Right, I've had it. I've had it with people in the comments section of this column saying this thing - “Carcassonne is a great gateway game”. Or saying something like “Play Carcassonne with them!” Or saying “Try them with something like Carcassonne first!” Or even just saying “Carcassonne”.
No offence to any of you. Thanks for contributing.
But in my “be positive about everything” approach, I don't often get the opportunity to be negative about stuff. Today, I am going to be negative about one of the games that people suggest as a good introduction to “proper board gaming”.
And then I'll steer you all right.
PLAY CARCASSONNE WITH THEM
Most people don't play board games because they have a perception that board games are boring. To bring those people on board, the last thing you want to do is sit them down with fucking Carcassonne. This dry, static game has somehow been pushed as a great gateway game for new players. Sure, it's easy to learn – how could it not be? You lay a tile and then your opponent lays a tile and then you lay a tile and then your opponent lays a tile and then maybe MAYBE maybe MAYBE if you're lucky you get to place a horrible wee wooden man on a tile. And then you sigh. And look at the clock.
And then you LIFT OFF.
And you're soaring. Bang! Through the ceiling. Out into the Glasgow sky. Through the rain, and UP! UP! UP! Hey, there's a passenger plane setting off to Spain!
ON THE PASSENGER PLANE
Sara, 19 years old. On her LAST family holiday to Spain. She lost her virginity a week ago. A bit late, sure, but she wanted to wait until it mattered. And it mattered. But Stuart is at home, and she's being dragged out to fucking Spain again. The same holiday they've had for the last seven years. This. Would. Be. The. Last.
She looks out of the window to her right. A man flies by, rocketing upwards, cardboard tiles tumbling from his hand. One tile sticks to the outside of the window. It shows some green grass, and a brown road snaking through it. She frowns. What is this?
She taps on the window. Tap-tap.
The tile comes loose, and swoops into the plane's engine.
INSIDE THE ENGINE
What people don't realise is this – planes can't fly.
Inside plane engines, there are tiny little people called “Parpellimonies”. These are little magical creatures, born from the “weeping dust” that billows around grieving families when someone dies. Scientists from Germany found a way to attract Parpellimonies into metal canisters, by using tiny little erotic illustrations. Once inside, the Parpellimonies panic, and their distress causes the containing vessel to levitate. That's how planes were invented.
So, inside this particular engine, a tiny Parpellimony was frantic about being taken from his family, and was levitating hundreds of people all the way to Spain. A cardboard tile fired into the engine at precisely 17,000 mph. It severed the Parpellimony's head from its neck. Sadly, because this was a lone Parpellimony (airline cost-cutting) there were no family-members around to grieve for its passing, and so no new “weeping dust” was produced. Thus, no new Parpellimonies.
The levitation effect was gone.
ON THE PASSENGER PLANE
Sara was thinking about Stuart's tender touch when all the lights went out.
Now, you might be asking why the lights went out when the levitation effect ended. I'll explain. Lighting aboard passenger planes is “sympathetic lighting” created by tiny atom-sized creatures called “Humberers”. Humberers exist on the same telepathic level as Parpellimonies, so when a void appears in the mind-frame, Humberers go into what spiritualists call a “Humber-sulk”. When a Humberer Humber-sulks, its light-emitting eyes are forced shut, much like a child when it tantrums. That's why all the lights went out.
The plane, completely without flight now, started to hurtle towards the ground. Now, let me state this to you right now - not one person on that flight, as it plummeted to a fiery doom, thought to themselves - “I wish I had played more Carcassonne.”
Let's take a look at the thoughts of these unfortunate travellers.
“Why didn't I tell him I loved him?”
“I should have really shagged more women.”
“I wonder if Duke Nukem: Forever will EVER come out! Oh hang on, it did. Never mind.”
“Oh God. How will they recognise me from my teeth, when I have NO TEETH?”
“I wonder if Diablo III will be any good. Oh well.”
