Board Games vs MMOs

My Wed board game group has added an additional Mon “small group”, where the focus will be on 3-4 player games, or ones that play well with 3-4 players even if they support more (Dominant Species) and especially new (to us) games. Playing a game for the first time while also teaching it to others is challenging, so the Mon group are folks that like to try new games, learn as they play, have extra patience to plow through rules, and play slower in general. Somebody has to take the hit to learn so that future plays are faster and more correct (rules-wise); the advantage is also familiarity makes it easier to teach a game to a new player.

Wed is often about playing something everybody who shows up can play, which often comes down to Resistance Avalon, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, or a 7-8 player game like 7 Wonders, Eldritch Horror, and so on. Every once in a while we split into smaller groups but I’d say the group as a whole prefers to play something everybody can join in on.

The impact for MMOs is Mon/Wed perfectly overlaps the 2 days my WoW guild raids. And if push comes to shove, I’m not favoring computer gaming over RL gaming.

So, my time as a WoW raider might be coming to an end. I’m paid up through the middle of Aug, so I can see if the new Mon group sticks or not, but if it does, I won’t be resubbing WoW.

I’d like to whittle the MMOs I play even further, so we’ll see. I’d rather spend $15 to $20 a month in the cash shops of B2P/F2P games I enjoy, in order to support them.

Board Games

Lately, I’m finding more enjoyment in board games than MMOs. There are some interesting parallels between them and MMOs.

It seems most MMOs are F2P with micro-transactions, however board games are generally B2P. But, only one person in the group needs to buy the game in order for everyone to play.

Some MMOs have subscription fees, and the admittedly stretched analogy here are collectible/living card games, such as Magic the Gathering or Fantasy Flight’s various LCGs (“Living” Card Games – Fantasy Flight’s variant where the expansion packs are fixed sets). This is still advantage board game, because if you stop paying an MMO sub fee you have to quit playing; stop buying expansion/booster packs and you can still play with whatever you have already bought.

The board game equivalent to a F2P MMO is a cafe or store that has demo games for play testing. They may even expect a micro-transaction (buying food/drink from them) in return.

Like MMOs, board games feature PvP, except the PvP in board games is generally better balanced, especially in 1 on 1 scenarios. There is more variety in the conflict, from direct attack (Neuroshima Hex, War of the Ring) to out-maneuvering (Tzolk’in, Carcassonne; basically any traditional euro-strategy game). Some games are noted for their balance and different playstyles of the opposite factions (Android Netrunner).

Like a dungeon or raid in an MMO, board games also feature cooperative modes, where everybody fights a common enemy, solves the group puzzle, or defeats the “AI” represented as the game mechanics (Ghost Stories, Pandemic).

MMOs let players solo, and so do some board games. Some are designed for 1 player (Friday), many others have single-player scenarios (Onirim, Mage Knight). You can take most cooperative games and play more than one player (Forbidden Desert, Samurai Spirit), but not all as some feature hidden information or traitor mechanics (Hanabi, Battlestar Galactica).

Some MMOs have fairly developed economies, so games where you build an economy and try to outpace everyone else may appeal (Le Harve, Puerto Rico, Macao).

Theme and immersion are arguably better in MMOs, since graphics, sound, and a 3D environment go a long way. However, board games offer a wider variety of settings and roles, from underwater robot programmer (Aquasphere) to wine merchant (Viticulture) to post-apocalyptic tribes fighting for control (New Era) to spaceship crew member (Space Alert) to wizard battling others via summoned proxies (Tash-Kalar) to humans trying to flee a zombie attack (Escape: Zombie City) to… well, you get the idea.

As much as enjoy playing MMOs, it is also nice to do something besides killing as the bulk of the in-game activity. In a board game I can be fairly relaxed as a jewelry merchant (Splendor), raise bamboo (Takenoko), run my estate (Castles of Burgundy), be a spice trader (Jaipur) or monk sorting monastery gifts (Biblios), complete quests as a samurai (Yedo), or research and publish potion formulas (Alchemists).

Board games definitely have the edge in grouping and interaction as well, no text chat or Mumble/Teamspeak config required.

With my limited time these days, I’m finding it hard to pay as much attention to MMOs and computer games in general. The obvious solution will be to trim out ones I can’t effectively play solo on ~5-6 hours a week or less, scheduled 100% at my convenience. The culling has begun and I’ll report more on that later. 🙂

And yes, I own all the board games (except Magic the Gathering) I mentioned in this post.

6 thoughts on “Board Games vs MMOs”

  1. Hmm, interesting. WIthin my group of friends, we have a board game afternoon once a month. And while we have a selection of games available and people tend to bring new stuff, it seems like you have a much wider scope on them.

    Thus i am a bit curious if you would occasionally give a little more info on the games you menationed? I lately came to enjoy Legends of Andor (cooperative play against the “AI” you menationed), Pandemic is on the list and Galactica we found to be good fun, as long as we played without the expansions.

