends entirely on the minds at the table.

Conjuring emergent narrative is like a seance... it takes a focus, a little bit of faith, a pinch of ritual and a dash of Satan to raise the dead. Most people are just defiling corpses and calling it a puppet show.

PS. Congrats on your RPG-kids success—the only thing better is when they start running games for their friends...
ChristopherMD's Avatar
ChristopherMD replied the topic: #298247 11 Jun 2019 14:19

Gary Sax wrote: And I don't mean like crying at the table, I mean the creative part of creating and running the world. I get out of bed in the morning and go to work, that's about all I can handle at this point.


Only DM's do a lot of prep work. If you're just a player you pretty much just have to show up. We had a guy in a group that always played fighters and would nap in the corner of the room until we woke him up for a combat. This would be rude in a board game but RPGs are that much more laid-back (group-dependent obviously). People are generally more chill and happy to let another player have the spotlight until its their own characters time to shine.


As far as RPG vs Board Games go. Back in the day the dream of all these board gamers was the mythical DM-less RPG experience. You all pull out a box and go on a merry adventure with no prep and no DM needed. Sounds great! Unfortunately, or fortunately if its your thing, this can mostly only work for straight-up dungeon crawls that are combat-heavy. Which is why most of the RPG-in-a-box games are usually just characters moving from one combat to the next one. Minis games with the illusion of story and character progression as you play through the scenarios.

My personal thinking is that nothing is more entertaining than other human beings. In this regard the RPG's are the clear winners over RPG-lite board games due to the level of human interaction/creativity used. However, a rowdy game of Bohnanza can be quite fun without prep or DM so its not like board games lose altogether.
Vysetron's Avatar
Vysetron replied the topic: #298248 11 Jun 2019 14:20

HiveGod wrote: Board games don't tell stories. Hell, RPGs don't tell stories! People tell stories—and the quality of those stories depends entirely on the minds at the table.


This is everything. The recent shift towards trying to put self-contained stories in boxes is inherently misguided because you can't put what actually makes the story matter in shrink wrap.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #298249 11 Jun 2019 15:29

HiveGod wrote: Board games don't tell stories. Hell, RPGs don't tell stories! People tell stories—and the quality of those stories depends entirely on the minds at the table.

Conjuring emergent narrative is like a seance... it takes a focus, a little bit of faith, a pinch of ritual and a dash of Satan to raise the dead. Most people are just defiling corpses and calling it a puppet show.


Exactly. I've played in rpg sessions that involved minimal role-playing and lots of tactical combat. Still a story of sorts, but not necessarily a memorable one. And I've played board games where part of the fun was the players conjuring an emergent narrative by deliberately assigning a meaning to various dice rolls or card draws.

I have a fond memory of a particular game of Arkham Horror when someone was playing the redeemed former cultist, because she kept getting into fights with cultists throughout that game. The best moment in the late game happened when an encounter at the library at Miskatonic U required moving every cultist on the board to that location. The redeemed cultist killed all three of the cultists who showed up at the library, and that was more entertaining than the subsequent final battle with the Great Old One.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #298250 11 Jun 2019 17:42
Some great points made here.

Steve - come on man, you know my opinions are subject to change. All of that was from my "Thin White Duke" period.

But seriously, I've spent the last couple of gaming years drifting away from the current/hot/new and rediscovering things I left behind from the early 2000s on. So this lead back to the Eurogames and the ERP, to Warhammer, to Magic, and now D&D. And what this has all added up to is the increasing awareness that I _don't want to play games where the key design brief is that it is a board game simulation of a different game format. This has been a long, long road to realize this. I've played games liked this and really enjoyed them, and still enjoy them. But ultimately, settling for something ersatz is exactly that.

Think back to when I was really into "alternative" miniatures games- Diskwars, X-Wing, and so forth. What all of that lead to was...Warhammer. I'd play this stuff and like it because hey, it's like getting into Warhammer but without painting and building and all that! But then I WANTED to paint and build and all that, like I used to. Same with CCGs. How many games have I played that were "like" Magic? But hey, it's not a CCG and there's no booster packs! But then Keyforge hit and I was like "why am I not just playing Magic", even though I really liked that game.

Adjunct to all of the above is the realization that if I'm playing board games, I want to be playing a Knizia game, Cosmic, Settlers, El Grande, Root...games that really make the most of the format.

N815e has the right of it- game formats have things they do well, and things they don't. There's certainly fertile ground in crossing over (witness Dominion, or X-Wing)...but I keep coming back to the question: why are Magic, Warhammer, D&D, and Settlers timeless and eternal while other games drift in and out of view?

