Thursday, 29 December 2011

Trial By Fire

Having tried out the latest Talisman expansion last night, I got to thinking about the nature of board games.  The catalyst for this consideration was my immediate reaction to the change in experience the new rules offer, which is best described as "Making a long game even longer."

Obviously, a man who'll sing the praises of Arkham Horror to anyone who'll listen can't complain too much about games that suck up time.  Not all examples of time dilation of time are equally welcome, however. The problem with "The Dragon" isn't that it ramps up the difficulty per se, it's that in doing so, it makes the game even lonelier than it was before.

Let me explain.  Some competitive games are lonely, and others are not.  Snakes and Ladders , for example, is as lonely as they come.  If one were so inclined, one could email the same S&L board to a half dozen of your friends, have them play it alone, and then compare the number of dice rolls each of you required to get to whichever corner you were aiming for.  That, I would argue, is a lonely game.

Care must be taken here, of course.  S&L is not only a lonely game, but one entirely devoid of skill, and it's important not to confuse the two.  Talisman is not devoid of skill, by any means, (contra my friend R, who is convinced the whole exercise is nothing more than Ludo played on a gigantic and exceptionally entertaining board) but it can still be a somewhat lonely game, in the sense that one's interaction with the other players is fairly minimal compared to one's interaction with the game itself.  How many times do you encounter another player and attack them, or cast a spell designed to impair their progress, compared to how often your turn revolves around only where you've moved to, and what happens to you there?

"The Dragon" skews the proportion even more in favour of strategic solipsism.  It takes the game one step closer to being played independently, with everyone involved simply noting how long it takes for them to beat their own personal Dragon King, and comparing times.

That, irrespective of how interesting the new rules, cards and characters prove to be, strikes me as something of a shame.

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