It's 2012. A new start. So I've decided that I'm going to change how I do things here. Instead of doing a FEATURED REVIEW each week like I have in the past, I think it might be more fun and more honest to have a more conversational column where I talk about what I've been playing. You see, the truth is that board games are different almost every time you play them. A three player game of something can disappoint, and then a four player game can totally fly. Your opinions change from session to session, a constant adjustment of your expectations and levels of satisfaction. I think it would be good for you to see those opinions change and develop, and I think it's probably a more honest way to appraise these games.
There are a lot of people doing board game reviews on the internet now. When I did my first video review, there was maybe only Tom Vasel and Scott Nicholson out there doing their video thing, and Michael Barnes doing his written thing. Now it seems like there are conventional reviews everywhere, in video and text and audio form, so do we really need more? I don't think so.
I'm going to fling my life open to you all a little bit, and show you exactly how I game and when I game and where I game. I'll show you the dickheads I game with, too. I'll detail, hopefully in a more organic manner, the way these board games drift in and out of favour as new games come along and tastes develop.
I'm also going to try to combat the “Cult of the New” thing that exists in gaming. I think this applies to video gaming as much as it applies to board gaming – everybody seems to get a bit obsessed with the latest releases, and few people seem to revisit stuff to see if that amazing game we were all raving about has a greatness of any real permanence.
While I work out how all this will be flowing from next week, let me tell you about something very special indeed.
Last week we played our first game of Risk: Legacy. In our group of five, only one of us is a fan of conventional Risk. I can't stand Risk. It's too long, too boring, and too frustrating when those dice turn against you.
Risk: Legacy is spectacular. We all loved it. No. We're all in love with it.
In case you don't know, Risk: Legacy is pretty much a campaign game of Risk. Each player controls a faction and plays through 15 Risk battles, expanding their power. The sweet part of it all is that Risk: Legacy is a game of creation. You will be altering the factions, the board and even the rules as you go along, until you produce a game of Risk that is yours and yours alone. You draw all over the board. You tear up cards. You choose the powers for your faction and you destroy the options that you didn't select. At certain points in the campaign, you will open mysterious new packs of cards and trays of miniatures that will be added to your game.
You will name every continent and every city. My girlfriend Joanne established the major city of Joburg last week, while Richard established a small city called Rikland in California. If I win the next game I will name Rikland's home continent “PRICKLAND” so that Richard lives in Rikland, Prickland. You do all this by scribbling all over the board in ink. When you win a game you sign the board and can even write some trash talk. It's hilarious.
Even mid-game, changes are happening around you. You can choose to “scar” the terrain of a battle by sticking a sticker onto the board. That sticker might, for example, be an ammo shortage that reduces the effectiveness of defenders. But that scar could be there forever, in every game you play afterwards. It's a spectacular idea.
I will say this – after just one play, I find it unlikely I will play a better game this year. It just feels like an important bit of game design. It feels like the start of something completely new. A board game with real choices. A board game less linear than modern video games. When you destroy a card for the first time it's such a naughty thrill. It's dizzying to see this kind of weird indie design sensibility inside a mainstream games release. Here's a component from a fifty quid game, and you're just about to tear it in half and bin it. That's some serious punk shit, right there.
Over on www.boardgamegeek.com there are people trying to work out how to get around destroying their game. They're trying to work out if they could maybe photocopy the components or lay a plastic sheet on the board they write on, or-
Oh, it makes me sad. It drives me mad. Risk: Legacy is not about destroying a game, it is about creating one. Removal is an essential part of creation. What you take out is as important as what you put in. This board game is like a big chunk of rock. Ugly rock, too. Risk rock. And you hack at it and break parts off and end up with something that is beautiful. A game that your group made as you played. Why would you NOT want to do this? Because you're a collector maybe? Collectors suck. Fuck those guys.
Risk: Legacy is a purely positive thing. As you play it you get the feeling that the design came from a very pure and honest place - “Let's make Risk amazing.” An honourable quest. And my god, they did it. Last week my girlfriend (a Risk hater) said to me (a Risk hater) that at the end of the 15 games we should frame the board and hang it on the wall. I agreed that it was a cool idea. Can you get how big a deal that is? That we would hang a version of a game we once hated on the wall in our fucking house? Is there any stronger recommendation than that? And these idiots on boardgamegeek want to keep their copies intact? Crazy.
Fuck collectors. Seriously. Games aren't for collecting, they're for playing. I understand where that way of thinking comes from though. When I started buying these premium games, big expensive Fantasy Flight productions, I would hate seeing people holding the cards with greasy hands and I would panic about people having drinks sitting beside the board. But then you realise that the games don't actually matter. The people do. The good times and the people matter. Not the cardboard. And that's when you chill out and have fun.
And Risk: Legacy GETS that. This is a game that tells you that YOU matter. All of you sitting round that table are the ones who make a game great. Every fucking time. It doesn't matter which game you play, if you have shitty people sitting with you it's going to be a bust. And here's the game that lets you track all that good fun you had. Finally, a board game has that magic I thought you could only find in a pen and paper RPG.
As new as it feels, it feels nostalgic too. Board games used to be things that people house ruled and wrote all over and fucked around with. Back when families had fun together, remember? In a sense, Risk: Legacy is just handing you the power to do that kind of stuff all over again. It's saying “Hey, see this thing? It's yours. Do what you want with it.” These days gamers do a Google search for every single rules issue that arises during a game. We demand FAQs that will resolve any little bit of rules confusion. Back in the day we'd house-rule that shit. We'd change the name of any monster who seemed too strong or unbalanced to FUCKNUT. We'd probably rename the game “RUN AWAY FROM FUCKNUT” and write it on the box.
And think about it. If you were to find a board game up in the attic, one you had when you were a kid, what would you want it to look like? Pristine condition? So minty fresh you could sell it on ebay? Or covered in your childish scrawlings? Decorated with your naïve little drawings and maps you created and new items you made?
When you lift off that lid, what would you want to see? Condition VG++++ or memories?
Risk: Legacy GETS it. Every gamer needs to play this. Every game designer should be forced to play this.