Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Social Currency

One thing I've discovered about my gaming preferences as I get older is that I prefer games where interaction is a vital part of the gameplay. The more social a game is, the more I like it. I really like good strategy and planning and stuff, too, but I need a smooth layer of socialization to glue it all together.

I think this is part of why roleplaying games have been such an enduring (and endearing) part of my life. The combination of creativity and social interaction makes RPGs, for me, the perfect hobby. When it comes to boardgames, I have diverse tastes, but the games I always come back to...the ones I'm excited to play, the ones that I want to see on my bookshelf...are the games that force you to actually say something to someone else! The whole "multiplayer solitaire" thing, characteristic of many Euro-style games, is totally not my thing. That's not to say I don't like them...I do...I just don't find myself fondly remembering them as much. I'm all about moments, and memories. Games that create those moments and memories are the games I pursue aggressively, and try and bring to the table constantly.

It's probably for that reason that I'm so strongly drawn to cooperative games. I don't have a problem with competition, but I believe that competition inherently drives a wedge between players. You may be best friends away from the table, but on the table, your relationship is only as deep as you need it to be to interact with your competitor! Cooperation lifts that wedge, and challenges you to succeed by working with your fellow players instead of against them. When I am in the mood for competitive games, I usually crave the ones where social interaction is a necessary part of winning. 

All that being said, here is a list of my favorite boardgames that I have played where social interaction is an essential part of the gameplay. No roleplaying games are on this list; roleplaying games are in a league of their own, above every game listed here:

1. Panic on Wall Street! Currently my favorite "social-heavy" boardgame. In this game, half the table are stock managers trying to get the other half of the table (the investors) to invest in a number of companies they have for sale. All the negotiations happen in real time, over two minutes. When the timer is up, you roll the dice to determine the value of the companies that were purchased. The investors make (or lose!) money based on the adjusted wealth of the companies, and the managers make (or lose!) money based on the deals they made with the investors. This game is a social tour de force; there is nothing more satisfying in my gaming these days for me than the pure two minutes of chaos as everyone at the table is wheeling and dealing with each other, all culminating in the hilarious (and sometimes tragic) moment when the dice hit the table and the prices of the stocks skyrocket...or plummet.

2. Settlers of Catain: The old stalwart, the "gateway game" for designer boardgaming. Though I don't own this game, I've played it so many times I could easily teach it. I've grown a little tired of its gameplay over the years, but for a casual evening, Settlers is undeniably hard to beat.

3. Battlestar Galactica: This was the second boardgame I purchased when I got into boardgaming (the first was Pandemic), and it is very symbolic of everything I love about boardgames. BSG is what I call an "asymettrical team game," also known as "semi-cooperative." Most of the players are humans, working together to overcome various crises and get the fleet to Earth. One or more of the players are secretly Cylons, however, and they are trying to sabotage the humans and force them to lose. The paranoia and politics of this game are simply delicious. I've played it dozens of times now, and unlike many other games I've played that many times, it hasn't gotten old yet. I haven't even torn into the game's three expansions yet; I've just had a blast playing the core game!

4. Pandemic: Speaking of which, Pandemic is, as mentioned earlier, the first "designer board game" I ever purchased, back in 2009. Since then, I have played it hundreds of times. I've brought it with me on almost every business trip and vacation. I've played it in Filipino. I've played it in classrooms, in restaurants, in hotel rooms. I've played it with non-boardgaming friends and family. I play it regularly with my co-workers at lunch. I've even written and published an article in a magazine about it. So, yeah, I kinda like this game. In terms of mental and emotional impact, one could even call this game the Dungeons & Dragons of boardgames for me.

5. Robinson Crusoe: Tales on the Cursed Island: I've called this "the new Pandemic" for me, and though that might be overselling its appeal, its impact has been about right. Quite easily the best marraige of theme and mechanics I've ever seen in a game, Crusoe is powerful, clever, and requires a whole bunch of cool, collected, collaborative brains to survive. It, too, has received the professional writing treatment from me, though in a much more personal way. It will be published later this year in Penn Union, the Johns Hopkins graduate writing program's literary journal, and is the centerpiece of my master's thesis. 

This weekend, I'm going to play my first game of Archipelago. I have high hopes that it will be on this list soon, as well!


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