Inevitably some of it is because these games are kept evergreen by publishers. But they are also foundational- pillars of their formats. They are the wellspring, and they are all games that very much offer the player a bespoke experience. Even Settlers, which generates a unique economy dependent on modular setup, random distribution, and player personalities.

But they've all done their share of messing with other formats too.

Hivegod is exactly right- people tell stories. Games are tools to do this communally. However, you have to use the right tools, and board games for example are not equipped to tell the same kinds of stories with the level of complexity that RPGs allow. There are exceptions - I would argue that Battlestar Galactica, some of the better CDWGs along with examples like the Joel Toppen titles, and (again) Root are quite successful at generating very specific narratives with meaningful themes beyond what is normal with board games. And sometimes, who gives a fuck about story anyway- Bohnanza is a great example. The fun isn't in telling stories, it's in getting rowdy over god damned beans.

What I'm railing against here, more than anything, is those big "dripping with theme" boxes. Because it's bullshit. As is this idea that playing Gloomhaven or Middara is somehow less of a work order than playing a D&D session. Because it's not.

Setting up this campaign for my kids, I have to say that I went in thinking it was going to be like the good old days. I bought a notebook and was ready to buckle down. But the way it is written is so well-presented that I had to do almost no prep other than to read through it. Of course there's lots of improvising and retooling, lots of on-the-fly changes I make that I think they'll enjoy or that will challenge them...but I spent less time prepping Lost Mine of Phandelver, which we have played for probably 10 hours, than I spent punching, sorting, and setting up Middara for one session.

There's a tendency, I think, for folks to think of DMing as something that has to be like it was when you'd buy the Greyhawk book and a couple of modules and you'd have to stock dungeons, work out a big campaign, spend all this time with players threading in the characters and so forth. Or creating your own setting and game world. You can absolutely do all of that - or you can run the published material, including all of the short PDF adventures on DMsGuild...none of the ones I've looked at seem like they'd take more than a couple of hours of reading to get ready for.

Warhammer really took me back to the value of committing to a game- I was refreshed by going into a GW shop to play and everyone there was there to play one game. There wasn't some guy with the week's new Kickstarter drop angling to play, there wasn't all of this faffing around to find a game to satisfy a picky player, there wasn't 30 minutes of rules talk to teach everyone to play a game that may or may not ever get played again. It's a true hobby game.

I really like, for example, that my kids are not asking to play a bunch of random games. They are asking for D&D. They are committed to the story and their characters in a way they have never been with board games, even the campaign ones we've tried.

They do love Zombie Kidz, that's our cooldown title right now.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #298251 11 Jun 2019 18:10
These have been my favorite things on the site lately, thank you, Michael, for writing them. Summer is my biggest D&D time, so these have been a delight. I’ve got a little one on the way and while I have no interest in being the dad that forces their hobby on their kid, I do hope I get the chance to do some D&D with her someday.

The release of 5th edition (the best edition) is totally where I really fell out of trying to find satisfying thematic games that tell a story, and is where my “Ameritrash is dead” phase begins. Totally get where you’re coming from.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #298252 11 Jun 2019 18:33
Of course every time I flip through the Monster Manual now I'm like "welp, there's Josh".

You've got a long way to go before worrying about D&D with your kid (congratulations!) but hopefully either 5th edition will still be going or 6th or whatever will be at least as good. Because it is AMAZINGLY well written. It is by far the best D&D edition to date. The last time I played was 3.5, and it was kind of a mess. Before that, I played plenty of 2nd edition and a few minor excursions into 1st. But this game is so fine-tuned and so _accommodating_ that it just blew me away. Everything in terms of rules is so clear and concise. Of course there have been details we've had to look up but my kids totally understand the core rules.

I used to say "if it ain't THAC0 it's WACK0...but boy, was I wrong about that.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #298253 11 Jun 2019 18:55
I know, I'm just fucking with you, Michael. I've come to appreciate your willingness to change your mind over the amount of time this site has been going.

