old style strategy game

Card based strategy – a quick gaming fix

When it comes to strategy games, particularly those involving fantasy, many people have visions of large modeled playing landscapes and hand painted characters. If you peek through the misted fuggy windows in many a games outlet up and down the country, you will still see many people playing this kind of game. For those of us that find this kind of social engagement a little unusual, there is (thankfully) another, more modern alternative.

Playing With Cards

In recent years, we have seen the invention of the card based strategy game. Instead of having to build a large piece of countryside in your spare bedroom – you can now create a temporary playing field on your dining room table.

Typically, cards are placed in the playing area to create the landscape. Different cards depict different types of land use eg, farm, grass, hills, roads or rivers etc These cards then become the game board which players then use to place and move their characters around.

Because of the card based nature and playing style, this also means that the playing area is different every single time you play. On top of this, many of these games also have expansion packs available to give you more cards to create larger areas. More commonly though, the expansion sets contain different sets of cards so you can introduce more types of land into the game ‘map’.

Many of the best strategy board games have taken this approach to some degree. They are without doubt becoming more and more popular – and much more mainstream. The speed of set up, small storage space, changing game map and simple play style all contribute to make these games incredibly appealing.

playing carcassonneWhile there are many very successful and popular card based strategy games out there. There are a small handful that have gained certain level of notoriety amongst gamers. One of the most popular is the award winning carcassonne (read more in this carcassonne game review). Carcassonne has been around for a few years now, but in that time has also released several expansion packs to help keep more experienced players interested. It is a much more accessible game to play than many of its other counterparts and really is incredibly easy to play – this is why it has become so popular and successful.

While we see many other games of this type being released, often themed with films or fantasy/sci-fi TV shows – the basic play style usually remains the same. Create the play area using cards then position your characters on the map to conquer or take over your opposition. This conquering aspect does appeal more to males than females – but it really shouldn’t put anyone off playing. These games promote creative thinking, imagination, puzzle solving and strategies – these are all aspects that anyone will benefit from elsewhere in their lives!

We love card based strategy games & think they will be around for years to come – we can’t wait to see what new games the designers can come up with!

Skylanders Characters

Where will gaming head in the future?

Over the years, board games and gaming in general has continued to evolve dramatically. From their humble beginnings, board games have become more detailed, complex and engaging.

Since the digital world first start flexing its gaming muscles, gamers have had the option of playing in one of two camps: board games or video games.

As we all know the video game industry has come on leaps and bounds over the last 20 years. As computer processors have become more powerful and affordable – more and more people own a device that is capable of playing some sort of high quality game. No longer do you need to own a high spec PC or up to date games console – a smart phone or tablet will do the job just as well.

While board games have also developed during the same time span – they haven’t progressed at the same rate, and to be honest, have been forgotten by the masses.

This new found preference to the digital game comes down partly to the instant gratification that you get from simply tapping an app icon & getting a fix. A board game requires effort to get the box out, set the game up, possibly sit around a table & be ‘organised’.

So where does the gaming world go from here?

Given the worldwide adoption of smartphones & the rate at which the technology is still advancing I think there are still some exciting developments still to come.

Some forms of technology are still working their way through to the mainstream that could potentially be ‘game changers’ for game designers and players alike.

One of these is NFC or Near Field Communication to give it its full title. NFC allows a device to connect to something else wirelessly – the most common use of this at the moment is to trigger your smartphone to behave in a particular way when it is swiped over a NFC device.

Skylanders GameThere have been, however, some other uses for NFC that you may not be aware of. One of these is in a series of video games called Skylanders. Skylanders manages to combine a collectable character in your hands, appear on screen to be played with as your in game character. From a marketing point of view this is genius – you have to buy actual collectable characters in order to play with them as well as having to buy the game to play. One of the games also allowed you to combine the parts of different characters to create entirely new characters and play with them on screen.

This combination of a game element physically in front of you and some of it on screen is an exciting one. Currently, Skylanders is definitely aimed at the younger market – particularly as its latest incarnation is being released only on tablets (no games consoles).

Now if some forward thinking development team would take this approach and apply it to a more grown up fantasy role playing style of game, I think more of us would get excited. The potential market for a high quality collectable & configurable character that you can keep on your shelf, then dust of and play with on screen in some sort of Skyrim style awesomeness would truly be something to behold!

