So… this weekend I had the chance to play Wizards of the Coast’s game, Lords of Waterdeep. I didn’t know what to expect from this style of game created with a D&D twist but now that I’ve played, well, I’m going out and buying this game – it was awesome. A+ to the team that created this game. It played smoothly, it was super easy to learn but the play was complicated enough that choices mattered. It also completely appealed to me as a player because it really didn’t have many effects in the game of the “screw your neighbor” variety – which I hate. Really, it was a fun game. So here’s the rub. I played this game with 4 other guys. At least three out of the five of us are long-time D&D players and yet, as we played, we didn’t interact with the fluff elements of the game at all. Very few people read the quests beyond their type and their completion requirements, the adventurers you acquire as resources were referred to simply as “I’ll take an orange and black…” The buildings on the map, factions you claim, and Lord you are dealt were all basically just mechanics (where there were mechanics).
We never engaged the fluff of the game at all. That’s a lie; occasionally we’d joke self-consciously about some aspect of a turn – like the fact that you could basically guarantee that I’d be spending my turns down at the Waterfront… (hey, what can I say, I like ships?) Seriously though, this has been on my mind for a while, this past weekend just conjured it up at about the same time I watched the Tabletop episode where they play Chez Geek (I love me some Paul and Storm). Chez Geek is another personal favorite – but I find that I’ve been reluctant to play it more recently and I know exactly why that is – just not how to fix it.
I’m reluctant to play Chez Geek because I know I’m going to be disappointed. When I play Chez Geek I like to read all the cards, make jokes about real-life friends who compare favorably (or not) to the action going on in game, and generally riff on the nookie cards or “she who cooks” or “can’t handle it guy.” But the last three or four times I’ve sat down to play, it’s been an uphill battle. It’s mostly just an exercise in playing through the rules rather than injecting the sense of life that comes with the game. We don’t engage the fluff the way we engage the mechanics. But why play Chez Geek if you aren’t into the “story” of the game? It’s not so engaging or complex a play experience that it fascinates when you take the veneer of weird ass apartment living out of the equation…
And I had this experience with Lords of Waterdeep as well. As much fun as I had playing the game (and it does have a complex and engaging set of mechanics) I feel that it really lost something for me when I was the only one at the table speaking the language of the “setting” level of the game rather than the rules level.
This happens at the roleplaying table as well – but I feel that there are more opportunities to overcome this lack of engagement. Also, it bears mentioning that some sessions – like big combats or particular types of dungeon crawls – may actually need players to scale up their rules engagement to keep everyone focused and keep the game moving. I’m okay with this. I’m not expecting every moment of every game to be a storytelling dream. I would just like to see people engage with their games at every level.
I mentioned Tabletop before. I can pretty much say that the games where they get into the spirit of what is going on make the best episodes. The games where they are just, you know, playing, are the weakest – and that’s on a continuum, but it holds true for the most part – go back and think about it.
So, other than being “that guy” does anyone have any practical suggestions for aiding in engagement with board/card games? I’m interested in hearing what others do.
Thanks for reading.