We'll have to agree to disagree on D&D being the same amount of work, as, say, Gloomhaven. It's a lot more of a very specific kind of exhausting work imho in a way that Gloomhaven is not.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #298257 11 Jun 2019 23:51
Setup and takedown of Gloomhaven looks exhausting.
Sevej's Avatar
Sevej replied the topic: #298259 12 Jun 2019 06:09
The most awesome stories I have in board games come from Talisman. Sure they're no up to par with the TALISMANGLER... but they're still awesome.
Mantidman's Avatar
Mantidman replied the topic: #298260 12 Jun 2019 08:01
Mr. Barnes,
Your children will remember these stories that you have created together. My boys, now almost 20 and 18, still remember the first adventures that they experienced. I think that there is a part of us that needs tales and stories and that they are so much more memorable when they are created. Enjoy this time and keep notes, I still have a notebook with the highlights of the adventures that my boys experienced.
Sincerely,
Todd
drewcula's Avatar
drewcula replied the topic: #298262 12 Jun 2019 08:34
I've enjoyed reading the OP and all of the replies. Great stuff.
And still, part of me thinks this also largely comes down to a perfect window of opportunity for the Barnes clan. Tweens are stuck at home with dad for the summer, and they need some structure. The family bond is strong enough that they can sit down for a period of time and play make believe.
san il defanso's Avatar
san il defanso replied the topic: #298314 12 Jun 2019 22:44
I mostly agree with everything Michael wrote here, with the caveat that I do think it's important for board game designers to keep on pushing what is possible in terms of narrative and modular design, two things that are pulled from other types of games. It's true that too often designs that are informed by CCGs, RPGs, miniatures, etc., are trying to imitate those experiences, rather than taking what works best and melding it with what works best with board games. Every kind of game can almost be thought of as a sub-medium, and crossing those streams often results in really strong games. Stuff like Talisman, Dominion, Space Hulk, all of those are informed by other types of games. I wouldn't want designers to feel like they just need to stay in their lane.

I also agree that the current burden of being a DM is quite overstated. The official published things I've run (Mines of Phandelver, Tomb of Annihilation, and some of the Yawning Portal adventures) have all been pretty much a matter of reading it enough to be familiar with how things go. Part of that comes down to how I run games, which is pretty loosey-goosey, but it's really not that hard.

Frequency of play does make a big difference though. I think my enjoyment of D&D ramped way up when I was able to play weekly. Everyone has the rules internalized and you can really get into the overall swing of the plot. I actually think THAT'S the big weakness of D&D, more than the "workload." It's getting a regular group that can commit to being there are the same time every week. That's pretty tough with people who like playing board games, because you really need to sacrifice board game time to make it work. Trying to ADD it to your gaming life has never worked for me.
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #298320 13 Jun 2019 01:32
I tend to agree with Barnes on that so many games are really attempting to distill the excellence of the lifestyle games (Magic, Warhammer, D&D) into a shortened tabletop format. Unfortunately, so much of the excellence comes from the "lifestyle" aspect of those games. So many times, I think a lot is lost in this emulation.

I am beginning to think that is why I enjoy so many games from the 80s through mid-90s. A lot of them are established before this ramp up of so many games trying to emulate these other mediums. Related to Barnes' Middara review, that is what makes it more pleasant in many ways -- it's trying to emulate JRPG, which is not a crowded area. This makes up for the fact that there is really too much stuff in the box.

In some ways, I feel like emulation is this generations brand of creativity -- look how many movies are remakes of things from our childhood. Now that we have purchasing power, the tug on nostalgia heartstrings is out in full force. This kind of direct remake used to be more rare. Look at Heroquest, for instance. It was simple and not really trying to be D&D, but served as a much better D&D introduction that actual D&D products (like Dragon Quest or Dragon Strike).

Many modern dungeonquest games seem to be trying to emulate D&D by way of Heroquest -- but that is like trying to capture the original by copying a copy, but the copy was trying to do something different. That's why so many modern dungeoncrawls feel like overcomplicated kid's games -- because Heroquest at its heart is a kids game.
drewcula's Avatar
drewcula replied the topic: #298327 13 Jun 2019 07:28
Long live Heroquest.

Drewcula = kid at heart
jason10mm's Avatar
jason10mm replied the topic: #298339 13 Jun 2019 09:15
Great article. As my son starts to get the reading competency and attention span for more games I'm always waiting for the time to spring DnD on him. 5e is such a revelation compared to 3 and 4e. RPGs need to have some basic rules to establish left right limits and give a sense of success/failure not wholly predicated on the DMs whim but otherwise can be wide open. Compared to board games which are almost always closed rules systems with few mechanisms to reward player actions other than min/maxing the game system to the hilt to get the predetermined trophy.

