So there’s this thing called Boardgame Fatigue that happens in the lifecycle of many a boardgamer. When you first start out, you’re young, you discover your first modern board game and your eyes are opened! You want to know more! You find Boardgame Geek and dive deep into the hobby. You read about games, you sift through the forums, you mine the database, you buy several games, you play them, you start a spreadsheet (what?), they don’t always hit the right notes.
You read more, you follow boardgame news, blogs, YouTube channels. You get to know each individual boardgame reviewer’s preferences so you can gauge whether or not you’re likely to enjoy the game they’re raving about. Maybe you dabble in backing games on Kickstarter — where boardgames are crowd-funded, bypassing the traditional publishing routes. It gets to the point that you know about games before they’re even released. Your finger is on the pulse of the boardgame industry!
Contemporaneously, we’re hip deep in The Board Gaming Renaissance. More and more people are playing more and more games. Boardgames are finding their way into popular culture. Boardgame cafes have opened up across the world. More and more boardgames are being created every year. It’s accelerating! BGG shows just under 5,000 games published in the year 2017 alone! That’s a lot of new games flooding the market.
So I’ve been at this boardgaming thing for.. what?… 7 years now? I have a not-yet-obscene collection of board games (42) and there are 2 games in my collection that I’ve never even played. That’s not a lot of unplayed games, but I’m hungry to play them. I’ve been introducing the game group to each game in my collection for over a year now. There are still at least half a dozen games they haven’t played. Suffice it to say, I have more games than time or people to play them.
I’m a dad. I have a full-time job. My friends are dads and they all work full-time jobs, too. I’m building a house this year. My two sons are at a fun age and I want to be around to play with them. I wish for more time and energy to just hang out with my wife and not work on the constant To-Do list. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on, but I want to play more boardgames, dammit!
There are just too many things competing for my, or my friends, attention. When we manage to get a game night on the calendar, (weather and health permitting), I feel responsible as the group’s biggest boardgame addict (I think that’s fair to say) and supplier of games, to make sure Game Night is time well spent — that we’re having an “acceptable” amount of fun for the valuable free time we’ve all set aside.
Collin doesn’t think this way. He’s much more easy-going in this regard.
“If I’m having fun, that’s enough. I don’t think about maximizing the amount of fun I’m having.”
Well I do, apparently. Case in point, the last game night (at which Collin was absent).
We played a new game for the first time (Tobago), and it was great! Then we played The Castles of Burgundy again, as Steve #3 hadn’t played it yet, and I felt he should — if only to know what a Stefan Feld game is like.
The Castles of Burgundy — a review, sort of.
I’ve had mixed feelings about this game for ages. I even tried to sell it for 6 months, but it’s so cheap brand new that no one would bother paying shipping costs. On the one hand, it was a nice relaxing walk in the park kind of game to play 2p with my wife before we had kids, or when we only had one kid and he was asleep. It was thinky, but not too thinky. It was clever, but not heavy. It wasn’t too long. It was multiplayer solitaire and had some satisfying moments, but it’s just so ugly! I don’t care if that makes me sound superficial. I’m a designer by trade. I like things to look nice and function smoothly.
Anyway, we played CoB again and I sorta stood outside myself while playing, trying to ascertain whether I, or anyone else at the table, was actually having fun. Visibly, no. Internally, perhaps a little, but to me it felt like Tobago was a frolicking good time by comparison. You don’t laugh when you play Castles of Burgundy. There’s a lot of Hmm… nope. Hmm… how about… yeah, okay, that. And then you pick something and wait for your next turn.
Dan’s endgame commentary:
“This is the second time I’ve played it and I feel like I’ve figured it out now. It seems like every time I play it I’ll be doing the same things and having the same experience from now on.” [paraphrasing]
My biggest complaint about it is that it’s a “point salad” game. Everything is worth points. Got leftover workers? Half a point each! Got some silver? 1 point each. Got shipped trade goods? You got points for those during the game when you shipped them. Got unshipped trade goods? Oh, alright, you can have 1 point for each of those, too. Points for completing a color zone. Points for being the first or second player to complete all of a color. How about a decreasing amount of points as you complete stuff in each phase? Points, points, points. There are so many ways to get points that you never end a game and walk away thinking about how you might have played better. While playing, you never have any real idea how well you’re doing. On a previous play, Collin was in the lead by a long shot and I was in last place, only to have me shoot past everybody at the very end, winning by several lengths. How did I do that? I haven’t the slightest.
So when I watch myself play this game, I guess I don’t care much for the emotions I have. Maybe my tastes are changing and I’m looking for more smiles and laughter for the few hours I get to play with friends. I dunno, but after this latest play I decided to sit down with my wife and talk about purging a few games that aren’t hitting the right notes lately.
4 games we’re ditching that don’t scratch the right itch for us anymore:
- The Castles of Burgundy — for all the reasons above.
- Biblios – this is a neat, clever, filler game, but the theme is dry, pasted on, and do I ever really feel an urge to play it? No. I’m glad I tried it, but I guess it taught me that I want more meat in a filler game. I’d much rather play Taluva than this, and they play in about the same amount of time. Granted, not as compactly, but I think Taluva is a more satisfying game overall.
- Survive: Escape from Atlantis – 30th Anniversary Edition — I bought this for my sons before they were even able to play it. Take my advice: don’t do that. My eldest has played it once or twice with the actual rules (not the DIY simpler rules so that your toddler can play boardgames with you), but … I dunno. I guess I expected more from it. It’s very basic — roll, move, chaos, attack random opponents. Tobago feels like a much better family game to me, or Forbidden Desert even. Survive is very much in the domain of the old classics, and that’s not a style of game I tend to enjoy.
- Jamaica — I held off on buying this one for years. It looks gorgeous, and I’m a real sucker for beautiful tropical island artwork, but the gameplay never seemed all that interesting to me. Roll a couple dice, pick a day and night action card, do what it says. Lots of luck and chaos and randomness and not much meat on the bone. The Dice Tower guys raved about this game for so many years in a row that it eventually wore me down and I got a copy in a Math Trade. I convinced myself that having luck in a game is good for playing with kids because it gives them more of an equal footing against adults, and they stand a chance at winning once in awhile. While that may be true, I was disappointed to find that my first reaction was right. This is one of those learning experiences, where now I know how much my tastes line up with the Dice Tower guys. I didn’t care much for Mission: Red Planet (2nd Edition) either — another one of their favorites. I sold that one awhile ago. Lots of chaos, luck, …some hilarity, and beautiful artwork, but in the end the chaos ruined it for me. Felt like I didn’t have much control or agency in the game.
So bringing it back to the beginning — boardgame fatigue. I’m feeling some form of it, I think. I’m less susceptible to the hype for every new game that comes out. I’m more critical of each game I read about and I spend a lot more time thinking before adding a game to my already too full collection. I have a growing sense that I want to play the games I already own, more often, and get good at them, than just learn new games all the time and not explore the depths of any given game all that much.
This year in particular is going to be a tough one for gaming so I don’t see the point in playing mediocre games when I finally have time to sit down to have some fun. My goal from the very beginning was to find the best games, anyway. Trial and error, binging and purging, and evolving preferences are just part of that process.