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  • Why Video Reviews Suck, and How To Fix Them


    As you may or may not have noticed, I love the written word. It's a medium in which I am the most comfortable, which is why you may noticed I can be a little flowery in my wording. Don't worry, I'm working on it. And as niche and narrow as this hobby can be, I love to write about board games. I've heard it said that when one engages in creative work regularly, further creative work flows more naturally, and that has proven true for me. The truth is that our hobby can go as deep as we want it to go, and since most board game writers aren't really pushing too far past "should I buy, Y/N," I sometimes feel like we're forging new ground whenever we just talk about games and how they impact us. That's a cool thought.

  • Wicked Thoughts on Games by Ubarose

    Halloween
    When forced to play Euro auction games, pretend you have Tourettes. During the bidding yell out a random word or phase such as "Holy jump-a-mum-mum" or "underpants" or, if you prefer, words that cause your e-mail to be intercepted and quarantined by corporate IT security.

     

     

     

     

  • Will Kenyon Does Amish Country, Part One

    Hey! We've been back almost a week, those of us who went to the World Boardgaming Championships. You wish you'd gone? Well, wish no more, because I'm gonna give you at least one guy's perspective of how it went and what he did.

    This first part is just the intro, and it'll talk more about the people and the beer and the trip up. I'll have some session reports in future articles - for instance, you'll hear how I almost considered divorcing my wife over a TI3 loss.

    So now close your eyes and imagine you're me.... Your hair is gone. Your eyes are blue. You love TI3 and hate Alhambra. You like beer more than you like food. And now, the curtains open....

  • Will Kenyon in Amish Country - Now With TI3 Session Report Goodness

    The first part was mostly about beer and the journey up. Now I'm there and I'm playing Twilight Imperium. And how did that go?

    Not so well actually. Read on....

  • Worrying Trends

    graph.jpgA short while ago, over on Boardgamegeek, I made a bold and public statement to the effect that current trends in Euro game design were bad for the hobby as a whole. Another user, Pedro Silva (Mallgur) called me out on this, and asked me to explain what on earth I meant. I couldn’t give him a succinct answer to this question: in truth, what I’d phrased as a bold and definitive statement was in fact little more than a collection of vaguely associated ideas in my mind. But I was pretty sure there was a coherent argument there somewhere, so I said to him that I’d respond by putting my thoughts together into a column. So here it is - this is my response. 
  • Writing: A Year in the Life

    write-calmI seem to have fallen into an end-year pattern when it comes to writing: I close the year with a best-of list and open the new one with a rundown of what I’ve been playing and what I hope to play in the coming months. Dull, but comforting, like lexical porridge. This year I’m going to open the writing with something a little different, a little more personal and talk not just about games but about writing.

    I think I learned more about games writing this year than any of the other five that I’ve been doing it for. It’s mostly the fault of Bill Abner and Michael Barnes for giving me a slot on NHS. That meant I had the chance to write about videogames, and to do that I felt I had to read what others were writing on the subject, and play them more, which lead into a beautifully vicious circle of reinforcement.

    And in ploughing through the dark depths of games journalism, I came to realise that its improved almost immeasurably since I was last a regular on the circuit, seven or eight years ago. There are people out there generating quite stunning pieces with astonishing regularity. Jason Killingsworth on Edge with his sublime voyages through the emotions and artistry of gaming. Patrick Garratt on VG247 with his endlessly inventive approaches to the construction of articles, sentences, phrases. They’re two of my favourites.

    A third was Robert Florence with his columns for Eurogamer. But they ended suddenly, sadly and needlessly after he gently criticised the behaviour of some of his contemporaries in accepting corporate freebies. Ridiculously, this soft needling resulted in threats of libel cases and the closure of the column, although rather more positively it prompted an overdue bout of soul-searching in the UK games press.

    But it reminded me of something. It reminded me that not so many years ago our own Mr. Barnes launched a similar tirade about board game writing and the cosy relationship most reviewers developed with the publishing houses that sent them free copies in exchange for reviews. And it reminded me that for all the soul-searching that entailed, virtually nothing has changed in the world of board game writing.

    It’s astonishing that this very year, when Jesse Dean decided to send a questionnaire round the game reviewing community, virtually no-one thought of themselves as a critic. If the function of people who review games is not to criticise them in a meaningful and constructive fashion for the benefit of their readers, then what is it? To provide tediously detailed descriptions of rules and components, punctuated with big glossy photos seems to be the disappointing answer.

    Video games journalists took the accusation of corruption seriously for two key reasons: partly because of professional pride and partly because of pressure from their readers. Neither exists in board gaming where almost all writers are amateurs and the hardcore hobby audience seems not only content with the parlous state of reviewing but sometimes even to celebrate it. There’s little hope of widespread change. And in such a niche market, perhaps there’s little need.