    Thus my first interest would be, how well do the other “group vs AI” board games you mentioned actually work? This information could very well decide which will be the next game(s) i bring to those evenings. 🙂

  2. Well the first thing is the analogy isn’t a perfect one – “group vs AI” was more about the player cooperating to beat “the game” like players would cooperate to beat a dungeon/raid in an MMO.

    Typically the way a cooperative board game works is a deck of cards of tiles determines the event the players react to. In Pandemic, the world starts out with a few cities infected, and in between the player’s turn, somebody turns over more cards to see where there is an outbreak. In Forbidden Island, cards determine which tiles become partially or fully sunk. In Arkham Horror and Eldritch Horror – both Fantasy Flight games like Legends of Andor – the game is driven by a mythos deck that spawns new enemies, moves other ones, etc.

    Basically the board game “AI” relies on players to handle and update the game state, typically by updating or adding new stuff to the board. Adjusting the difficulty revolves around turning over more cards (dealing with more enemies) or starting with less margin of error (how many flood cards to turn over in Forbidden Island), starting with more village barriers and applying fewer penalties (Samurai Spirit), things like that.

    I haven’t played Legends of Andor, but I’m sure the basics of how it works are similar – incoming invading hordes of monsters that move in based on game rules, etc.

    1. I am aware of the AI comparison being not perfect. And your guess on Legends of Andor is rather accurate, the most important part is the “timescale”. Every player controls one hero, every hero has 7 hours of active time at hand per day, which he can expend to 10 hours but looses willpower (the equivalent of health) when using the extra 3 hours.

      The end of the day, as well as other happenings in game, make the “storyteller” advance, which is the larger scale timelimit. Certain steps on the “storyline”, of which a number exists to provide different challenges and keep the game more interesting, trigger new events and initiate the monster movement phase, where the monsters follow a predetermined pattern.

      So, i am aware of the basics, but when reading my first posting again, i see why you gave the answer you did, my question was not clear enough. I understand the principles of “rule driven” games (probably a better term than “AI”), but i would very much appreciate if you’d give a little more detailed evaluation of some of them.

      For Legends of Andor my personal rating would be like this: It has enjoyable cooperative gameplay. With several different legends available and several heroes to be distributet over the party, different tactics might lead to success, although you should expect to loose often due to running out of time at the last moment. All legends but the first are scaled to be a challenge and require proper cooperation to complete, and even the first can be lost if the team does not cooperate.

      The ruleset is simple enough to be explained in limited time, but when trying to squeeze out the most of tactical use, reveals some hidden nuances. When playing for the first time, it is advised to play the first legend, which unfortunately unlike the rest of the game is limited to a maximum of four players. The rest of the game can be played with 6 players, which changes some of the game mechanics, including making monsters noticeably stronger, requiring even more cooperation.

      Drawbacks are:
      – While the rather tight goals make the game challenging and enforces teamplay, some people feel too restricted by that.
      – There is a significant risk that one or two players dominate the game and determine all moves, degrading the other players to pure dice-rollers.
      – The dice-based nature of combat can result in some frustrating moments. (See: “We would’ve won the legend if the monster would not have rolled a double-six in the very last round.”)
      – After some replays, the base package gets too well known and becomes boring. There are different expansions, new heroes, new legends, even new maps and other stuff, but they currently are only available in german.

      My interest in turn would be, how do some other games you mentioned compare to that? (Galactica i have played twice. The complexity for the start is higher, you can’t just go with “we will explain everything you need during the first game” approach. On the other hand, due to the traitor element, the “dominance” of one player is prevented and i think that replayability is higher. )

      1. Yeah, “rules driven” is better than “AI”, but again that was just an analogy to compare to an MMO dungeon or boss fight.

        Cooperative games in general can suffer from the “alpha player” or “quarterbacking” problem, where one person determines the best move and more or less bullies everyone else into doing it. Some input isn’t bad, but when one or two people are basically taking over everyone for else, it’s a problem. We just generally tell such a person that they can do whatever they want on their turn and let everybody make their own moves. I generally tell players that are worried about “losing” the game for everybody that it’s a team effort and the gameplay is about reacting to whatever comes up. And I don’t have a problem telling bossy players to shut up and let folks make their own move.

        Some games help work around this with their mechanics, which are typically hidden traitor (Battlestar Galactica), hidden information (Hanabi), real time pressure (Space Alert), simultaneous turns (Escape Zombie City).

        Of my cooperative games (Arkham Horror, Battlestar Galactica, Elder Sign, Eldritch Horror, Escape Zombie City, Forbidden Desert, Forbidden Island, Ghost Stories, Hanabi, Lord of the Rings, Lord of the Rings Card Game, Mage Knight, Onirim, Pandemic, Samurai Spirit, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Space Alert).

