What is a modern board-gamer’s nightmare?
No, not the one where I am stuck playing “Phase 10” with my in-laws and, for some reason, I am in my underwear.
The other one. The moment when I tell someone I collect and play board games, and they immediately respond with, “What, like Monopoly?”
It doesn’t seem scary, and it is a sensible question to board game Muggles. But what most do not know is that it is the equivalent to assuming a Star Wars fan watches the infamously bad Christmas special every year by choice.
Most modern board game enthusiasts cannot stand Monopoly. It has a bad reputation, from being too long or too boring, or just having too many house rules.
It is not just Monopoly, either — whether it is Scrabble, Risk, Sorry! or Clue, tabletop gamers love to deride the classics.
They are vehement about it to the point of wanting to stick Monopoly on a pedestal and light it aflame so the world know Gondor calls for aid!
For some, it is the knowledge of how much better board games have become.
For others, it is just simply being tired of having their hobby discussed and judged in terms of outdated materials.
What does all of this have to do with my nightmare?
It comes down to how to respond. For many — myself included, at times, included — it is tempting to respond blithely by trashing Monopoly and touting the superiority of the modern board game.
All I need is dramatic music and a stool to place my foot upon as I wax ineloquently about my great hobby. Somehow, that attitude comes off as snobby and superior. Maybe I need a pipe to smoke self-importantly while I diatribe?
The other option seems to lean toward my meekly saying “yeah” and accepting the inept comparison.
So it seems like the two jaws of this trap are coming off snootily, on the one hand, or not expressing that modern gaming is not what most associate with board games and letting some poor soul think I am a weirdo with an overactive inner child that still loves Candyland.
Somehow, I have to get across that there are modern board games — with the emphasis being on “modern” — without being offensive.
Video games do not seem to have this problem. If you tell someone you like video games, they ask whether you like Xbox or PlayStation, not if you mean Pong. How did video games pull it off? How did they manage to stay in the zeitgeist?
Personally, I chalk it up to better marketing.
Video games just have more showiness — things move, they go zip, zing and, most important, boom! Nowadays, you even can watch movies on your game console, along with a number of other functions.
Despite some advertising campaigns from the likes of Milton Bradley or Hasbro — honestly, who among us cannot sing along to Don’t Wake Daddy or It’s Fun Getting Into Trouble? — board games never have engendered the same excitement and so have stayed in relative shadow.
Back to the dreaded query. Do I tell them that their paradigm of board games is way outdated, that Monopoly is more than 80 years old?
Do I tell them game designers have learned from the mistakes of the past? Do I tell them games are better now, with less downtime, less complication, less “you have to lose for me to win?” Do I explain what “paradigm” means?
All these things are true, and relevant, but when shared with others in a series, they tend to turn into a lengthy lecture.
Again, the prospect of sounding aloof and elitist arises. You have to make it smooth and not preachy, and above all, keep it short — nobody wants to hear about someone else’s hobby for more than 40 seconds or so.
One strategy is to embrace humor. Respond that, unlike Monopoly, modern games are fun and quick, and range in subjects from pop culture to ancient history. They also cover the spectrum from full-on, winner-take-all confrontations to gentle cooperative games in which everyone works together to beat the game as a group.
That sounds good, right? It’s fairly concise, a little witty, and shares some good relative information.
There is a problem, though. You probably just insulted someone’s favorite childhood game. When someone asks the dreaded question, chances are they are not going to reference a game of which they only have bad memories.
They will base their question on whatever fond experiences they have with mainstream games. When you start by saying it is not actually any fun to play, you’ve already lost your audience.
There is no easy answer to some questions. That is just how it goes — chalk it up there with your kids asking where babies come from, or your new neighbor asking why you were looking through their medicine cabinet.
If you asked me, “You mean games like Monopoly?”, I would say something about Monopoly having been a fine game when it was designed, but add that modern games have come a long way and follow that up by staring uncomfortably at you, hoping you’ll ask for more information.
Now I have a better answer. I can say, “Actually, I wrote a whole article on it. You can check it out at acdailybytes.com!”
The Game Is Afoot is a column written for Ark City Daily Bytes by Ark City native and guest contributor Dustin Ward.