The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Letters - April, 2004

Philip Ulbrich: I would like to let you know how much I appreciate your efforts, and that your article on the Gipf project has not only energized me, but brought Mr. Burm a nice chunk of change as I have ordered every one of the games in the series so far and will likely order duplicates in the future. I am a secondary Math teacher in an alternative school and will be using the games for my students. Additionally, I have introduced them to my daughters and now have a nice pastime at home.

Jeroen van der Valk: I wish to comment on Dave Shapiro's Brief History of Gaming in March 2004's issue of The Games Journal.

Though an interesting attempt at formulating some sort of historical overview, and a warning of sorts, it is a very uneven piece not thought through well. It is impossible to trace a direct line from Chess and the earliest historical simulations through to modern Euro-games, without including the influence of the Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley as the forerunners of modern boardgaming.

Shapiro starts off concerning himself with a history of wargaming, but connecting this directly to Euro-games is absurd. In fact, Shapiro changes his wording, speaking of boardgaming at the end of the article when he warns about the historical lessons to be learnt from what happened to the wargaming market. Yet earlier in the piece his argument revolves specifically around wargames. Apples and oranges.

Besides, he's missed a hugely important point concerning one of the reasons (I should say the main reason) wargaming died (or at least fell seriously ill). He touches on it, but does not link it. Computer gaming is a solo affair, mostly, and 50% of the players as stated in the survey played the wargames solitaire. These players are much better served digitally than having to mess around with counters and maps and so forth.

Furthermore, the popularity of Euro-games is linked directly to the opposite action, namely the need for people to play games and socially interact in a PC world. Digital representations of popular Euro-games (Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne) fare much worse than their cardboard originals.

So, to conclude that Euro-games may go the way of the wargaming dodo, is unfounded. However, the popularity of these games may wane as people find other ways to interact, a deep need that seems to float to the surface as we collectively tire of the individualism in our society. Still, if the history of gaming shows one thing, it is that games are and always have been an important part of peoples' lives, and this will not change soon.

Chuck Kallenbach II: Great article on the history of gaming, but I had one gripe. He mentions Richard Berg as the "Knizia of the period" with 70 designs. That sounds a little high for Richard in the '70s. Anyway, my main point is that James Dunnigan, also of SPI fame, designed over 100 games in the '70s. So if anybody deserves that title, Jim does.

I realize the current "geeks" are more familiar with Richard's work since Jim dropped out of gaming and got a real job, but facts are facts. All this can't be checked on boardgamegeek.com, since all of those games from the '70s are still not up there. Jim has a website at jim.dunnigan.com, which might help.

Jim Schneider: I enjoyed the article on the history of gaming. I am about a decade older, having graduated high school in 1965 (college in 1975, but that's a long story.) I remember Gettysburg coming out and, with the help of the Civil War centennial, bringing wargames (and Avalon Hill) to greater public awareness. I grew up playing Risk, Easy Money and lots of others with my brothers; board games were our favorite rainy day activity. A few random observations:

One time at work I had to suffer through a more-boring-than-usual HR presentation. The only thing I remember from that day is that the best of the presenters was a young, outgoing blonde who looked like the stereotype of the California surfer girl. We were only a bit surprised, then, when at one point she said "I grew up in California, and I was a surfer girl." She also mentioned that she knew nothing of board games til she went to college in Minnesota. Where you are is a big part of what you do.

I missed nearly all the gaming developments of the eighties and early nineties; my two kids (both boys) were born in '79 and '84. But after years of Candyland and Sesame Street games, they both grew up into good gamers. The last two years, we've gone to Origins together, and when we get together we love a good 3-player game. Thank God these apples didn't fall far from the tree.

Just as I was returning to the gaming hobby, the changes you describe were occurring. I managed to get the Advanced Civilization expansion set shortly before Avalon Hill went under. It was a bit disorienting to have games I remembered fondly no longer available now that I was beginning to have time and money for them. Still, "Life is change—how it differs from the rocks." (A little classic rock allusion.) The new abilities of computers would have changed gaming no matter what the old games companies did. They could have done better, but economic history is full of examples of people, companies and whole industries who couldn't see what was obvious in hindsight. ("Talkies are just a fad." People really said that!) Board gaming shrank a lot, but it would have anyway until the novelty of PC games wore off.

A major attraction of board games, and the main reason I think that they will never be completely replaced by PC or Internet games, is that they are social occasions. My experience of games conventions led me to the conclusion that games are good social occasions for people who are not good at social occasions. I know I fit that description. Games are great; all the rules are written down! I don't wonder "what did she mean by that?" "Is it okay to do this?" It's in the rule book, and in widely agreed upon conventions of sportsmanship.