Oculus RiftIf you also consider that we are about to see new life breathed into the virtual reality market with the likes of Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus going head to head to become the new standard. If this was also flung into the mix you could have a truly immersive gaming experience that combines a real world element and puts you in the middle of the action with that character.

The next generation of gaming will be an interesting one – we will see more ideas starting to come through. It may be a time before they filter down through the market place and become truly affordable. But when that happens – we will see some amazing new generations of game come out…exciting times!

Urban Fantasy

Will board game designers follow modern fiction trends?

Over the last few years, we have seen quite a large shift in both the popularity and direction that modern fiction has taken. Most of this we can attribute to the global success of Harry Potter, Hunger Games et al and the more accessible comic fantasy authors such as Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt and Robert Rankin.

The recent growth has seen a big push towards the modern, urban fantasy genre. Authors now create fictional, fantasy worlds that co-exist alongside our own lives. Giving fact based detailed descriptions of an underworld previously unknown to us.

In the last couple of years the most successful of these has probably been Ben Aaronovitch with his Rivers of London series. These mix factual locations, in London with an incredibly detailed world filled with magic, fantasy and other worldy beings. Over the next few years, we will start to see more and more of this kind of story telling.

For avid readers, these new worlds become obsessive places that they want to know more and more about. Some of the more hardcore hardcore fantasy fans among you may complain that these aren’t ‘proper’ fantasy novels and that its a dulled down, diluted world that is far more accessible and easier to read. While you could take that standpoint, I think it should be viewed more as a completely different genre. For me the detail in real locations makes the story far more believable – some of these stories are based in locations that I know very, very well. This means that I can almost smell the location as I read the story.

When new genres appear, they have a habit of influencing other types of media and entertainment. So the question is, will we see board game designers start to use these worlds as a basis for new board games?

The question may be better phrased as being what sort of board games would work when applied to this sort of world? The obvious answer has to be some sort of card based strategy board game. Perhaps think Settlers of Catan or Carcassone – these would both work well interwoven with a modern themed fantasy story.

There is a string possibility though that a new style of board game could emerge from this. That makes for very interesting times – anything new has to be good if only as an alternative to the ideas that we regularly see re-hashed under different styles, character sets, TV series branding or locations.

Ultimately though, the question isn’t if, but when. We will start to see the influence of this exciting genre on TV, at the cinema, in video games and for us, as board games…exciting times!

Chess - keep it old skool

Will Digital Kill The Board Game?

Gamers of all types can be fickle beings. With the emerging popularity of all things digital, how much harm will it do to the humble board game in the long run?

Whenever a new digital gaming platform is launched, generally speaking the first generation of games all give a firm nod back to boardgames. We see classics being converted to digital like chess, backgammon or monopoly. For most people these will never be true substitutes for a real board game – it just doesn’t offer the same experience, or in some cases, the game is significantly different.

Most of us grew up in a pre-digital age where entertainment was a much simpler affair. Every household had a cupboard stuffed full of board games – some bought new, some picked up as a bargain from a jumble sale. They lived in the cupboard much of the time & often had a particular musty smell about them. Board games seemed to be timeless – the same games were playable for decades. Even now, I expect that my mother still has some of our old board games lurking in the loft.

With the evolution of the video game, has come a big retro gaming scene. Gamers that seek out old skool video games to relive times gone by. These same people often also have an interest in board games as well.

This interest in older games will, I think, help preserve the humble board game. While there is no doubting that the popularity has dropped, and will possibly continue to drop off further. There will always be a demand for family entertainment that is accessible, affordable and fun.

Where board games often have the edge over their digital counterparts is that they require brain power and are more often that not, educational. Chess teaches you to look ahead and plan what may happen. Monopoly teaches you about property, London road names, train stations, money and basic maths. Cluedo teaches you to work out scenarios by a process of elimination. This learning happens in a way that has complete focus – there are no buttons, music, beeps, adverts or in app purchases to distract.

While we have seen modern games push the boundaries more and more with fantasy, strategy and adult games becoming more mainstream. These are no longer classed as being strictly for board game geeks or social outcasts. Gaming is once again seen as being socially acceptable…this is perhaps largely due to games consoles, smartphones and tablets being so common place.

While the board game has changed, it hasn’t been forgotten. It is safe to say that they will be here to stay for decades to come and will still provide us with hour, after hour of quality entertainment.

Popbots collectables

Why Are Collectables Cool?

Way back when, collectables didn’t exist. Yes, there were toys that we now class as being collectable, or there were Airfix model kits – but not actual collectables.

