Cardboard Children: A Board Game Column

By Robert Florence on March 26th, 2013 at 6:00 pm.

1. NEW GAMERS JOURNAL – INTRODUCTION

See the Raven.

Watch the Raven as it watches you.

Time is running out for you. The Raven, one of many, will watch forever. Your eyes, however, will close.

Welcome to this week’s column about board games.

BOARD GAMES

 

Everywhere we look today, board games are being written about. On this website and that. Even on a news website operated by a broadcasting company. Board games. Games. Toys. People want to play. People are happy to play now. People are unhappy enough to play.

 

We need games. If you’re a regular visitor to this website, you’ll understand that. We need play, to keep us sane, to distract us from that giant black door. We all see the door, from the corner of our eye. The door that swings open in the middle of the night, and never gently. Always with a crack, like a whip, as if a boot has kicked it. And who wears the boot? No-one. That’s the terrifying thing. The boot doesn’t exist. Only the door exists, and everything on this side of the door. Only the Raven exists, and us.

 

We barricade the door with whatever we can.

across one way and


 

the other.

 

Many of us will strap S E X across there, multiple times, and many of us nail D R I N K and D R U G S across the gap between door and frame, letting no light through.

 

We nail G A M E S across there, not because we are like children. (Children are nailing T I M E across it.) We nail G A M E S there because we understand that every moment of escape is a moment of escape, literal and real. There is more value to these experiences than the analysis of components and structure would suggest.

 

As someone who has written about board games for a few years now, and video games for much longer, I find myself questioning why I even do it. Does it make me lots of money? No, it doesn’t. Does it take me a lot of time? More time than you’d think. I often scrap pieces and restart them. I redraft a lot. And I like to play the games for a fair amount of time before I talk about them. So it’s important, I think, that there is an answer to the question “What is the fucking point?”

 

As I polish this column this morning, reviews of Bioshock Infinite are starting to appear everywhere. The enthusiasm for the game sounds like hammering to me. I like that sound. Doors being boarded up everywhere. If Ken Levine has created another escape, a rise into a blue sky on a skyhook, then that’s a wonderful thing.

 

These escapes are the point. These planks of wood and this handful of nails are the point.

 

When I get tweets from people who say they’ve started playing board games because of something I’ve written, I see clearly what the fucking point is. I’m handing out nails to people. The game creators, those miracle workers, are the ones providing the wood. I’m just handing out dirty little nails. “Yep, that wood will hold nice. Hammer it in.” I’m just a guy in grubby overalls, pointing people in the direction of the workbench.

 

“You don’t have to think about that stuff. No-one has ever escaped it, and neither will you. Now why not go and play Nexus Ops with your sons?”

 

It’s important that games writers never get above themselves. You can see it sometimes, in the arrogance of some writers on major games websites. Most of them American sites. An inflated sense of their own importance. They think they’re providing the wood, not the nails. It’s nice to pretend you’re arrogant and big-headed. I do it all the time. But that’s just another kind of barricade. That’s a “Fuck the Raven” approach. What you can’t do is let that act become a reality. You need to always feel the nails in your hand. Rusty, old, re-used nails for freshly cut wood.

 

You do not have to think about that stuff.

 

As we invite our friends to play games with us, as I hope we all will do, I suggest you never show them this column. They won’t enjoy all this talk of ravens and enormous black doors. They’ll recognise it, but they won’t enjoy it. They’ll think we’re mad, maybe. They’ll say “It’s just games. What’s this guy on about? He’s talking about people with ego and he’s writing this thing about his fear of death. I hate this guy! And by extension, I hate you!” So don’t show them it. This introduction is for us. We get it.

 

Under the eye of the Raven, cowering at the foot of the door, we get it. Clutching our toys to us, we get it. You have to grab a handful of nails. You. Yes, you! You have to grab a handful of nails and put them into the hands of your friends and loved ones. They will NEVER UNDERSTAND how compassionate that act is, until they’ve joined you in nailing some wood to a door and actually felt the splinters of this idea in their fingers.

 

We can bring new people into gaming. Not as critics, or as writers who think they’re some hot shit. Not as bloggers or as dudes who do unboxing videos. We can bring new people to it as the scared people we are, desperate for a few more days of joy under the gaze of the Raven.

 

Fuck the Raven. Fuck that Raven.

 

Fuck the Raven.

 

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56 Comments »

  1. Kefren says:

    Awesome. Words are your tools and nails. I play so many boardgames games since I started reading this column. In the past no-one would play my Games Workshop classics (Warrior Knights, Talisman, Kings & Things) but now I have a lovely collection that brings even non-gamers in. Thanks Rab. On Sunday I took a load of games to someone’s house, got work colleagues (who had taken Cluedo) to play For Sale, The Resistance: Avalon, and Jungle Speed instead. Three very different games, but all the players smiled during each one, magical. Ha, I got colleagues to play Avalon. The average age in the room (not counting me) was c.45 and they played Avalon and loved it. A win for games.

