Age of Steam

Board Games in the Age of Steam

It was easy to like HeroQuest thanks to its miniatures and other pack in materials.

Board games have been a staple of mine for as long as I can remember. I started with family board games like Snakes and Ladders, and moved on to more advanced games such as Monopoly, and various other games.

Once I entered my double digit years I got into more complex ones, which I’d call story based board games, in the form of HeroQuest and Space Crusade. Based on Warhammer and Warhammer 40K from Games Workshop respectively, these were literally both tabletop miniatures wargames distilled down to a board game adventure.

Many aspects of the source material and role playing games in general were carried over. Both HeroQuest and Space Crusade came with little plastic miniatures for navigating through the map and positioning yourselves during battles.

A nice bonus was once you have completed the adventure you could carry over your character into the next adventure. This was awesome, for a 10 year old; a game didn’t have to end just because you finished the board.

Space Crusade's battle screen on the Atari ST.
Space Crusade’s battle screen on the Atari ST.

In addition to the miniatures, there was also plenty of colour pictures of them in the package; from this I got into painting miniatures and while I enjoy it I still have plenty of them left unpainted. In the end I bought all of the expansions and continued to paint and play.

Later, the Atari ST (also Amiga and PC) got home computer versions of both games. I loved it and could play the games when ever I wanted and didn’t have to wait for others.

Once I started working I bought complete sets of Battlefleet Gothic with my first paycheck, then didn’t really have anyone to play with, so they ended up in my paint pile. I also have Call to Arms Babylon 5 miniatures also waiting in line, having had some star wars one skip the queue.

Having moved on from some of the simpler games, I moved on to Descent: Journeys in the Dark, which is an advanced version of Hero Quest, and has links to the Runebound board game. I also collected lots of different board games such as Talisman, Star Craft, Marvel Heroes, Kingdom Builder as well as many different versions of Risk and Monopoly. The Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Miniature Games (space ship/fleet tactics) were fun too but the random element of collecting figures wore off quickly… maybe not quickly enough.

Kingdom Builder’s random mechanics help to keep the game fresh; it’s a popular trick used by many modern board games.

I organise a board games day every long weekend where friends show up from 10 am and leave sometime after 10 pm (usually midnight) with a drop in and leave whenever you have to with the players. This has worked well for a number of years. Most parties also tend to go towards board games as well, which being a game addict is a good thing for me.

Xbox 360 had plenty of board game titles including Ticket to Ride,  Catan and Carcasonne. Some of these I had not picked up myself in board game form due to friends in my group already owning them but I was glad to pick them up for the 360 and play them online. Most of my time was solo vs the AI, as it meant I didn’t feel too bad about screwing with the opponents, I still got a lot of satisfaction playing the game. It helped that I won a lot.

Then they advertised Talisaman coming to Xbox 360, I checked that store almost weekly, just to see when it was going to show up as a pre-order. I had the details stuck up in my study for a while. Then once the time had passed and I managed to Google details on it, I discovered that it had been cancelled…. this was bad news for the electronic gaming market….

Then Steam started getting some of the games as well, so now I have Talisman (It made it to PC instead of the 360), Ticket to Ride and Small World 2. These games take a long time to play in real life, and set up takes 10-20 minutes depending on how well you know the rules, and about as much to pack up.

Talisman is over thirty years old.. and still going.

Playing them through Steam, takes a button click to set up, most of them have a save game facility (something hard to do without having a “game room” where you can set up on a table and keep cats and family members out till the next time the game can continue), a indisputable rules lawyer (hard to argue with programmed rules) and a game time less than 30 minutes.

Now this was a fantastic move, I have a few games where this would be critical to getting more players into the game. Twilight Imperium you need to be digitised…. you are a fantastic game, but you take so long to set up, players have a hard time interpreting the rules and even with in game animation of dice rolls and cards being drawn you’d still speed up the game more than 50% of the time…

I see the future of board games being an interactive tabletop where you don’t have to set everything up and it manages those tedious rules for you…

Though as a “reformed” rules lawyer I would have to say house rules and interpretations would be lost in the pure electronic age; for what is not coded can’t happen. And I don’t want to have to code modifications (if allowed) to these games just to cater for my own house rules.

My next post will be on Role Playing Games, with how Steam can get on board with them more….

Age of Steam:

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