It might be fair to say that Star Wars has played a large part in the popularity and increase in collectables. The generation that grew up watching Star Wars when it was released, wanted more from the original series of films. Toys are one thing, but not completely accepted by society as a whole for adults to own & display on a shelf.

Over the last twenty years or so, we have seen sci-fi and fantasy genres become much more mainstream. Because the worlds that they create are full of so much detail and yet have no place in our real world, it is easy to become obsessed by them.

Collectables are successful where they bring something that was previously only ever imagined or shown on screen. They allow you to own that vision and display it within your own home.

In order for a collectable to be popular or desirable, the more detail it has and the more believable it is, the better.

While many people become fascinated with film prop recreations, particularly sci-fi weaponry, others become obsessed with characters or costumes.

While many of us would like to own a full size stormtrooper outift, not many of us have that kind of money spare, or the amount of space that it needs to be displayed in. The same goes for many other film series and genres. In modern society, many of us live in small homes & have fairly limited funds.

The more popular modern collectables tend to be resin casts. This works particularly well for characters – often available as full sets from a series, book or film. Because they are cast using a mold, they are highly repeatable and can portray unbelievable levels of detail.

Some sets of characters have become incredibly popular, with them being released in limited quantities, they often sell out before they are even released.

While to the outsider, this may appear to be an odd phenomenon, the world of the collector is an obsessive one. I need or must have become replacement phrases for that would be nice to own. In short, it can become an expensive hobby with single models often costing well over £150.

Fantasy novels and comic books have also released highly sought after collectables. This creates a must have feeling for both the printed materials and the collectables…this is a world that you have to be in the ‘know’ to have any grasp of in the first place. This is not something you see or find on the high street, and for most, it’ll be hard to find on the internet.

While highly detailed models of made up characters are fun – they are also cool. They can make any office or mantelpiece a focus point, and to the passer by, they must be picked up and studied.

Collectables are cool – there’s no two ways about it.

Destiny - modern rpg

What Are Role Playing Games?

There was a time when, if you mentioned that you were playing a role playing game (RPG), most people would assume that you were playing Dungeons and Dragons. This generalized view conjures up visions of many sided dice, calculations, weird character names and character classes.

Is this view still relevant in a digital age?

Probably not. While it is possibly fair to say that all modern role playing games, have somewhere at their core an element of this approach – they are, on the whole, a lot more accessible and easier to understand. While many people still play traditional RPGs, most of us look at other forms of gaming and class it as being an RPG.

The main core elements of an RPG is a character that you play, the ability to earn experience points, collectable/upgradeable weapons & a trade or crafting based purchasing system.

All of these elements where present in Dungeons & Dragons and all of its offshoots. This has also been the case for many other RPG board games. Now, however, I think it is more common that we class computer or video games as being RPGs.

In the digital side of gaming, the RPG label is applied perhaps a little too often – even to games that many of us would actually call a first person shooter, or adventure. Yes, games can be cross genre, but I think that many of us would still frown at them being called an RPG.

Traditionally, an RPG has always been fantasy based, involving the exploration of mountain ranges or vast plains. The wildlife has always included goblins, trolls and unusual blood sucking vermin. While this can still be the case as with games like Skyrim or Dragon Age, there now seems to be a more contemporary trend that is departing away from these roots.

As gaming hardware has improved incrementally, we are continually seeing hardware pushed harder than ever before. The newest way that boundaries are being pushed is with the latest crop of open world games. These include games like Assasins Creed, Far Cry or Destiny. All of these ignore the goblin stereotype & instead create detailed new worlds and plot lines that we haven’t explored before.

We now expect to be able to go anywhere in a game map that we can see, develop our complex character, pick up anything that we find, and use those found items to craft great new things. These are all core aspects of a role playing game. They all have experience point based rewards systems, they all have currency that can be found/stolen/earned as used as we see fit.

While RPG players have traditionally been seen as the lone bedroom gamer, we are also starting to see a significant shift in this stereotype as well. The latest crop of RPGs are all marketing the fact that there is a large social side to their games. RPG fans can now play competitive multiplayer modes or assisted co-op gameplay modes. This is changing the playing field quite drastically – and by the look of things, the humble role playing game is now becoming mainstream.

It has never been a better time to be a fan of role playing games. They are moving forward and changing as they never done so before. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of the latest crop of RPGs, they will be some of the best gaming experiences we have ever had the chance to enjoy!