“I should have played more Space Hulk.”
Okay, there's a board game reference! Someone IS actually thinking about a board game as they plunge headfirst into the jaws of the Deathgobbler. But it's not Carcassonne. Weird!
Why wouldn't it be Carcassonne? Why wouldn't it be some boring as fuck tile placement thing that looks dog ugly and has you adding things up at the end while yawning? Why not that?
And you! Sit the fuck DOWN!
You're about to tell me that you love Carcassonne, aren't you? Well, to you I say THIS, sir! You do NOT love Carcassonne! You do NOT love that game, sir! You love sitting with your loved ones and doing something at a table, sir! That is what you love! You love sitting with a glass of wine, with your family or friends around you, as you DO SOMETHING ON A TABLE. TOGETHER. That is all, sir! SIT DOWN!
Not one person on that passenger plane to Spain is thinking about Carcassonne as they die. But one person, admittedly a bit of a shut-in, is thinking about Space Hulk. SPACE HULK.
Now, I am not going to tell you that the perfect introductory board game for your cute new boyfriend or girlfriend is Space Hulk. Don't go explaining Overwatch on a first date, for fuck's sake. But the point I'm making here is that THE BEST INTRODUCTORY BOARD GAME IS ONE THAT RISES OFF THE TABLE.
What do I mean by that?
RISING OFF THE TABLE
Like Frankenstein, you know?
People who think they hate board games have never played a game that sent them home afterwards THINKING about what just happened. They haven't been lying in their beds, staring at the ceiling, going over that game and all the cool things that happened in it. Smiling in the dark.
You try it. You. You who recommends Carcassonne. You try it. You try lying in the dark thinking about how you should have laid down that road and try to FUCKING CARE. That shit cray.
Try to stand in a lift, smiling about the time you completed a cloister. GO! Try it. That shit cray.
That shit cray.
If you want to convert someone to board games, if you want to change their mind, you need to fill that mind with good stuff. You need to feed them some stuff that comes alive when they're away from the table. It has to be something that is more than “something to do”. It has to be something they're immersed in, something that feels real. Something that rises UP! Like a Mall of Horror or a Claustrophobia.
And here – finally – is my list of THREE PERFECT INTRODUCTORY GAMES
1. Cosmic Encounter – Possibly the greatest game of all time. This is easy to learn, and pushes any new player straight into an understanding of the greatest base mechanic in board gaming - “Here are the rules. And here's how we break them.” And rise off the table? DAMN, GIRLFRIEND. This game is laugh a minute stuff, with tempers flaring every five laughs. And different EVERY TIME YOU PLAY. It's the essential first-name-on-the-teamsheet of board gaming.
2. Survive! - I've spoken about Survive on this very site in the past. A simple, vicious, exciting game of opponent screwage. Sometimes the best way to hook a new player into board games is to make them care that you just FUCKED THEM UP by, for example, throwing them down a sea monster's throat.
3. Magical Athlete – This amazing Japanese game is similar to Cosmic Encounter. It's a roll and move race game, with a host of crazy characters. You draft a team of these characters at the start of the game, and each character breaks the game's rules in some way. For example, the Merchant, instead of rolling for movement, can use his power to switch places with any other character in the race. And the Centaur can kick a character back one space whenever it overtakes. And the Assassin can kill a character after the draft. And all these powers work with each other in weird ways, making races unpredictable and hilarious and wonderful.
And I think that's enough. That's plenty. You'll notice that two of these games are based around rulesets that are changed and fucked around with – people who view board games as boring think that they are these rule-heavy strict dull things. Show them some games don't take THEMSELVES seriously, and you're onto a winner.
And I could change my mind on this list next week – my main point is that Carcassonne would NEVER be on any of these lists. Never. It's a Parpellimony-killing Humber-sulker of a game, responsible for the deaths of hundreds of holidaymakers.
JACK VASEL MEMORIAL FUND
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Next week: Call of Cthulhu