Risk Factions recently came out and, as a result, most of the people on my friends list have been after me to play it. Now, I’m not going to say that Factions isn’t good. It is as good as a Risk game can possibly BE. But that is roughly equivalent to being the most delicious pine cone in the world. In my opinion, board games aren’t just bad, they are psychological torture. Social experiments designed to destruction test the limits of polite society. And I’ve got supporting evidence.
Let us look at Monopoly as a case study. The military couldn’t have produced a more effective method of causing social breakdown. All of the pieces are symbolic, and markedly different, guaranteeing that the arguments start even before the game does, as people fight to be the dog and the car while inevitably someone gets stuck with the thimble. Next, you give one player a position of power of the others by naming him “the banker.” Gameplay is based entirely upon chance, with dice rolls and random event cards actually LABELED chance dictating who wins and who loses. The rules are so painfully dull that the actual instructions recommend the development of “house rules” to spice things up, but by endorsing the addition of arbitrary rules you cause all manner of other problems. Suddenly there is a home field advantage as newcomers discover that being the boat or the car means you can travel across the crease of the board provided you own the railroads on both sides. The only way to win the game is to screw over your fellow players, producing a universally antagonistic environment. Now toss in the fact that the average game lasts from about 4 hours to when the second to last player goes storming out of the room. It is a wonder there aren’t more “luxury tax” related homicides.
Some of you may say, “Well, sure, everyone knows that monopoly sucks harder than a homosexual singularity, but what about the other games?” Well, first off that was a horribly inappropriate analogy you made and I’ll thank you to apologize. Second, what ABOUT the other games? Board games were frequently created in the days before game balance was a consideration, so one player often has a massive advantage simply by being the first to go. In Risk, the first player gets to attack first, potentially increasing their own empire and decreasing that of their opponent before the first drafting round, thus ensuring that the following round will provide them with a troop advantage and… well, it is broken. Worse, there is no electronic oversight, so cheating is dirt simple and in some cases undetectable. Battleship should have just been called “Liar’s Connect 4.” Nope! You missed again! (Moves battleship to other side of map.) Scattergories? Trust me, play it for long enough and this conversation will occur.
Man: Okay, Television Shows starting with T. I put “Tool Time.” That’s two Ts so two points.
Woman: No. Tool Time was the name of the fake show on Home Improvement. That doesn’t count!
Man: Pfff! It was a show within a show! That should count double! Four points!
Woman: I want a divorce!
Pictionary, Taboo, and all of the games in that category divide the room up into teams and pit them against each other, measuring skill and “how well we know each other” in roughly equal proportion. That means that if you are on the same team and you lose, “YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ME!” and if you are on opposite teams, feelings are hurt no matter WHO wins. These games are relationship killers, pure and simple.
Perhaps the most deeply rooted of my animosities toward board games stems from their non-electronic nature. You see, when I was growing up, just about the only time I played a board game was when there was a power outage. Maybe it was a blizzard, maybe it was a hurricane. The only certain thing was that we were in the midst of a minor to major disaster and since all of the preferred entertainment devices rely upon electricity, we were forced to play a board game to pass the time until we were pulled back into the modern era. I don’t care how good something is, if it is only ever associated with something bad, you won’t look forward to it. Imagine if every single time you got an ice cream cone, a bird dropped a turd in your hair. Are you going to look forward to your next trip to Ben and Jerry’s?
It takes all kinds to make the world. Clearly a large swath of people look at a game that heaps flawed rule sets, annoying implementation, and inherent inequalities, played by a group of adversarial and progressively more hostile individuals, all while they are isolated in a small, un-airconditioned space with no simple means of escape and say “Sign me up!” I usually try to avoid situations that so closely resemble a social experiment set up by VaultTec. Call me strange, I guess. If you are trying to weed out potentially mentally unstable Federal Agents, yes, by all means subject them to a little Monopoly. It is marginally kinder than spiking them with LSD. For the rest of us, let’s try to move on to entertainment that isn’t quite so dead set on destroying the soul.