Board Games – What’s My Taste?
So, I thought that with my Dominion review, and Dominion being an extremely popular game, I thought I should write a bit about what sort of games I like, what I don’t like, and what I’m looking for.
To start out with, there is one thing that I really look for in a game, though not every game, but Theme is extremely important to me. Theme helps me get immersed in the game, and while I really can lean into tactics of the game and the strategy, without a good theme, though, I’m less likely to pick up again, and if the theme doesn’t come through, I’m not that likely to continue playing a game. If it’s just a puzzle, once I’ve figured out the puzzle, even if that puzzle is variable, I’m less interested in playing it again. That’s a lot of the reason that I don’t like Dominion. You are just finding the puzzle in the collection of random cards you’re going with, and that’s it. The theme could be about trading coins and it wouldn’t make a difference for the game.
And within theme, there are certain things that I’m apt to be more interested in. I’m a huge fan of Fantasy, Horror, and Sci-Fi. Thankfully, there are a ton of games with those themes. Now, let me say, I’m not a fan of Medieval games with a light fantasy sprinkling on it, but really you’re trading cubes. I want fantasy, and I like a slightly darker fantasy. Things like Gloomhaven and Sword and Sorcery, yes, they are epic fantasy, but they have some odd things going on that don’t just make it the standard heroes rushing in and smashing everything. I’m excited to get games like Apocrypha to the table, because it’s a dark urban fantasy setting. And with horror, while I don’t mind something like zombie horror, I prefer that Lovecraftian style of horror or campy horror. Which, isn’t always the best, because Kristen claims I don’t need 8 different Lovecraft horror games, I suspect that’s wrong, but I also don’t get all of them to the table that often. With Sci-Fi, I don’t know that I have any subset that I love more than others, I think that I have a harder time finding Sci-Fi games that really excite me because a lot of them can end up being cube pushers, and I’m really looking for that theme or that continuing story.
That’s another big thing that I really like, I like Story Based games. Now, that can fall into a few different categories. There are games where you are playing a one off story/scenario where you have an objective that you’re trying to complete. I find that sort of game okay. It’s definitely not my preferred type, but if the scenario is strong, I’m cool with that. I prefer campaign or legacy style games. Now, not all legacy games are story based but they often still keep the pretense. Charterstone which is a fun game theoretically has a story, but in reality, it’s the loosest of threads holding it together. And I’m going to say that I prefer campaign games where you don’t end up destroying stuff, because I have a couple of copies of Pandemic Legacy Season 1 that I had a blast playing and I’m not sure I want to get rid of, but what am I going to do with them? I should just harvest them for parts. Thankfully, there are a ton of campaign games out there, and now there are more legacy games that once you’re done with them, you can continue playing them. Charterstone is a great example of this, but there’s also games like Betrayal Legacy, Aeon’s End Legacy, and Clank! Legacy that allow you to continue playing them. And while I’m less likely to play them once the main story is done, it’s nice that it’s not just a one time investment.
Now, I mention that Charterstone doesn’t have much story to it, and I don’t think it really has much theme to it, but if the theme is light, there are ways to make it feel like more than it actually is. The biggest way to do that, and another thing that makes me interested in a game is Great Artwork/Bits and Charterstone has both of these. The art is consistent and nice and you feel the lightness of the world that Stonemaier Games created through the artwork is great. And the coins in there are amazing, and the little tuck boxes and magnetic boxes are nice in the game. So those aesthetic pieces are very important. Or there are games like Clank! In! Space! where there are some nice pieces, but the cards don’t have the best artwork, but I like it because the art references something and sometimes you just want to figure out what the joke is that is on the card. Another example of a game that has great pieces but not a great story/theme is Century: Golem Edition where it’s a good engine building game, but there’s no theme. The art is just amazing and the pieces, the coins and gems and gem cases are great. That game just looks good on the table.
When a game is that more abstract style, I can enjoy heavy strategy games, but I tend not to be great at thinking five turns ahead or twenty to the end of the game, so I don’t always do the best, I might think two turns ahead, So for those more abstract games, I prefer Family Weight games. And I have a lot of family weight games in my collection, some that are more introductory games like Catan, Ticket to Ride and Carcassone, but there are some very abstracted ones like Photosynthesis and Century: Golem Edition that I have as well. Now, Photosynthesis is probably heavier than family weight, but go back to that aesthetic paragraph, that’s where it belongs. But Century: Golem Edition is a great example of a game that is a family weight strategy game that looks amazing and is very abstracted away from the looks. Like, why does it matter that you’re getting gems to trade gems, but the strategy is still simple enough that it’s fun and I can pull it out with any group. Sagrada is another game like that. And there are reasons why I have Azul over Sagrada and that’s because the theme, while not there, is easier to sell than Azul, even to myself.
I haven’t even touched on mechanics, and really I’m cool with a lot of mechanics. I like Area Control, Cooperative, Deck Building, Action Points, Engine Building, Drafting and so many more I’m sure. But if I were to pick one that stands out above the others that I love, that would be Variable Player Powers. I love it when I have a character that does something slightly different than other people. Some of the reason that I like it so much is that it allows me to be slightly different and unique than everyone else in the game. And it means that I have to think about my strategy in a slightly different way than everyone else. That means that every time that I play the game the game is going to feel different or could feel different. I enjoy it when it’s fully asymmetric like Root or Cry Havoc, but those are harder to teach because they can be completely different as to how you play. So games like Small World where you have different races and powers that get put together, that’s great because you feel unique multiple times during the game. Though, that makes the game very light in Small World, so games where you have one that you’re playing with throughout the game is great, that’s one thing I love in Xenoshyft: Onslaught, because I have a unique starting deck and unique powers throughout the game.
Now, that’s a lot of information, but I wanted to write this because of my TableTopTakes for Dominion yesterday and just thinking about some of the responses from Board Game Geek that I got when posting it there. Some very good ones and some that basically just said, “You’re wrong in every sentence” without providing any reasoning for saying that. When I do a review and give my ratings, I try and think about the game as to why someone might like it as well, and while a grade will suffer if I don’t like it, I try to base it on more than just that. And really, I do like most games, there are just some that I’m going to gravitate towards and overlook flaws in the game because it’s my type of game. Plus, there are some games that I’ll read a 30 page rule book for because it’s my type of game and if it’s not my type of game, I’m less apt to get it.
Hopefully that helps clear up some of why I don’t like Dominion or why I love some games that might be less popular, Xenoshyft: Onslaught for example. Obviously, everyone is going to have their preferences and I hope that I can somewhat divorce myself from mine when I look at a game, but that’s certainly not possible to fully do. But beyond that, I’m curious to know what other people look for when they look to buy a game or what intrigues you about a game to get you to pick it up?
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