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

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11 Jun 2019 08:00 #298230 by Michael Barnes
As the legends tell it, over the past week the...

A storytelling epiphany.

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11 Jun 2019 08:49 #298231 by n815e
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.
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11 Jun 2019 10:29 - 11 Jun 2019 10:30 #298236 by Gary Sax
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.
Last edit: 11 Jun 2019 10:30 by Gary Sax.
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11 Jun 2019 10:56 #298238 by Shellhead
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.
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11 Jun 2019 11:56 #298242 by Matt Thrower

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.
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11 Jun 2019 13:40 #298244 by HiveGod
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...
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11 Jun 2019 14:19 - 11 Jun 2019 14:19 #298247 by ChristopherMD

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.
Last edit: 11 Jun 2019 14:19 by ChristopherMD.
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11 Jun 2019 14:20 #298248 by Vysetron

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.
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11 Jun 2019 15:29 #298249 by Shellhead

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.
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11 Jun 2019 17:42 #298250 by Michael Barnes
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.
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11 Jun 2019 18:10 #298251 by Josh Look
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.
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11 Jun 2019 18:33 #298252 by Michael Barnes
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.
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11 Jun 2019 18:55 - 11 Jun 2019 18:58 #298253 by Gary Sax
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.
Last edit: 11 Jun 2019 18:58 by Gary Sax.

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11 Jun 2019 23:51 #298257 by Shellhead
Setup and takedown of Gloomhaven looks exhausting.

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12 Jun 2019 06:09 #298259 by Sevej
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.
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