I think that may be at least partly why the hobby seems so predominately male. Look at (or remember) high school. The boys mostly play, or talk about, games (mainly sports, but those are games too.) The girls are mostly discussing who said what to whom. My wife will join some of our games, but her feeling is that the game is there to fill the gaps in the conversation. We (the boys and I) feel just about the opposite; conversation is for the downtime. Mars and Venus.

Finally, a bit about "Golden Age." I am convinced that the "Golden Age" is never the present. Two reasons the present is seldom as good as our memories, which keep the good and let the bad go. Also, we can't tell if this is a great time until a decline has clearly started. Then, of course, the Golden Age is over. My feeling is that these are good times, and let's enjoy them while they last. 56 years have taught me that good times don't last forever, but neither do bad times.

Todd Keinick: Regarding Anthony Simons' article entitled The Milestone, or as I like to call it playfully "The Millstone", as in boardgaming can be a millstone around your neck.

I rediscovered boardgames around the age of 20. I played as a kid, but never understood the ramifications of what I was doing. I realize now that I was being molded into a boardgamer. Now that I am a lot older (hopefully wiser) I see that I had a seed planted in me that grew into something wonderful/terrible. It is like a tree. Slowly but surely that seed sprouted and grew. There was a drought period for about 10 years when I was too involved in wine, women and song to play any games. That came to pass as I discovered that you can go home after finishing a few pints of the good stuff and play a game of Risk. Who knew that drinking and gaming mixed? It was a lot better then mellowing out and watching television. Risk was my saviour. My buddies and I put in many a long night playing Risk and drinking and smoking.

Eventually nobody wanted to play Risk anymore. They found wives and girlfriends (myself included) and all-of-a-sudden everyone was too busy. That is until I found a used copy of Settlers of Catan at the local thrift shop. A new world opened up for me. I found some new players and was turned on to German style games. Of course my local comic book shop then helped me out in showing me more, and, more, and more games available. Because of this I started up a gaming group. We meet every Monday evening and play boardgames. But I digress.

Now my game collection is too large for my home. As Mr. Simons articulates so well, it came time to downsize my collection. I have also built furniture to house my games. This was over-run in no time. I had to come up with criteria for keeping a game. This is my checklist on keeping a game and discarding a game.

Games to keep:

  1. I keep it simple, Any game I find published before 1968 and Parker Bros. games that deal with science fiction.
  2. Games that are played in my group at least twice in a year. With half the players saying that they like the game.

Games to get rid of:

  1. After 5 games played and I still can't manage a win or a fine second place finish. Let someone else purchase this game. My fellow gamers get first dibs on these games. I will play these games again, but why take up shelf space with these?
  2. Games that I can make some money on. Selling a game for more than I paid for is a big plus.

Regarding "Family games"

Even though my game group plays these games less then twice in a year, I keep these games around for family functions. Trivial Pursuit, Scruples, Cranium, etc. fall into this category. I will keep these games around because these are the only games my wife will play.

So now you can see why games are a millstone. A gamer always wants more games, but what does one then do with all these games? Collect and hoard? Looking back at Sid Sackson's game auction. It was kind of sad. His life collection went for peanuts. Such is the life of a true boardgamer.

Silvio Bogsan: I'm 34, Brazilian and collect games since I was 7. Now I usually play with my wife and kids and from time to time with my friends.

I liked so much the Milestone article that I felt motivated to write. Gaming here is very hard. We don't have access to large scale dealers and need to buy through the Internet, paying high freights and even higher taxes. Our government asks for a 60% contribution from those who buy imported stuff. The language is something we can manage. One word here and there, someone that can understand English, a grandparent that speaks German, and we can translate the rules and then "Game".

People interested in games are also difficult to find. I know there are not many people in other countries too, but with temperatures rising to 100 degrees, it's hard to be indoors, playing a good game. On March 20 Sao Paulo will host the "Boardgame Pawn" (pawn translated to Portuguese means "cowboy"). This will be the 11th edition of the convention. The last time we were 100 people. This time we're expecting near 200 people. We have the "Pawn" party in Rio and soon in other cities.

Neil Bloomfield: In his article, Dave says:

The Cluedo name is based on Latin for "I play" so the American audience, with Parker Brother's name change to Clue, was deprived of the pun.

I am not sure the derivation was direct (though British players were probably much more Latin-literate in the late 40s).

In Australia, when I was young, I played a game called Ludo. I imagine the board was imported from England—in those days (the mid to late 50s), there wasn't much game manufacture in Australia. (There still isn't, but that's a different story.)

Ludo was just another name for Parcheesi—but I suspect Englishmen (and Australians) would have been much more likely to know it as Ludo than Parcheesi. (Nowadays, they are probably more aware of the derivate Sorry.)

Alas, I was unable to find out by browsing the Web when Ludo was first produced, but I would suggest that the pun was more "Ludus" => Ludo => Cluedo—and the reason that Parker Brother's changed the name was that the American audience didn't recognise Ludo as a game.

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