    But it matters to me. It’s always mattered because I love board games, and because I’ve long been dissatisfied with the standard component and rules breakdowns with a smattering of bland opinion that pass as board game reviews. I love writing, and I love reading well-constructed, expressive, meaningful writing that’s beautiful to follow, imparts valuable information and encourages reflection on the part of the reader.

    Until I dove into the wider world of video game writing, I drew most of my inspiration from a combination of the many novels I’ve read and the few pieces of board game writing that I admired. This, it seems now, was a mistake. Novels are not just extended long-form journalism. The best board game writing is still comparatively weak. The best journalism, unlike both those formats, is deeply personal, exquisitely subtle and uses a variety of authorial tricks like clever metaphor to cram extended meaning into concise passages.

    Upon realising this, good journalism became addictive. I wanted to inhale it, consume it, reread it, bask in its glories, deconstruct it, understand it, learn its lessons and its secrets and apply them to my own writing. To board game writing. And at some unspecified point during this year there was a change in the way I approached my articles. It was the point where my growing desire to write well oustripped my already effervescent desire to play games. The writing, quite suddenly, became more important than the games.

    That might sound bizarre, but it’s proved immensely liberating to me personally. I no longer felt in thrall to the wider board gaming “community” but my own person, stating my own opinions in a way I felt very comfortable with. And I became much happier with what I was writing, and began to believe that there was a gradual improvement in the quality of my pieces after a long plateau following the jump-up I’d gained from ditching restrictive, self-imposed review templates.

    You’re the guys that read it, and you may disagree. It’s impossible to be an impartial judge of your own work. Even if my writing has improved, I’ve still got a long way to go to apply all the lessons I’ve learned from quality journalism. It may be that I never will, that perhaps whatever talent I have for forging words into sentences on the white-hot surface of the page can’t ever match the more prosaic, academic appreciation of what good writing should be like. But that doesn’t undermine the existence of that heightened awareness.

    And so when I return to reading what passes for the bulk of board game journalism with my newly-opened eyes, I am even more depressed and disappointed than I used to be.
    Make no mistake: most of it is objectively terrible. What Michael labelled the “worst review ever” probably wasn’t entirely deserving of that epithet but it was certainly very poor. And yet people beyond the author chose to step up and defend it. I found that incredible, unbelievable. And very sobering.

    I found it so shocking in part because I’ve got used to getting my board game writing from one source, and one source only: here. For reasons I don’t entirely understand F:AT seems to have gone beyond, way beyond its original remit and become a mecca for people like me who aren’t satisfied with the feeble baseline set by other sites and blogs, and quality content follows in their wake. I may not be an impartial judge of my own writing, but I am of Michael's, Nate’s, Ken’s and that of the numerous less frequent contributors who honor us with their pieces. And while it might only rarely match the height of professional journalism (that’s fine, we’re all amateurs here), it stands head and shoulders above its contemporaries. Thank you, all of you, from the bottom of my heart for making this site the perceptive, mature place it’s come to be. I don’t want to imagine a board gaming world without it.

  • Yea, Though I Walk Through the Shadow of the Valley Games

     

     Just what is going on with these guys?

     

     

  • You Call That a Review?

    muppets
  • You Don't Know Theme

    Why do you keep saying "theme?" I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • You'd Make A Great Dungeon Master

    You may not think you have what it take to runs a game of Dungeons & Dragons, but you might just surprise yourself.

  • You're Doing It Wrong

    I learned The Settlers of Catan from a college friend of mine, who explained it without glancing at the rules. We had a ball and played most of my senior year. It was only after I’d played some 25-30 games that I bothered to check the rules for myself, and discovered that he had taught us wrong on a couple points. For one thing, he didn’t use the alphabetical order for placing the numbers on the board. We just put out the numbers and tried to break up any adjacent red spots. But the rule that had a much stronger effect was how he taught us to trade: you could trade anything at any time, even when it wasn’t your turn. As you can imagine, this was completely bonkers, especially when we’d get six loud players around the table. Rather than the casual German game that it was, it transformed Catan into Pit with a board.

  • You've Just Been Franchised


    "Give me an F!  Give me a U!  Give me a..."

     

    Look around the cinemas lately? It's been a great year for movies, but what were the ones people were most actively looking forward to?  Indy 4, Hellboy 2, Batman 2, Hulk 2...last year, of course, it was Pirates 3, Spidey 3, Shrek 3....

     

  • Your System - She Ain't So Special

     

    I love gaming in all its forms, but at the core of my being I am a miniatures gamer. Sure I lovingly gaze at the shiny new boardgames in my local games store, push chits every now and then, squeeze in a game of Twilight Imperium or Last Night on Earth whenever I can, and yes, I still have a semi-regular D&D group that I belong to. But man alive, there is nothing that gets me as excited as a small child quite like collecting miniatures. 

     

     

  • Zen and the Art of Board Games

    The Art of War
    "It's more fun when you can just make shit up because it seems like a good idea and then test out the idea rather than working step by step through some painful proof."