It’s no secret. I am a role playing gamer. I traditionally shy away from board games, and focus on the blood, guts, and story to be found around the role playing table. Recently I’ve given into my “gamery” side and started playing more board games. It’s a great community of people, and so it’s been an interesting side track.
At this point I’ve played a wide variety of games. From down right awesome (King of Tokyo) to so bad that no single group of players has ever played the game to completion without giving up since its release (Battle Star Galactica the
Board Boring Game). Now that I’ve cut my teeth on the hobby, I can definitively point to the aspect of game design that makes the difference between player fun and player spite.
That element is personality! Players who have an opportunity to express a personality unique to their corner of the gaming table are happy players. Look at Munchkin and Betrayal at the House on the Hill (Betrayal). Two amazing games that are different as night and day. The main factor being that Betrayal is very stat and combat heavy leaving players crunching numbers and devising detailed strategies involving health balancing, bonus gathering, and loot finding. (It’s no surprise that it’s a WotC game). Munchkin is all about breaking the fourth wall, finessing away rules, and encouraging players to use crazy logic to screw over other people. If there is a more lay person comparison that describes munchkin it’s the party game In A Pickle.
The elements that these games share is personality. Each player is not just devising a strategy and a play style, but literally playing the strengths of their personality to form relationships between characters and tell stories. A tiny bit of flavor in each game’s character cards adds just enough role playing to change the game from straight out boardgame mechanics to an adventure for the mind. They don’t even have to go as theatric as Fiasco!. It’s all accomplished through a small bit of personality. The fact that my Betrayal character loved horses and old movies had no mechanical significance but came up countless times in the game. It helped direct my player. Now that’s cool!
To make a different contrast we can look at the 5 ton gorilla in the room, King of Tokyo (KoT), and compare it to a mechanically similar game, The Walking Dead Dice Game (TWD). Both have extremely similar mechanics and provide avenues for peaceful play, cooperative team building, and flat out winner takes all murder fests. Yet KoT with significantly less rules takes the cake at having more personality. The only personality we found in TWD was yelling “Choral Coral, CARL!” every time Carl’s turn came up. The game lacked depth, and boiled down to an odd rendition of Yahtzee. And TWD wasn’t bad. The game designers captured the essence of survival, running, desperation, and scarcity perfectly. It’s just boring.
So to all you gamers out there, if you want to find a great game, find one with personality. Yes, I know there are exceptions. Voluspa and Tsuro are masterpieces of gaming, but these are exceptions, not rules. Let out the gamer inside you and be free!