Monday, July 19, 2004

The New Games

Fairy tales were once for adults only, full of horror, sexuality, love, morals, and all the good things that make up good art. Sometime in the last few centuries, the fairy tale changed in two ways: the tales became simplistic and less gruesome, and the audience became children.

To sell the old fairy tales to a new generation who scoff at them as children's stories is an uphill battle, both because the name itself has become stigmatized, and because the entire concept is viewed skeptically by a sour association. You can sell "thrillers" to adults, "historical fiction", and Margaret Atwood's "speculative fiction". But not "fairy tales".

"Board games" suffer from the same problem. Board and card games used to be for adults; today, mainstream board games require no more brain than the average 3-6 year old can wield. Games like Sorry. Trouble. Monopoly. Most "games" are not even games but "activities", such as Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, etc... meant for breaking the ice at parties.

Mystifyingly enough, ask the same person if Chess or Bridge or Go are for children, and he will admit that they are for adults, but that he never thought to group them under the term "board game". But Bridge and Chess require so much time to learn to play well, and who has that much time?

I am happy to tell you that the fine art of producing quality board games for adults is making a comeback around the world.

The new games, these games of ours, are games for adults. You can think of them as midway between Monopoly and Chess: accessible like Monopoly, yet engaging for adults like Chess. They don't require a lifetime to master, but neither are they simply a way to pass time without thinking.

They are a lot of fun, like games should be, but they are also serious, intelligent, and often educational. They can stand against any other adult recreational activity, from television to computers to movies to newspapers to drinking beer, and can be considered at least as respectable a use of your time as any other.

Examples of these games, and good starting games, include Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride. Essential information about these games can be found at Board Game Geek. They can be bought at various online stores, such as or

For a good list of games that can rekindle your interest in board games, check out my Holiday Gift Guide.

Board games used to be for kids; board games of the twentieth century were for kids. These games are not for kids.

Good riddance to the last century's board game world, and welcome to the new one.



Anonymous said...

Preach it brother.

Anonymous said...

A good board game is very much needed in the modern times as people are now flocking to MMORPGs. Yes, online games are cool, but the problem is they lack the face-to-face interaction that board games can provide.

Great post. :)
aoc gold

Flotsi said...

Even knowing that there are some differences from country to country (culture->culture), you've very well focused the issue.
Some people also avoid table gaming because of competition. It's much easier to be defeated by an electronic device than by the human friend/husband/wife/son/mother...

Excellent post.

turtlecolor said...

Beautiful. I am teacher at an alternative school and we actually let children develop empowered, responsible and as equals. That said, I am finding that as these children evolve unobstructed by the power structure and illnesses found in most children and adults, they are more creative, self-aware,and in touch with the culture of life itself.
That said, honestly, I would rather play games with adults any day. But! I am starting to realize my responsibility in surrounding these children with these games...these material objects that, like musical instruments, create a reference point for our minds, a meeting point for our souls, and a language in which we can create with our fellow man. Then these humans, who cling to pattern, will bring a gaming culture into maturity.

ThatCowboyGuy said...

I just stumbled upon you’re blog after creating my own as a board game design journal. Even though this was written back in ’04, it still feels true today when explaining to people that you play board games on a regular basis. I must admit I did not know the history of fairy tales.

Thanks for the education.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Thanks, TCG, and thanks to all other previous comments, too. Keep em coming, espeically if you had any first hand experience with New Games.