September 2014 Mailbag
A new month, a new mailbag! This time I answer your questions about games for new or non gamers and about the inner workings of the Bottom Shelf. Remember, if you have a question you want answered you can submit it here and your questions can be featured on a future mailbag article.
If you had to pick one game to play with non-gamers what would it be? -Jonny Burro
That's an excellent question, Jonny. When playing board games with newcomers I like to choose games that are played above the table. That is, I choose games that focus on discussion, interaction and conversation rather than analysis and efficiency. A good rule of thumb is if players spend more time looking at each other than down at the board, it's a good candidate for new comer.
Party games excel in such situations including Concept, Telestrations, Time's Up! and many more. But my preference is to use negotiation games. Just about everyone has an understanding of negotiating, even if they don't particularly enjoy it in day to day life. Board games allow negotiation to occur in a safe place with very little at stake. I've been pleasantly surprised at the ruthlessness displayed by some the meeker people I've introduced to board games.
I have two negotiation games in particular that I tend to pull out when I have non-gamers around. The first is Lifeboats. Lifeboats is a game about some shipwrecked sailors heading for land in the titular lifeboats. What's great about this game is that everything that happens in the game is a direct result of a player vote which is preceded by a joyous round of campaigning and negotiating. The next game is Chinatown. Normally I'd be reticent to recommend this game because it was hard to find, but it is being reprinted later this year which is great for everyone. It's a trading game that has you as a business person building up various shops around Chinatown to earn more money. What makes it great is that anything can be traded and it really shines when you start thinking outside the box with your proposals. It can tend to slow down at the end as people start making internal calculations, but I find new gamers tend not to do that as much which speeds things up and makes for a more fun time.
Can you elaborate on your rating system for boardgame reviews. What I'm really curious about is: What (if any) game would qualify as a 2 star or even 1 star game? -Joshua
I use a simple five star system for ratings. No half or quarter stars. I don't have rigid guidelines for my final rating, but rather give them based on the ever nebulous realm of 'feel'. I'll give a game five stars because it feels like a five star game to me. That's not to say that I don't try to be consistent, just that I don't follow a strict rubric.
Generally speaking, a five star game is one I consider one of my favorites. It may not be perfect, but I will almost always play it when asked. A four star game is a great game that has just a little something holding it back from being a favorite. I'll enjoy playing it, but it may not be the first game I recommend. A three star game is a good game. Mechanically sound, but perhaps not too exciting. It's fine and I'll play it every once in a while, but they tend not to leave a long lasting impression. A two star game is a game that just isn't for me. It may be thematic or mechanical, but I just don't like it. A one star game is a game that just doesn't work. No one should consider playing it because of gross misdesign.
You might have noticed that I haven't awarded any game one or two stars. There's an easy explanation for that. As I'm starting off here, I've been reviewing games that from my own collection and I tend to only have games in my collection that I enjoy. It's not that I haven't played a one or two star game, just that they don't really have a place in my collection.
How often do you plan on doing a review of a game? -D. Carpenter
This is still something I'm working out. My goal is to have a new piece of content ready every Monday, whether it be a review, news article or mailbag. So far I've been consistent with this and have had a review at least once every two weeks. I'm still feeling out what works best for me and what types of content hits or misses. So I thank everyone who sticks with me through the process. You really make everything worthwhile. Thanks!!