Board Gaming

Talk Strategy

Today we have a Guest Article from Jennifer Schlickbernd. If you recall a while back, I questioned whether computer or console gamers would ever call a board gamer hardcore. Well, Jennifer argues that in the "me too" world of modern computer gaming that board games are exactly where the hardcord gamer should look for innovation.

Board Gaming
by Jennifer Schlickbernd

This article is inspired by a survey done during this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) that showed that out of 100 titles released for the PC within the last year, o­nly 13 of them were original titles. The rest were sequels or licensed properties.

This does not bode well for PC gamers. Sequels tend to have much less new game content than the original game, and license costs eat up resources that could be used for game development. From a business standpoint, derivative works (which is what sequels and licenses are), are much less risky than making new content, and therefore less expensive.

In this article, I am advocating that PC gamers give board games (another) look. I realize that if a PC gamer goes to his or her local Toy’s R Us, the available games will again be derivatives. However, there is a thriving board game ‘hobby’ in the U.S. Most of the board games that are such a hit with the hobbyists are designed and published in Europe. Many of them are then translated to English and are very playable by American gamers. They are also available o­nline and in hobby shops. Out of the top 50 games found at, o­nly 20% of them are derivative.

Note that board/card gaming in general (with the exception of Magic the Gathering, which is a phenomenon all by itself), is a lot less cutthroat than multiplayer computer gaming. People of all playing levels actively play board games, however in many large cities you can find board game conventions which offer more competitive play.

European style designers have brought new, innovative ways of implementing board games. Instead of rolling dice, taking your turn, then waiting 10-20 minutes until it’s your turn again, many European games use auctions so that everyone is participating at the same time. Or some games are based o­n negotiations with the other players, presenting a level of interaction not often seen in the Toy’s R Us games. If there are turns, (particularly in the family genre), turns can usually be completed within the space of 2-3 minutes max. Speaking of dice, many European style games don’t use dice at all, or if they do, they use specially marked dice, not just a six sided die or two. In many of the strategy games, randomness is minimized, but the theme is not an abstract o­ne like Chess or Go. European games strive at presenting games where there is always something more you want to do but don’t have the resources to do it with, a delightful conundrum.

I’d like to present an example of a European design that is any strategy gamer’s dream. Puerto Rico was released in 2002 and has been a huge hit among board gamers ever since. The following summary is from

The players are plantation owners in Puerto Rico in the days when the ships had sails. Growing up to five different kinds of crops: Corn, Indigo, Coffee, Sugar and Tobacco, they must try to run their business more efficiently than their close competitors.

A unique game system let the players choose the order of the phases in each turn, and the player who understands [how] to employ these most effectively, will win the game.

There are six roles in the game—Settler, Mayor, Craftsman, Captain, Trader, Prospector. Nearly all of these roles will involve interaction among the players. Some roles may benefit other players more than the player whose turn it is, and this leads to some serious strategizing o­n what is overall the best option for the turn. This is just a part of the strategy involved…”what building should I build? Should I trade or keep? Is it best to choose the shipper role now or is there a more effective role for me to take?” All of this goes through your mind nearly every turn. A game can be played by five experienced players within an hour or two, so there is not a lot of down time.

Puerto Rico is probably currently the best at combining interaction and strategy, but other board games such as Euphrates and Tigris, Princes of Florence, and Goa present similar challenges.

Another interesting by-product of board games is that you don’t need a copy for everyone playing like you may in computer games. They are also competitively priced, so that you can find steep discounts o­n board games o­nline, whereas too often with computer games, they are all priced at o­ne price point, i.e. $50.

You say that you can’t find anyone who would want to play these types of games? Your family/friends hate Monopoly? You can join a mailing list of fellow Euro game hobbyists by emailing They will be happy to help you find a local group of gamers or start your own.

You like playing o­nline instead? is a German run o­nline website that implements a slew of board games. At any time, there are hundreds of gamers playing board games. While the site is basically German, the English client can be found at o­ne of the best things about this is that playing the games is free, and you don’t have to own a copy of the games to play. However, if you don’t know how to play a game featured o­n Brettspielwelt, I’d highly recommend researching the game at, where it is likely a copy of the rules can be found.

If you are a PC gamer, I hope that I have at least inspired you to take a good look at broadening your gaming horizons. The following are some great links to boardgaming o­n the web— --the premier place to discuss individual games and obtain help and other aids to play games. The top 50 games are rated there, and that list is a good place to start exploring what kinds of games you might like.

The Spielfrieks mailing list at --a great place to discuss board gaming and games.

Funagain website, —an easy to use commercial website that is very good at helping newbies.

The following websites are places other than Funagain that sell boardgames:

This list is not comprehensive, but should get you started.
Rio Grande games at www.riograndegames and Uberplay Games at are the biggest American publishers/distributors of European style games here in the U.S.

I hope to see you sometime at the ‘geek or o­n Brettspielwelt!!

Jennifer Schlickbernd

I can be reached at jennifer AT schlickbernd DOT org (use appropriate symbol) for comments or questions regarding this article.

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