I still remember several classic DnD moments with friends 20+ years ago. I struggle to recall any seminal moment from a game of Shogun, Fortress America, or Axis and Allies (though I'm sure there were many). Board games by their nature reward in the moment since all you are really doing is besting a system of rules or perhaps your opponent. But an RPG hits all the emotional range since you can become completely invested in your character.

I'ds be interested in a comparison of some of the "junior" RPG systems like "No thank you Evil" which I'm always on the cusp of ordering and then it drops out of print for a few months. I'd like to try the DnD adventure system or Mice and Mystics on him but they may rely too much on rules to make the game work and I know my son will just start playing with the minis and making up his own stories before I could even get the game set up.
engineer Al's Avatar
engineer Al replied the topic: #298407 14 Jun 2019 18:30
This was a great read, Michael. I've really been enjoying these articles. You are making me regret that I never played D&D with my daughter when she was at that age and still believed in magic. What a lost opportunity. She would have loved it!

I'm looking forward to hearing about more of your adventures. . .
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #298415 14 Jun 2019 23:52
Wow, noted game designer Eric Lang called this article “specious, sanctimonious, and eye-roll inducing”. Sounds like I am right on target!

Nate, I think you are correct that it falls on board game designers like Mr. Lang to keep experimenting with narrative and figuring out how to tell a story with a fixed rules environment. Once again, you’ve only got to got Reiner Knizia to see where this can be successful, and the reason for the success is that the best Knizia games have actual themes beyond “like D&D in a box”. Amun-Re would be a great example of this- yet there is zero flavor text, no over the top illustrations, and no faction/character special abilities.

Digression- I’ve come to think that faction/character special abilities are about the laziest way to illustrate subject matter in games today. Especially after Root and to some extent Cthulhu Wars rewrote the book on that concept.

Jason, I looked into some of the “kid” RPG stuff out there and it was a big nope for me. I don’t want an imitation of D&D made simpler for no good reason in light of 5e’s strides in terms of accessibility. I want the real D&D experience, beholders and displacer beasts, spell memorization, Tomb of Horrors, magic missile, the whole thing. I want my kids to get specifically into D&D, it is the foundation. Later they can explore. But this is like taking them to church for me.

The frequency of play issue that Nate mentioned is definitely a thing. It certainly helps that I have a captive audience that I can play with anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours a day at home- I don’t have to round up a group and get together somewhere. IMO, that makes D&D a perfect game for families.

I’m also looking at running a game over Skype with some other family members and a friend involved. But I expect that to be much slower moving, and I’m keeping it to low commitment, short stuff like the TftYP adventures rather than long storylines.
Space Ghost's Avatar
Space Ghost replied the topic: #298418 15 Jun 2019 01:33
Too bad Lang wouldn't reply here -- debate over these issues is how real ideas move forward.

Sounds like 5e is good -- I might have to check it out. I have a ton of stuff from 2nd Edition, and haven't played anything since. I tried to play 3rd edition, but I couldn't get into it. My kids are 5 and 7, so this sounds like something we could gear up to in the next couple of years...
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #298424 15 Jun 2019 09:36
Twitter reactions to this have ranged from good, solid debate to complaints about how an article about finding gaming joy and rediscovering the values of a classic game with my children is “insulting”, has a “superior” tone. and how my kids “lack the comprehension” to understand that pictures and text on board games are narrative. Good to know I’ve still got what it takes to piss off weirdly defensive board gamers!
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #298428 15 Jun 2019 10:57

Michael Barnes wrote: Wow, noted game designer Eric Lang called this article “specious, sanctimonious, and eye-roll inducing”. Sounds like I am right on..


It’s been picked up on social media and has been going around with an intro comment like “Michael Barnes says RPGs are killing board games.” Followed by only the image, title and your lead “A storytelling epiphany. So there has been a bit of a pile-on on social media.

Oftentimes when articles get shared like this, the person or organization doesn’t even read the article, they read the title and the lead to create their preface comment. Or they may just skim it to pull out the quote that will get the biggest response. Then often times the commenters don’t actually read the article. They just respond to what they see on on social media.

We have to be mindful of our titles, and leads. More complex articles may additionally require an explicit first paragraph stating what the article is about.

Probably would have gotten a different response on social media if the title was D&D Summer Camp #2: D&D has Killed the Board Game Star for Me, and then elaborated a bit more in your lead/sub title - A storytelling epiphany: something something something.

A bit of outrage does drive traffic, but on the other hand it can backfire as an article may end up ignored by the audience you actually want. So it is a bit of a trade off. If you don’t mind the outrage, than it isn’t an issue.