…(And Why You Shouldn’t Be a Hater)
Splendor, the 2-4 player light Eurogame about buying gems and impressing patrons, just did its best Lord of the Rings impression and swept BoardGameGeek’s Golden Geek Awards. It won Board Game of the Year and Family Game of the Year, and was nominated for Best Artwork and Presentation.
Until a few weeks ago I’d played Splendor twice, and panned the game while being generally dismissive of its popularity. It’s very light, the theme is tacked-on, and much of its appeal is based on the heavy, high-quality poker chips that represent gems in the game. It’s not a “gamer’s game”, it’s not deeply strategic, and it doesn’t engender any kind of special interaction between players. I said as much in the only negative board game review I’ve ever written.
I was totally wrong.
Splendor is undoubtedly guilty of the above things, and yet, it’s wildly popular. It’s a gorgeous game, beautifully crafted and it looks great on the table. It’s profoundly accessible, with the same “choose from three actions” design that makes Ticket to Ride and Alhambra so easy to teach and learn. The set-up and take-down time is measured in seconds, so there’s always time to play a quick game.
I played a two-player game of Splendor recently and loved it for the same reasons I love the first few levels of an MMO. The game progressed quickly, I made small choices, I was rewarded with small achievement after small achievement, and eventually I won the game. It was achievement addiction in board game form and I was a sucker for it. I’m shocked by how much I liked it, and it’s prompted me to reconsider my relationship with games, including my need to critique everything I play.
Ludology podcast host Geoff Englestein has a family motto, “Make Your Own Fun.” He mentioned this on a recent episode as a way to encourage his kids to make any game fun by molding the experience into something they’ll enjoy. There are many games that require this kind of proactive approach to the experience, like storytelling games and theme-driven games like Betrayal and Tales of the Arabian Nights. To paraphrase Geoff, it’s not enough to sit and wait for somebody to entertain you – you have to find ways to make fun for yourself.
Try new games, even if you don’t think you’ll like them. If you’re a game designer, you’ll get the most new inspiration from experiencing things outside your normal areas of play. As a game player, you’ll find that the occasional foray into a new genre will bring back that magic feeling of being new to the hobby, which should reinvigorate you when playing the games you already love.
The Golden Geek Awards reminded me that games don’t have to have incredible complexity or intricate stories to be fun. I don’t have to be a game snob; in fact, it’s better for me as a designer to be open to all possible types of fun. It’s more important that a game is fun than that it’s a marvel of design (at least when it comes to sales), and it’s just more satisfying to drop the need to be a critic and let myself experience games like I did when I was new.
Go find a game you don’t like, drop your guard, and see if you can put yourself in a place where you enjoy the experience. You’ll be a better game designer and a more positive member of the hobby as a result.