What the heck is a board game, anyway?

In my first post, I touched on the idea that what board games are these days is pretty far removed from what the cultural idea of board games is.  I mentioned board games without boards, which… like, is that even a board game, at that point? I mean, the word “board” is literally in the term “board game”. At that point, we’re just talking about “games”, surely?

And, yeah, kinda. There are three main factors in play: first, there’s a lot of crossover between people who like board games, tabletop RPGs, wargames, card games etc, so although we’re a “board game” group, we actually get lots of different people wanting to play lots of different things. Secondly, an increasing number of these sorts of games  fall under multiple of those categories (or none at all!); there is really clear dividing lines between RPGs, and wargames, and board games, etc etc etc. Finally, a lot of those individual terms are themselves pretty distant from what pops into people’s heads when they here them… Something like Aye, Dark Overlord! is technically a card game (in that it’s a game played with cards), but it feels far more like a fast and loose RPG than anything like the box of cards that it physically is, while X-Com is a board game and card game and  world-wide miniatures wargame, all at the same time.

I can’t do much to change the language. What I can do is help show just how wide the gulf between the word and the meaning is. To that end, lets look at some fun, genre-defying “board games” that stretch the term far beyond breaking point. Let’s see how far board games have come.

Board Game Cafes: new and closing

So good bye Alchemy on the Wardwick here in Derby. We still have one board game cafe, Games Knight left up at The Spot.

I was reflecting on Alchemy yesterday when I went into Treehouse, a new board game cafe in Sheffield. It was  a lovely space, light and airy, down a back street on the edge of the city centre. There was an impressive range of games well displayed. There was also an impressive number of people inside playing at midday. It came across as very professionally done but still it seems to be run by gamers for their community. The model was different Alchemy, tho perhaps more in keeping with other cafes. After 7pm at night and at the weekends you could not just have a drink. You have to pay the £5/ head cover charge but you do get use of the library and a table for 4 hours. At the other times it does operate as a normal cafe. We had a ask for a pass on paying to be able to have a hot drink as we didn’t have time to play and it was Sunday morning.

Only time will tell why Alchemy didn’t work. Derby has a lot of gamers. The size of the building was ambitious,  the food was very good, the range of beers less so. The marketing, promotion and decor seemed more a labour of love by enthusiasts than a hard headed commercial venture. The fact that you could play your own games for free down stairs was great for us with lots of games to take down. I wonder if it wasn’t so good for their revenue stream.

It would interesting to hear reflections on other cafes and also on Alchemy.

Board games are for everyone

Hello! Welcome to the (currently brand-new) Derby on Board Games website. We’ve got this wonderful new part of the ‘net with these lovely blogs that are far, far too empty. We’ll be putting up more here soon, but I thought I’d fill in the gap with a little something. I’ll have something more polished in future, probably with some nice pictures to break things up, rather than the wall of text I’m about to drop on you: sorry about that.

For now, I want to cover something which is easy to claim, but harder to explain: that board games are for everyone.

The thing is, anyone in any hobby can claim Thing X is for everyone, and it’s generally easy to dismiss this, because what it usually really means is that Thing X isn’t for anyone in particular: it’s safe, and simple, and inoffensive, and not terribly interesting, and that’s a lot of people’s impression of board games. They’re the thing you play at Christmas with your nan and your niece, and everyone rolls dice or answers trivia questions and it fills some time between the turkey and the trifle, and that’s OK.

That IS OK… but it’s not all that board games are anymore.

There are board games for schemers and backstabbers, who want to hoard knowledge and set their friend squabbling while they push their plans in plain sight, cackling inwardly the whole time. There are board games for people who just want fun, where you build towers or pull faces or perform mock surgeries and it’s all really hard to do because how do you balance a card on your nose when you’re laughing so hard? There are board games for the gamers and tacticians, where you plan against or with those around you, optimising your moves and increasing your powers and wringing every last drop out of everything the game gives you. There are board games fundamentally about building stories, or characters, or art. There are games that you can be taught in a paragraph and played in 10 minutes, and games that take half an hour to set up and a day to play and you’ll come back to again, and again, and again, and everything in between. There are board games where you’ll never touch a dice, or cards, or even a board. There’s a board game where you open the box, and a little sound of a cat meowing plays, and it’s so cute.

I’m just scratching the surface here.

The point is… the point is, there’s about 10 board games that everyone’s heard of, and they’re all decades old, and things have come on as far since then as videogames have done since Pong, or cinema has since Citizen Kane, or music has since… I dunno, the baroque era? I’m out of my depth here, let’s move on… and there is something for you that you don’t even know is a thing yet.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, for whatever reason, there just isn’t something out there that will scratch your itch. And that’s fine! Because, even at their worst, board games are the absolute 100% best excuse to meet people there is. You can turn up at any of our events (multiple a week, all but the occasional all-day events are free), grab a seat, and find someone to play with, to chat with, to laugh with, with the game being a framework for that social interaction.

That’s how I got started, actually: I came to (I think) the second ever event, a few years ago now, and my partner and I found another couple who introduced us to a silly simple game named Fluxx, where the cards you play change the rules of the game… But that, perhaps, is a story for another time.

I’ve got to keep you on the hook for my next blog somehow, right?

In closing: if you’re on this page, you’re either interested in games, or interested in people. Either way, you’re in the right place, and we’d be thrilled to see you!

I don’t know if we have comments on these posts, but if we do, feel free to leave comments or questions below, and I’ll answer anything I can. (If not, there’s a contact section on the left which will get you through to someone possibly even friendlier than I am.) For now, my lunch break is over, so I’ve got to go! Maybe see you later, eh?