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The Renaissance of Gaming: From Homebrew to Heroic Brew!

Descent: Journeys in the Dark

Back in my student days, I was the chair of the Uni Games club.  I was also an officer in the Students’ Union, which meant I was reasonably well known on campus.  And one of the things that I got asked frequently, when students popped into the office and the likes was, “You do Gaming Society.  Is that, like, monopoly?”

I had that conversation many times.  No, it isn’t like monopoly.  Monopoly is known among my friends as the game that ends friendships.  (Due to its length and the fights it started.  I personally have nothing against it, but in my years as a member of games, clubs I never once played it there.)

When I set up this blog and started hunting for other blogs to follow and talk to, I found one where an avid blogger wrote about how they were disappointed that boardgames are not as popular as they used to be.  I was staggered.  I didn’t realise that some people didn’t know that boardgames appear to be going through something of a renaissance.  But on the other hand, why should they?  With folks getting their television from Streaming Services and Youtube, there are fewer viewers of adverts, and truth be told I can’t recall the last time I saw a decent gaming advert.

Apparently it was 1991…

So, if you aren’t looking for them, maybe boardgames are less obvious than they used to be.  However, despite that, I have to say there has never been a better time (for me at least) to enjoy gaming as a hobby.  I think there are a number of reasons for that.

The First Generation of Gaming Oligarchs…

Roleplay Games have been around for ages, as have their players.  And now, you have a generation of adults who played Dungeons & Dragons when they were kids, who now teach it to their kids.  Not only is there a continuation of players, there is also a group that might in some realities qualify as gaming aristocracy.  Or maybe gaming oligarchy?  Who knows?  The point being there are folks in the adult generation who understand the appeal of rolling dice, moving miniatures and pretending to be something they aren’t.  Which means there are more folks to encourage gamers, and less discouraging views.  Which creates a demand, an increasing number of players which games manufacturers are happy to fill.

Nostalgia

Never underestimate the power of nostalgia.  I have briefly mentioned in other posts about Pathos in classical rhetoric.  Pathos is one of the three pillars of rhetoric, and specifically refers to the emotional appeal.  The emotional appeal in this case reconnects adults, who have busy responsible lives, to a time when they had fewer stresses and freedom to spend any given saturday to playing games and watching repeats of Airwolf.  Nostalgia is also a large contributing factor the large number of the so called First Generation still fond of their childhood hobbies.

Other Media

Twilight Imperium - One of the most detailed games I have ever played

Twilight Imperium – One of the most detailed games I have ever played

Games may no longer frequent our TV screens, however they have their own substantial corner of Youtube and other online services.  When I was trying to decide whether or not to buy Twilight Imperium (Left) I spent many hours scouring youtube for any videos I could find about the game.  I wanted reviews, I wanted to know how to play, I wanted it all.  Which is perfectly reasonable, given how pricey the game actually is.  After finding a couple of videos that explained how to play, I realised the play style and complexity would appeal to me so I took the plunge.

Close up of Descent: Journeys in the Dark. The text is a sni[[et of conversation between myself and a GM when he foolishly put an army of ZOmbies between my Dwarven Cleric and treasure in a game of DnD

Close up of Descent: Journeys in the Dark. The text is a snippet of conversation between myself and a GM when he foolishly put an army of Zombies between my Dwarven Cleric and treasure in a game of DnD

There are plenty of fantastic youtube channels that review games, or that do unboxings.  I particularly like the Dice Tower which was largely responsible for the order in which I purchased Descent: Journeys in the Dark.  And it is entirely appropriate to mention that I bought Descent as I was a major fan of Heroquest when I was a boy.  And Descent is a similar idea, but is considerably more sophisticated.  I will come back to that later.   And speaking of Heroquest, I can’t do a mention of Heroquest and other media without sharing the following:

Quite possibly my favourite video on youtube right now!  Broadsword!

Increasing Sophistication of Games

Games are significantly more sophisticate than before.  Once upon a time it was everyone for themselves, down to and including 1 vs 1 such as in chess.  But you have lots of different types now, and I am only going to scratch the surface of them here.

Asymmetric Games – that is one person versus everyone else.  Heroquest was a good example of that, with one player taking the role of Morcar, the evil wizard.  Descent is similar in that there is an Overlord, and Fury of Dracula has Dracula himself.

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I love leading the Vampire Hunters a merry chase around Europe. Well, merry for me, at least.

