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Cardboard Children: A Board Game Column

New Gamers Journal


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.



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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