Sunday, April 08, 2012

A Dismal Experience

When it comes to Board Games, style of game play is critical to any gaming experience.  A fun game which appeals to your sentiments does not need to come with great or modern visuals, components etc.  Some of my very favourite board games over they years - Circus Maximus, Civilisation, Phoenix Command - came from an age before visual design was at the level it is today, card board counters and basic, four colour, boards did not detract from the immersive pleasure of the game.

Counter to that, where the game concept is wrong nothing will rescue the game.  I for example am no fan of Settlers of Catan, which comes with decent modern components, as I find it an unduly arbitrary game where the tactics to win are so infinitely varied and obscure as to make playing the game no joy for me.

There is no fixed 'rule' I find, I enjoy Le Harve, a complex trading and building game, and the similar and simpler Puerto Rico, so had every expectation of enjoying 1830 when I started to play it at the Thursday club.

Sadly it was not to be.  Where the previously mentioned games focused on trade and construction to flavour gameplay, 1830 was almost solely mercantile.  Play began with a stock sale in American railway companies, and carried on from there in a heavily financial manner.  Although there is a railway construction aspect to the game, it is such that often the choices are virtually made for you by your initial actions and those of the other players, which makes it very like Monopoly or Catan.  Thereafter it's all about making money and the constant tending of accounts, again just like Monopoly.

It also shares something else with that classic boardgame, that is still ludicrously flogged as fun for the whole family.  Once you are behind you have almost no way of catching up, despite the fact the game could last for many, many hours.  Unfortunately games of 1830's age, were designed when it seems we had more time; certainly I can remember playing boardgames in the late eighties that we'd put aside an entire day, or even a whole weekend for.  But that did not mean they were all worth effort!  Todays games are more likely to assume you have only a couple of hours, and this assumption of a shorter attention span has in my view, generally improved gameplay.

After three hours of 1830 I came last, but I'd given up on the game as a form of entertainment within the first hour.  I saw it through out of politeness to me genial, and patient, colleagues.  If you enjoy games with a very deep level of thought required and that pretty much focus just on financing, this one may be for you.  But this gamer would rather shove bamboo stakes under his nails than ever play it again.

Roll on the next game of Carcassonne!


  1. one of the reasons why board games hold no appeal compared to miniatures games - I had one boardgamer (military games) say oh but they have such cool maps and complexity to them where is the complexity in miniature rules? In the end its comparing apples with prunes - if you don't immediately see the beauty of miniature wargames than all the board games in the world won't make up for it.

  2. My early-morning-with-a-head-cold thoughts:

    I dislike Catan, find Puerto Rico distasteful and would rather shoot myself than play Monopoly. That said I like Pandemic, Talisman, Zombies and most games in the Avalon Hill/SPI 70's war games style.

    However, I do not restrict my miniatures gaming to 3d troops and will happily play DBx using System 7 style counters on the table. For me the appeal of a game has more to do with its flexibility than its components.

    In a miniatures game, your objective might be to "Take the bridge". To do this one might use a frontal assault, flank attack, double envelopment, airborne assault or by luring your opponent to your side of the river to be defeated in detail. On the other hand Monopoly's objective of bankrupt all other players really has only one option: Buy properties and collect rents. There may be nuances there but they are much fewer.

    Bad games give you a limited number of options to choose from, good games give you a sandbox in which you can develop and explore your own options. This holds for both board games and miniatures games.

    How much better would Monopoly be if holding the railways allowed you to devalue "suburban" properties by cutting the commuter rail links or what if you could pay Vinnie to go burn down that row of hotels on Park Place?