These games hark back to the likes of Dungeons & Dragons where a Games Master is required and have a bit of added nostalgia value.  They also have the added element of a human opponent, which means there is a contest, a battle of wills between players which can be quite fun.  I particularly like revealing my outrageous trap cards to heroes in Descent, just after they spent 5 minutes plotting exactly how they were going to move their characters and milk their movement for all they were worth.  Getting inside the player’s heads when you are playing a hidden movement game, such as Fury of Dracula, is simply glorious.

Potential Conversation in Fury of Dracula (My thoughts in italics…)

Player 1: He’s probably in Iberia!

Nope.  Am actually in Turkey

Player 2:  Yeah, he could have got a boat from the UK!

Actually I was in the mediterenean and you lot are all on the wrong side of the board

Player 3: He also used roadblocks on us to slow us getting into Spain!

Yup.  I knew you thought I was there so why not make make that belief solid in your heads

Player 4: Has anyone noticed how much terror he has accumulated whilst we’ve been chasing him?

Chasing my red herrings. I win in two turns…

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Marvel Legendary

Fully Cooperative Games – the  exact opposite of an Asymmetric game, a game where the players are against the game.  To the left, one of my personal favourites, Marvel Legendary.  A game where up to 5 players build a team of heroes to fight a villain and foil a scheme.  Other cooperative games include things like Pandemic, Thunderbirds, and the granddaddy of them all – Arkham Horror.  In a fully cooperative game, you have the advantage of not having to defend yourself from your friends/fight your friends, and you get to have the sense that you have accomplished something together.  It is team building.  Particularly things like Pandemic(lets stop a plague), Flashpoint (Lets save people from a burning house) and Thunderbirds (How did so many implausible disasters happen so quickly?  And don’t get me started on elevator cars!)

Progression Games – and by this, I mean games that players have a choice about how to play their part and develop their play style.  Descent springs to mind again, as each player levels their character up with Experience gaining new skills along the way.  They also have the opportunity to buy better gear along the campaign trail which forces a choice:- Do they hurry and complete the quest before evil wins, or stop off and loot the treasure room?  Twilight Imperium also does this to an extent, as players choose strategies every turn, between politics, trade, warfare and research.  The strategy dictates what special stuff you can do on your turn and if you choose poorly, you might be hamstrung for the next two turns.  Choose well, and you might have a Warsun over Mecatol Rex in turn 7 (A Warsun is a NOT Deathstar spacecraft, Mecatol Rex is a NOT Coruscant galactic capital).  The point being that if you are involved in your play, your game, then it becomes that much more immersive.  Involvement of the participant is something I studied at Uni, when studying Graphic Novels (I was so up for the class debate if someone dared to say Graphic Novels aren’t literature…).  Involve the viewer/reader/gamer and you get a loyal participant.

Players find it much easier to be designers

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I have backed several Kickstarters in recent history, all of them games.  (Actually one was an all singing, all dancing notebook that you can read about on my workblog HERE)  The point being, it is actually a lot easier these days to find sources of funding for people with creative ideas.  And who are more creative than folks who drift between playing firefighters, sorcerers and starship captains? (Yes, I have done all of these…)  Games players, become games designers.  They have that creative streak, and they have the love for the hobby.  And with the advent of crowdfunding, said designers no longer have to beg from banks or mortgage their dogs to pay for their dreams.  They can tell the public they have an idea, and the public might give them funding.  (It is obviously not quite as easy as that, but my principal stands)

One of my mates has a game concept that we played a couple of weeks back.  A post apocalyptic survival game, where players make up a caravan/convoy that are scavenging for supplies.

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Using raw materials that are akin to the backs of cereal packets, this friend of mine had built a modular map system (with some familiar locations…) and created a deck of entertaining monsters and hazards (I am spoiling nothing).  The game was straightforward, and in some respects too easy, but it played similar to Zombicide and I can see the potential for it.

I daresay I will still have conversations with people in the future who see gaming as limited to Monopoly and Chess.  It doesn’t really matter.  My hobby is secure, and it helps me keep my brain in the creative place I want it to be.

2 Comments on The Renaissance of Gaming: From Homebrew to Heroic Brew!

  1. Great post….heroquest is one of my alltime favorite games as well. I hope they do a reprint for it one day. It’s nice to see how the Boardgaming industry has changed over the years, and continues to evolve into new and (very interesting) directions 😀)

    • Heroquest is awesome however in many respects Descent: Journeys in the Dark (an ideological successor in a different world) is actually better. There was something elegant about the quest books though

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