So, first of all, I have to share what I think is big news regarding my last post. In that one, I lamented that unlike books and movies, games don't really have an outlet to be shared without being purchased. Well, that has changed. Boardgamegeek, the central website for everyone in the boardgaming hobby, has just launched a new site: Board Game eXchange.
Board Game Exchange is basically a Netflix (or Gamefly) for board games. I think it is an excellent idea. I'm concerned that their pricing model is too high, but the concept is fantastic. Basically, for those not familiar with Netflix, you subscribe to a mail-order service for a monthly fee. Then, you pick a board game you would like to play. They send it to you (including a prepaid method of shipping it back) and you play it for as long as you like. Will this break the board gaming hobby out into the the larger population? I doubt it. But it is a good start.
For me, unfortunately, the service is not as valuable. I have so many games already, and the selection is somewhat limited, that I don't see much benefit in joining. However, if I were just getting started in the hobby, I think this service would be a godsend. Yes, it's expensive, but what a great way to experience multiple new and different games for a (large) fraction of their normal cost. If you don't have a game group or other access to a larger collection, this would be the way to go.
Now, on the the "Part 2" section of this post.
I thought of two more hobbies to compare with playing board games. Perhaps neither is particularly positive, but I think they are both appropriate in different ways.
Is it like playing with trains?
I have a friend who is really into model trains. He goes to conventions across the nation. He has a large set up that he puts on display at a local mall every Father's Day. He's really into trains, and the model train hobby is one way for him to explore that interest.
Now me, I know virtually nothing about trains, real or model. I think they're cool, but I could barely name any of Thomas's friends, let alone discuss their history. But it got me to thinking. How much different are our hobbies? It is definitely a passionate minority that knows all kind of obscure facts about their subject. We both have conventions. We both have preferences (HO scale or Auction mechanism?). We could both talk to outsiders and bore them to sleep within minutes.
We're both collectors. His diorama (or whatever the proper term is) is constantly growing and changing. He's very precise when it comes to time period. He can look for particular items to "complete" what he's working on. How is that different from those of us who have to have a certain edition of a game, or complete a series whether we like the game or not?
Lastly, and this will probably get me in trouble with train enthusiasts, but we both play with our toys. We play games, they play trains. I'm sure that's not the phrase they use, but it's essentially the same. It's not enough to set up an elaborate landscape; you've got to run a train through it! It doesn't mean anything to have the engines if you never see them run. And while they could play with the same train for hours, we could play the same game many times. It's not a perfect analogy, I admit, but I think it's pretty darn close.
But the most damning link to me is the sheer volume of train-themed games. There are train games of every level of complexity. There are train games that are territorial, economic, historical, and trivial. Surely that isn't just a coincidence. There must be some hobbyist-mindset connection I'm not seeing.
Is it like comic books?
I actually have a lot to say about this comparison, but I will try to make it brief since I have such a habit of going long on these posts.
I think the board gaming hobby is very much like the comic book hobby. There is the obvious parallels regarding collecting and reading/playing. There is the devotion to particular artists, writers, designers. There is the preference for particular eras, themes, or genres. All of these make good comparisons.
But what I want to talk about is more the industry. Comics have been around for decades, obviously, and they have taken many forms and branched in many, many directions. For most of their history, they were seen solely as a diversion for kids. But in the last 30 years, that has changed. Kids grew up, but kept buying and reading comic books. When you have 20- and 30-somethings with large disposable incomes as your audience, of course the business world takes notice.
It is no surprise to any comic book fan that Hollywood has discovered a gold mine. The potential was always there, perhaps it just took a while for the technology to catch up. Personally, I think it has more to do with the change in the target age groups of both comics and movies (one getting older, while the other went younger).
But here's the thing. It is easy to see why Hollywood wants to make movies of every comic book. They are both visual, story-telling media. That would seem to be enough. But any comics reader could tell you that there are innumerable things that a comic can do that a movie cannot. Yes, the action translates well, but the literate elements of comics are often lost. Comic characters have histories spanning decades; movie characters compress that into 20 minutes. I'm not saying comic based movies are bad, just that they will never be the same as the actual comic books.
So, how does this relate to board games? I'm starting to see a similar development between board games and video games. Many popular board games (Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride) are available on the Xbox 360, and many more are available for the iPhone/iPod. Video games are much higher profile, like movies. They're a totally different medium, but they share similar traits with board games. Many games have been available on the internet for years, but the transfer to the home box market is pretty big.
The difference, I think, is that comic book movies are often watched by people who have never read the comic source (I've never read Iron Man, but I liked the movie). I don't think the same is happening with video game versions of board games. I get the impression that the only people playing them are the ones who are already familiar with them.
Is this transition a good thing? I'm not sure. I don't think it's bad, but I don't think either video games or board games will benefit from it.
The other big similarity has to do with the creative aspect. During the big comic book boom of the '80's and '90's, it was not only possible but very common for a couple of guys to write and publish their own comic books. The vast majority of these disappeared into obscurity, but there were plenty of success stories as well. From Bone to Strangers in Paradise to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was a huge explosion of creativity and new artists and writers.
Right now, I think we're at a similar stage for board games. Publishing a board game is by no means a simple endeavor, but the growth of the internet has expanded options for publishing, promoting, and marketing these games to their target audience. Again, the rules of the universe (I forget if the 80/20 rule has a name) dictate that most of these won't be that great. But the important thing is that creative people don't feel shut out of participating in the creative side of this hobby. I think that's a wonderful thing, and makes this a great time to be into this hobby.