I started gaming in the late 70s, when my brother taught me hard-core Avalon Hill board games like Third Reich and Panzer Leader. He was 6 years older than me and looking for someone to resoundingly beat at these games, and he found me (and I was well and truly beaten). I played a lot of board games in the 80s, but, even as Trivial Pursuit became a craze that restored the lustre of ‘party games’, the type of game that I played, ‘hard-core’ board games, was overwhelmed by the onslaught of computer games. One-by-one, the giants of the board game industry (Victory Games, SPI, then finally Avalon Hill), slid under the waves, and the industry disappeared.
Even though all the giants of the 70s/80s are gone, there’s a new generation of board game makers out there, making games that have simpler rule sets and less pieces, but still have great strategic depth.
A couple of years ago, I was in talks with Eagle Games about doing a board game version of Railroad Tycoon. That never happened, unfortunately, but Eagle Games has done some solid board games, including both original titles like Attack! and ‘ports’ of computer games like Civilization (i.e. they make board game versions of games that originate on the computer.)
In the last two months, I’ve been addicted to Ticket to Ride, by Days of Wonder. I’m actually playing the computer version of the board game – it plays on the computer but feels like a board game. And the on-line version is free to play, and can be learned quickly. Highly recommended.
Finally, in a slightly different, but still interesting direction, I had lunch yesterday with a local entrepreneur, Stuart Montaldo, who has been producing a line of board games (Cogno) aimed at kids 7-13, that include educational science content, but are designed to camoflage it so well that the kids don’t even know they’re learning as they have fun. His games have won all kinds of toy industry awards, and lo and behold, there’s a lengthy feature about him and his company in this mornings Wall Street Journal (Marketplace section, bottom of the front page). He seems to be on a successful trajectory, too.
More power to the board games. As strategic PC games and educational games fade in the marketplace, perhaps this is just the cyclical return to another proven kind of entertainment. And maybe, just maybe, in 10 or 15 years somebody will write a similar blog piece about the return of PC and educational games.
[edit – So I was checking the various sites mentioned above to grab the right links, and I see that the deal for the Railroad Tycoon board game went forward after all, and the game is now out! Very cool. I will be checking it out and posting my thoughts in the future.]