Published on July 31st, 2012 | by Matt Moberly

Are You Game? Getting Started

Are you game?

Thanks to the popularity of smartphones and facebook, playing games is in!  It’s never been simpler or easier to match wits, vocabulary, or reflexes with friends and strangers all over the world.  Millions of adults are playing games covertly every day.  Anyone with a stern expression and nose buried in his phone may look like he’s emailing important documents to clients, but he could just as easily be farming carrots or flinging birds from slingshots.  We can steal enough little moments while standing in lines, waiting for meetings to begin, or (ahem) taking care of other business to fit in a few rounds on even our most busy of days.

As convenient as it is to play games on laptops and phones, there’s something about sitting face to face around a table that can’t be simulated.  Our homes are like our own private clubhouses and to invite someone over is to deem them a member of the club.  (Secret handshakes are optional, but strongly encouraged.)  We can make hundreds or thousands of connections online, but only a few will ever take on life “away from the keyboard.”  Games give us an excuse to gather together and make unique memories with a few of our favorite people.  There isn’t an app for that.

1934 called… it wants Monopoly back

Chances are, you already have games in a drawer or closet that have lots of memories and sentimental value attached to them.  Whole days of Risk with friends, chess with dads, traditional card games with grandparents, poker with college buddies.  We all have games that we will always enjoy because of their history, but you may not be aware that there are also many new games being created every year that take the best parts of our favorite games and improve on them.  Game designers have spent decades learning lessons about what makes a good experience and how to avoid the pitfalls of many classic games that pioneered the industry.  As a result, today’s games are the best offerings we’ve ever had.

There’s always some cost in trying out a new game.  It takes effort to seek them out and money to bring them home.  It takes time to learn rules well enough to teach them to others.  It can be tough to know which games are worth all of the above.  Fortunately, I have done some of the homework for you!  I will be using this space to give you some pointers and help you figure out what kinds of games are out there, which ones may appeal to you, and where to find them locally.  Read on, and when you find something that suits you, pick it up on your next errand run.  Just add friends!

And wine.

…And snacks.

What’s in a game?

All games are made up of a mix of game mechanics, just like recipes are made up of ingredients.  We all have different tastes and different ingredients that we’ve discovered we really like (bacon) or dislike (anchovies).  I know enough about my personal food preferences that I can make an educated guess which items on a menu I’ll look forward to, even if I’ve never ordered any of them before.  The same is true about games.  I learned from money management games like Monopoly and poker that I’m terrible at bidding against other players and that it’s a real bummer to play for 4 hours and get booted from the table due to going broke.  I learned from card games like Euchre and Hearts that getting dealt a hand of great cards that must be played carefully is exciting and that some strategies take many games to perfect.  These lessons help me make smart choices about finding new games that I can expect to enjoy even though I haven’t played them yet.

Over the coming series of articles, I’m going to break down a few of the more common game mechanics out there, talk about where you may have seen them before, and take a look at a current game that uses each mechanic well.  I’ll tell you where you can find the games I mention here in Indy (or in most other mid-sized to large cities), so you can grab a copy if it sparks your interest and give it a chance with your friends.  And who knows, you just might learn a few things about yourself along the way.  (Cue end music from an 80’s sitcom.)

Game mechanics we’ll be looking at:

  1. Bidding and Betting
  2. Co-operative Play
  3. Hand / Resource Management
  4. Dice Rolling and Press Your Luck
  5. Area Control and Worker Placement
  6. Roll / Spin and Move
  7. Card Drafting and Deck Building
  8. Role Playing and Storytelling

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About the Author

Matt Moberly is a software engineer, native hoosier and Purdue University alum. He spends his free time playing music and roping family, friends and co-workers into tabletop games of all varieties.

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