        It’s great you’ve played BSG since that’s a great cooperative game and you’ve seen how the traitor mechanic helps limit the alpha player issue. The expansions are pretty good too. 🙂

        Anyway, Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Island are a lot simpler than BSG. Both can promote quarterbacking because each player gets a role with a special ability and using those well is key.

        Lord of the Rings Card Game is a Living Card Game. The core set has enough cards for 2 players and comes with 3 quests ranging from easy to medium difficult. There are a bunch of expansions, divided into deluxe expansions and adventure packs, which all come with more quests (and heroes and enemies) as well. Not too much quarterbacking; everyone will be busy handling their own tableau and offense/defense and contributing to fights. Low luck since half the game is building a deck with the right synergies to win. There are 4 different spheres of influence (themes that the heroes are categorized by) and a lot of variety available.

        Lord of the Rings the board game is simpler; you are grouped in various scenarios trying to survive while Sauron marches forward.

        Arkham Horror is super fiddly, the base game has 12+ investigators, dozens of decks of cards to arrange, lots of bits to deal with (health, sanity, money, attributes, monster tokens), etc. It also has like 9 expansions so huge variety. Games take a long time to set up, play, and tear down.

        Eldritch Horror is a streamlines Arkham Horror, and probably a better place to start (although a few people prefer Arkham. I prefer Eldritch). Same basic gameplay: move around the world, gather clues and items to help fight off the Ancient One. Less fiddly.

        Elder Sign is basically the yahtzee version of the above two games. Far more luck based.

        Escape Zombie City is a dice roller, by the same person who made Escape Curse of the Temple. These games are on the lighter side, easy to learn and play, and involve rolling custom dice for various effects, e.g. gain weapon, fight monster, explore tile. Everyone plays simultaneously, as fast as they can roll their dice, which makes for some fun and frantic sessions. The game is played with a countdown soundtrack.

        Ghost Stories is about defending a village from invading spirits. You move from tile to tile (each tile is a village section), use your character special ability or the tile special ability, gather tokens to help exorcise ghosts. There are ways to stack the deck in your favor, but ultimately there is a fair bit of luck and the game is difficult to win.

        Mage Knight is super complex, and can be played solo, competitive, or co-op. It’s a blend of exploration, deck building, fantasy fighting.

        Onirim is a 1 or 2 person card game, theme is exploring a dream labyrinth. Your goal is to find the exit (accumulate enough door cards) before the you are trapped (deck runs out). Gameplay is discarding sets of cards for gathering items. It’s on the easy/lighter side.

        Pandemic is the classic coop game – fight diseases breaking out across the world. And expansion introduces a bioterrorist, so similar to BSG there is a traitor mechanic to help ward off quarterbacking.

        Space Alert is a real-time game, played with a soundtrack. You and your teammates are on a space-ship and need to react to incoming threats, charge weapons, raise shields, fight enemies, deal with various temporary restrictions and the way this is done is by placing moves out on a board and when time is up (~10 minutes), replaying what everybody did to see what happened.

        Samurai Spirit is themed to the Seven Samurai movie – you are helping defend a village. And… I haven’t played this one yet so I can’t really say. But I plan to soon!

        Sherlock Holmes is a set of scenarios you play through sort of like a choose-you-adventure game: based on text you look up addresses of where else to investigate, gather more clues, and finally try to answer the mystery. Once you finish the scenarios, you’re done since you know the answer.

        Space Alert and Escape Zombie City are the least prone to quarterbacking – players essentially move simultaneously and there is a lot going on.

        Games with high replayability are Lord of the Rings Card Game, Mage Knight. Both are high complexity, LoTR:CG has many optional expansions, Mage Knight has one or two. Each has multiple strategies for winning. LoTR lets you tune the difficulty by performing or ignoring shadow effects on cards, start with less health, and of course in the deck building phase you can add or leave out various available cards.

        Random games are Elder Sign, Arkham Horror. In both game you accumulate items which increase your success chances (more dice to roll, can reroll specific dice, etc.) but luck plays a large factor.

        Basically you’d probably want to look into games like Mage Knight, Lord of the Rings Card Game, Pandemic (with the bioterrorist expansion), Space Alert. Games with more of a luck factor that are still lower quarterbacking and decently replayable are Eldritch Horror, Escape Zombie City, Ghost Stories.

  3. Wow, thanks a lot! That’s a lot of info and quite certainly i’ll pick up some of them in the next time. For some reason, the Escape Zombie City due to the “countdown soundtrack” might be first pick, though. 🙂

    1. Cool. Check out some videos on the gameplay to get a better idea of how it plays. My favorite reviewer is Richard Ham who does the “Rahdo Runs Through” video series. His video on this game is:

      E:ZC is fun but it isn’t a perfect-knowledge-low-luck strategy game. Gotta have variety and this game is fun and approachable to most everyone!

      I recommend trying to watch a gameplay video before plunking down cash – it help give and idea of how it works, and if you decide after watching 20-30 minutes not to get a game, you’ve saved yourself some cash you can use on a different one. 😉

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