A recent Escapist article offers a thoughtful take on how board games have achieved such high “mainstream” success in Germany. Tyler Sigman offers the following formal factors as the keys to success, which video games should be borrowing (quoted entirely from original article):
- High Production Values. Quality components and well-executed visuals contribute a pleasant aesthetic to the play experience. Wood pieces and heavy chipboard are common.
- Session-based Play Times. With rare exception, games top out at about the 90-minute mark, the high end of what can be comfortably played after a nice dinner. “Appetizer” games in the 20-40 minute range are also an important part of any publisher’s catalogue.
- Family-Friendly Themes. It’s not an issue of censorship; it’s an issue of marketing. The more risquÃƒÂ© the subject, the less buyers there are.
- Make Games, Not War. War is not a popular subject in Germany, and it’s one that is by-and-large absent from Euro-style games. Don’t confuse this for a lack of direct player competition, however.
- Low Downtime. Downtime is clunky, and it engenders disinterest in the waiting (bored) players.
- High Player Interaction. Playing against other humans is what keeps things fresh, unpredictable and challenging.
- All Players Survive ’til the (Bitter) End. May the best player win, but may all players have fun.
- Balanced Randomness. A skillful application of randomness is the key to making a game appeal to both experienced experts and rank beginners.
- Mechanics over Theme. Innovation is a major factor; players won’t latch onto a game with ’70s, ’80s or even ’90s mechanics.
I think this is a sensible analysis, though I agree with my friend Tony’s assessment that the link back to video games sounds a bit tenuous in certain examples; Counterstrike hardly seems like a “mainstream” example from where I sit. I’m also very wary of all claims about such-and-such country being a haven for such-and-such geeky medium, where everyone loves the material and it’s free of stereotype and stigma (especially since visiting Paris and discovering that comicsâ€”American ones, at leastâ€”are considered no less nerdy there than they are here). I think this is a common rallying cry for American geeks who want to change the popular perception of their own fan interests, inspired by a bit of truth but inflated by a lot of hope. All of that said, I must admit that I have found myself wondering lately “what makes German tabletop games so neat,” and this article does a decent job picking that question apart.