  2. pakoito says:

    staring eyes tag please

    • sbs says:

      But… but birds can’t stare! Their eyes are like facing in opposite directions!

      • phuzz says:

        Except Owls.
        Because owls are fucking boss ok?

        (Actually most predatory birds have mainly forward facing eyes, so they can get good depth perception on their prey. Prey species often have sideways facing eyes so they can spot predators sneaking up on them.)

  3. Lambchops says:

    Obligatory clip from CBBC show Raven:

  4. Hikkikomori says:

    Me and my partner started playing board games because of something you’ve written.

  5. Dr. Shenanigans says:

    This was brilliant. I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing for the past few days, and you’ve put this into words beautifully.

  6. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    For the record, raven tastes horrible.

  7. frenz0rz says:

    Rob, never stop writing.

    Keep giving us nails.

  8. Syphus says:

    I gotta say, I was kinda hoping for a review of Relic instead of whatever I’m supposed to call this.

  9. MOKKA says:

    Perfect timing as just a week ago I ran out of nails for a few days. It was scary.

  10. sinister agent says:

    This is like, everything I didn’t include when talking about depression, just because it seemed like a whole new tangent (also because I didn’t really have words half as good as these). But oh god. Games have helped me get through some bad, bad times.

    Thank you for writing this.

  11. CptHowdy says:

    This helped me to appreciate games even more. What a fantastic article, thank you.

  12. Synesthesia says:

    I often talk about this with my friends. Thanks, rab! This is a wonderful piece. You pushed me headfirst into this hobby, and i’ll always be grateful. Last saturday, we started playing space alert at 3pm, and finished with a castles of burgundy at 3 am. It was absolutely obscene. And beautiful. When i closed the door and i was left at the house with my partner, i was a happier man. I’d been in space, infected by shrimp-like space creatures, chased around by zombies, the king of my 15th century castle. I was slightly less alone, Thank you, thank you, thank you. If you ever swing by argentina, i’m buying you a beer.

  13. Enkinan says:

    What an awesome article. RPS got me to get my children in to board gaming with Dungeon! over the holidays.

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/11/18/cardboard-children-dungeon/

    Since that we have begun to buy and play more board games together.

    I love multiplayer video games, but there is a big difference between the three of us playing Minecraft at the same time talking to each other while staring at a screen and looking right at each other deciding whether or not to make a trade playing Catan. Good stuff guys.

  14. Deme says:

    Been reading RPS daily, almost since day one. This might just be the best article I’ve read so far. Thank you.

  15. BooleanBob says:

    All of us. All of us, all of us.

  16. Jesse L says:

    You know, I’m sitting here at my job so depressed over the death of my child that I literally almost cannot work, and I just can’t wait to get home so I can play Warframe and forget about my life, but in my opinion, this prose is a little overwrought.

  17. GernauMorat says:

    Overwrought is one (mild) way of putting it

  18. DickSocrates says:

    Ravens and black doors, eh? It’s so… deep.

    We are truly in the presence of a great mind. And one that’s not afraid to let us know it.

  19. pakoito says:

    I lost my job recently, and in the middle of the search-interview-failure spiral. I’m going through my backlog, plus 21h on Dark Souls and a hundred-something in Dota in the past two months.

    Also, does anyone know who may be hiring Junion Android devs? :P

  20. TheTourist314 says:

    Ugh. You have written the best words, truly.

  21. nemryn says:

    Fuck The Raven is loads of fun, but there’s far far too many little pieces and fiddly rules, and it’s got too much politics for my taste. I can only give it 7/10.

    Also, RAVENFACE.

  22. Easy says:

    <3 you Rab.

  23. DrollRemark says:

    Perhaps we could just convince the crow that the US embassy, or some other suchlike utility was nearby.

  24. Jae Armstrong says:

    Oh. Oh no. Cara has killed Rab, devoured his innards and taken to wearing his skin as a stylish cloak. We’re in trouble now.

    (<3 you really ^_^)

  25. X_kot says:

    Rab’s musings here remind of Raph Koster’s Theory of Fun, wherein the author defends his career making games by arguing that play is a form of learning and that designers help facilitate that learning process by providing players with a safe space to experiment. People who make and share games perform a humanitarian service, and like social workers or teachers, they are undervalued in capitalist society.

    Fun is serious.

