Investing in Games
by Nate Scheidler
This is an article that I probably would rather have written and shared back in November, before you started considering your holidays. While I am certainly not your average game buyer, I don't buy every game that comes along. It is important to consider the value you receive for your dollar. The "investment" value. This is most easily expressed in terms of time spent on the game. When I rent a movie, $4 entertains me for 2 hours. When I go out to a movie in a theater, $10 gets me the same thing. The people I go with must also pay for each ticket. The rentals are cheaper, but we go out to the movie theaters because the experience is signficantly different. The same sort of logic applies to the games we play.
There's a term used in computer networking called TTL, which stands for "Time to Live". Its the amount of time that a piece of information can stick around before it is erased from memory. I think that this same acronym can be aptly applied with a similar purpose to toys and games: Time To Landfill.
I have over 100 board and card games in my collection. I have a good friend with over 600. This summer I met some people that run a gaming group in Minneapolis with over 3000 games. I also have an Xbox 360 and a Wii. I have fewer than 6 games for each of these systems. In 5 years, I expect I will have about as many boardgames, probably more, but the Wii and the Xbox 360 will have reached their "TTL" a year or two earlier.
If you look at listings of the "top" video games of 2008, you might note that many of them were released in the second half of the year; some of them in the fall. This should not come as a surprise. A good deal of the video games being released have fundamental similarities. Combine this with constant technological advancements and you have a system that generates obsolesence. What's hot is what's current. Whatever is not current is, or is approaching, Landfill.
You can certainly find forms of TTL in the boardgame industry too. While I played many a game of "Run Yourself Ragged" as a child, its parts eventually wore and broke from abuse. My brother and I had mastered the game by that point though. My best time, I am proud to say, was 19 seconds.
When you consider games, think about TTL. Longevity. Many video games are referred to in reviews by the number of hours that they take to complete. Many boardgames include an average play time on their boxes. The actual amount of enjoyment you will get out of a game is a combination of two things: Challenge, and Content.
Over Christmas, my family played "Go Mental" (designed and produced by fellow columnists Catherine and Graeme Thomson). My family is not nearly as enthusiastic about boardgames as I am. That said, we played it nearly every day. We were getting about 1 in 6 of the questions partly correct, and about 1 in 3 of the questions fully correct. It was HARD. However, its that same challenge that kept everyone coming back for more. Whenever any of us got a question right, it was a cause for celebration and applause.
There is something to be said for appropriate challenge. If the challenge is too high, the game might be perceived as beyond a student's capabilities. If the challenge is too low, it loses its interest. Don't be afraid to challenge a student, but consider that you might need to give them some "stepping stones" before you really start to push a person's abilities. As long as a game remains challenging, it pays a dividend in terms of a rewarding experience. This is the payoff for your investment.
Here are some challenge upgrades you might consider:
Monopoly to Settlers of Catan
I was already waist-deep in this article before I discovered another article (http://www.flakmag.com/games/catanopoly.html) exploring this specific topic in greater depth.
In Monopoly, players roll dice and progress around the board purchasing property of increasing value with money and developing them to help earn more money. Swaps are brokered for certain prime properties. It stands the test of time as a game that can bring people to the table.
In Settlers of Catan, properties are selected for their value at the start of the game. Dice are rolled to collect resources, the equivalent of money, which is then exchanged between players for other resources. Monopoly explore trading on relatively a simple level, where Settlers of Catan starts to develop broader concepts of scarcity and demand. If you haven't played Settlers of Catan yet and you're reading this paragraph, you owe it to yourself to play it at least once.
Sorry to Ruin
Sorry is a game that I had a hard time enjoying as a child, as I remember repeatedly being sent back to my starting space by vindictive players with a cackle. Players progress their around the board to the roll of a die, and send opponents back to home by landing on their pawns.
Ruin is a terrific new spin on this classic. Players are a team of archaeologists progressing around the board to the roll of a die, exploring an ancient temple. There is the wonderful added element of a changing board; you can delay or halt the progress of other players, or add shortcuts to speed your own progression. Its a light strategic game, possibly a gateway to other more complex games, coupled with a theme that evokes Indiana Jones adventures.
Go Fish to Bohnanza
While Go Fish needs no introduction, Bohnanza is a solid successor. Trading not only serves as a means of increasing one's own score, failing to make trades or give cards away can penalize a player by having to cash in runs of cards before they fully mature. Players are thus encouraged to be generous... a trait that that is hard to encourage in anyone.
Othello to Blokus
Othello is about territory control, with the gameplay boiling down to building out to an edge and eventually a corner position which you can use as an anchor to influence the rest of the board.
In Blokus (my favorite edition is Blokus Trigon), players also seek to control the board by assembling confounding mazes that their opponents must either squeeze through or go around. Two young nephews of mine, aged 6 and 4, completely demolished me at this game several times in a row. Apparently, I still have a lot to learn in order to master this one.
There are many games with even higher degrees of complexity, but these are games I can deliver to a wide audience with ease and will always have a place in my collection.
What's in the box? Much like the difference between a good meal and a great meal, we care about presentation. While a plastic chess set with a cardboard board is every bit as playable as a set with carved marble pieces and fine wood, the latter changes the user experience dramatically. They will never make a poor game great, but twisting the big plastic spinner in the game of life was arguably my primary reason for wanting to play it.
Content does not need to be purely icing on the cake either. A rich game with a lot of options for how it could be played can have just as much impact, even more, than a game with wonderful visuals and a fixed playstyle. Some games I recommend on the basis of content:
This game represents tremendous value inside the box. The game consists of purchasing cards with which to build your deck. There is a wide variety of "mini-decks" inside the box to accomplish this, allowing you to play the same game under different conditions, with many combinations possible before you would repeat yourself. A great tactical card game with dynamic play.
This game is actually a gateway tactical wargame. The mechanics may seem difficult at first, but your young male students in particular will have motivation in the form of ninja warriors vs giant robots and dinosaurs. I know plenty of adults that have sizeable collections of this, and have seen some promotional figures go for as much as $50 or more on Ebay. I have even seen the landscape pieces used to create scenery for other games! With customizable landscape, collectible figures and tactical gameplay, the content of this game represents considerable value.
One of my favorite games of 2008. This dexterity game uses 12 "rattlesnake egg" magnets, which I hear typically sell for more than the game's price when sold individually. The game itself involves carefully placing the magnets on a very small board, with the goal of getting rid of all your magnets. When any magnets collide on your turn, however, you must take them into your hand. Patience and a steady hand is a must. I played this game with another person using a total of 4 boards adjacent to each other... 24 magnets apiece.
Great content doesn't have to be on such a grand scale, either. The gameplay of MyWord is light, fast, and surprisingly engaging. The game fits in a pocket-sized tin, making it a terrific game to take on a road trip. I can't see myself going anywhere without it, actually (It's in my laptop bag right now as I fly to Los Angeles, even though this is just a one-day trip).
Where many video games eventually reach landfill (or at least the "trash can"), boardgames can deliver a truly terrific amount of entertainment and educational return for the money. Discuss the games you play with your fellow educators on gamesforeducators.com. Find out which games are right for your students by sharing experiences with each other. You just might find yourself playing the same games in 5 years that you are today.
That's what I call a good investment.