Published on April 4th, 2016 | by Colin0
Cardcore Gamer: Big Box o’ LIES!
Board game boxes contain a lot of information to help you decide whether this is a game for you. They also frequently lie their lids off, the boxy buggers!
Part of my job as a game shop denizen (official term) is to enter the information from new games’ boxes into our shop database. You might expect that this would be a useful resource to the average weary traveller (not an official term), but these ‘box blurbs’ are generally composed of two things:
The bullshit takes the form of a game’s description; its attempt to chat-up your idle ‘just browsing’ into serious purchase commitment. Unfortunately, being bullshit, these are often the same eye-rolling come-ons you’ve read a thousand times before:
- The Life Story: Often takes the form of an unnecessarily long and detailed Tale of Epic Events, especially if the game involves a fantasy setting in which everyone is having a big scrap over a deceased king’s favourite chair and hat. May initially seem impressive until you realise how much the dullard likes to hear itself talk.
- The Wacky Superfuntime!!!!: OMG How could you resist the Awesomely Awesome AWESOMENESS of this rib-tickling, side-splitting game of FUN, Hilarity, and *SO RANDOM* non-sequiturs?!? Eye-catching, for sure, but this attention-seeking behaviour rapidly becomes grating.
- The Mission Statement: Invariably begins “In this game, players take on the role of…”and proceeds to clinically lay out a step-by-step plan for your relationship with the game. Nice to know where you stand, I guess, but kills any romance stone dead.
- The List of Assets: How many cards? That’s so great. Really? more than 200 coloured cubes? Wow. And a rulebook? So you’ve got a detailed list of every single component? That don’t impress-a-me much.
…and then we have the statistics. H.P. Lovecraft-inspired co-op Arkham Horror box-boasts “For 1 to 8 Players” allowing anything from a cozy night of squamous terror with your favourite fellow mammal, to a full esoteric weirdness party. It doesn’t mention that the game has many moving parts, and involves plenty of table-talk and flavour text reading, so given, say, 2 minutes per player, you’ll be almost a quarter of an hour closer to death by your next turn.
Sticking with the temporal theme, game boxes often show a clock, hourglass, or other similar device handily displaying the fraction of your lifespan required to complete the game. Kanban bare-facedly suggests a play time of 60-120 minutes. This is not unreasonable if you play at competition level and have the stewards set the game up before hand; even with the minimum number of players, tea breaks, brain cramps and cats-jumping-on-tables, this is not a game you can sensibly wrap up within an hour.
So far I’ve been all grumpy Mr. Problems and not his shiny, ‘probably bald because I’m envisioning Mr. Clean right now’ alter-ego Solutionman, so let’s look at what can be done. The bullshit is a stylistic balancing act of scene-setting flavour, accurate description, and factual information, but as with cinema, ‘show, don’t tell’ should be the adage. Like a movie poster, a game box should not be a novel, nor a technical manual, nor a shopping list and your average game box has plenty of room for pictures and to-the-point text. I’m not fan of Munchkin as a game, but the box is refreshingly no-bullshit.
Statistics need to be reliable, appropriate, and useful. Listing the number of players is stating a fact, but ‘Designed to play best with X players’ can be compared to your own circumstances. In terms of game length, a listing of amount of time per player is thankfully more common these days and is in my opinion the way forward. Ultimately, game boxes exist to sell you a game and will endeavour to show off its best side, but less is more if you want to charm your game’s way into my metaphorical pants and honesty is always the key to my cheap-Ikea-shelf-unit heart.