  26. Manic Miner says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this piece.

    Reminds me of playing chess with the reaper…

  27. Drakedude says:

    Thanks for the reminder. The point, is to turn around.

  28. Devilturnip says:

    I am continually impressed by how rarely this column is actually about board games.

    • mondomau says:

      That was needlessly snarky. But it did make me laugh quite a bit in the wake of so many painfully earnest responses.

  29. mineshaft says:

    Cracked eggs, dead birds
    Scream as they roll for life
    I can feel death, can see its meeple eyes
    All these cards into position
    All these pieces we’ll one day swallow whole
    And fade out again

    /forgiveness please

  30. cpugeek13 says:

    This reads more like an undergraduate creative writing paper than professional journalism. I’m sorry, but this really should be on a personal blog, not on RPS.

    • tumbleworld says:

      I couldn’t agree less.

    • souroldlemon says:

      i started reading rps because it does writing. News & reviews too, and they’re good, but there’s so much of that around anyway, even if most of it is recycled.
      I found most of the comments on Cara’s recent piece that caused a hullaballoo irritating, including the unbigoted ones, because it was all so irrelevant. We’re getting world class real writing, for free, from an incredibly talented team, and there are always people who moan about it.
      I just enjoy it.

  31. Jubaal says:

    Beautiful article Rab, I can stongly empathise with this.

  32. TinkiYuki says:

    The Stranglers album of the same name is a classic.

  33. Martel says:

    I can say that I’m also somebody that, through your writing, has found boardgames again and introduced them to friends and family for some very good times.

  34. Canisa says:

    Meanwhile, I’ve got a bunch of white men with crowbars labelled ‘racism’ and ‘misogyny’ who keep coming along to pry all the wood off my door so they can steal it for themselves.

  35. Quickpull says:

    Personally I think the offhanded American stereotype is what really made this piece

  36. TooNu says:

    Cheers Robert. I became obsessed with your CitOW video and watched it a few times over the course of a month. Each view further cemented the idea that I have to own this game and play it with many people. I’ve succeeded in teaching about 12 people this game, and every single person has said something to the effect of, “I didn’t think I would enjoy it, but I want to play that again, when can we arrange for another game?”.

    All because of the video.

    I also think it’s important to just give people nails, and build on our hobby together. So cheers for the nail that multiplied by itself and cheers for writing well about board gaming.

  37. zagorianski says:

    Brilliant, sir Robert, as usual.

  38. MassiveBereavement says:

    Don’t you find that sometimes, even a games night isn’t safe from The Raven?

    Picture this…

    After work with a desperately assembled collection of work colleges. It wasn’t always like this. But recently, your regular group had started to drift. The usual excuses. Other commitments. Other shit. All the right noises. But you secretly suppose that in honesty it was because they found it a bit dull. A bit…odd.

    Now you find yourself here, around a meeting room table after hours with a bunch of uninitiated ‘associates’. Most of which you’ve barely ever spoken to aside from the occasional awkward “yalreet” moment while brushing shoulders in the pisser. It’s a high risk strategy. Nobody would deny that. But nobody suspects. You’d kept the office wide email invitation of a ‘gaming evening’ flippant enough. They don’t need to know about your dark gaming needs. Keep it light.

    So we’re off. And it never did feel quite right, but that fucker to your right…Richard? Who the fuck invited him anyway…he aint even giving it a chance. For over an hour now, he’s been suffering from an acute bout of what those in the inner circle refer to as ‘analysis paralysis’. He doesn’t know that though. He hasn’t got the vocabulary for it. Too normal. Or maybe he does? Maybe he’s sticking the fucking knife in over that off colour remark you made about his shoes months ago?

    Anyway, it started off uncomfortable, but now he’s threatening to put the kibosh on the whole bloody shooting match. Ten minutes, he’s been looking at that board and he’s got two, at best three viable moves. Oh they’ll be having a good snigger about this tomorrow. What a fucking farce. “Move the fucking meeple!” you want to hiss. Nobodies having fun, and that’s all your fucking fault. Your mind begins to drift. The futility…

    And that’s when The Raven appears. Soaring majestically across the room before pebble dashing all over the board. Ruined. That shit never comes out. You’ll never be able to enjoy that particular game again. With anyone. Forever it’ll be smeared with the death stain. The death game.

    “What is the fucking point?” you bark. Sending all the pieces flying with one broad stroke of your arm. Flicking Raven shit in faces.

    “I’ve got one foot in the grave and another one being pecked at and shat on by a fucking death raven”

    You don’t look back as you leave the office. That next “yalreet” moment is going to be quite something.

    Maybe you shouldn’t have chosen Carcassonne…

    p.s. Rab. You’re the bollocks :-)