« Blog

Hello, I don't speak board games

So, I recently joined a board games group. For context, I have always loved board games. My family and friends also enjoy board games. It’s just unfortunate that they don’t enjoy board games half as much as I do. Consequently, after over a decade of patient participation I decided to give my loved ones a break and indulge my ludological longings elsewhere.

The step up (down?) from being the most experienced gamer at home to the least experienced gamer in a public group is intimidating. But for others considering it, I can report that it is worth mustering the courage to be the new kid on the block. So far, my experiences of the board games community have been nothing but positive. Everywhere I have been, board gamers have been friendly and understanding; a credit to their pastime.

But one problem remains, and it isn’t one I expected; I don’t speak board games.

To clarify, I’m not talking about issues with reading or comprehension here, although both of those can be a stumbling block for certain players. My problem is that the board games community seems to come with a lot of linguistic baggage. Euro, American, thematic, meeple, worker placement, rondel, engines, alpha-gamers, drafting…the list goes on. How much randomness does a game have? Is it a good thing? Is theme a good thing? Or a bad thing? Even armed with terminology from my experience of computer gaming (which is only occasionally useful and is sometimes deceptive) the language of board games can seem like a fog that separates a newer player from the action.

Lords of Waterdeep: a worker placement game Lords of Waterdeep

Now, for anyone that was getting worried, I’m not about to go to war on the language of games. I understand that we still need to talk about board games and in order to do so more technical language is required. Technical terminology and convenient slang are necessary ways to form and express tastes, engage in critique and create games. They’re a fundamental part of the community. But we should also recognise that they can be exclusive and think a little more about how and when we use them. Remember, it is already intimidating to join a new group even without struggling to understand what the members of said group are talking about!

Consciously or unconsciously lots of technical terms can also create a culture of those who are ‘in the know’ and those that aren’t. This is not necessarily on purpose but it’s worth remembering that although you may be willing to explain terminology at the drop of a hat, not everybody is confident enough to stop a conversation they don’t follow and ask what a term means. This can stop less experienced players from playing games they may have enjoyed either through a lack of confidence (e.g. “I might be able to play that game but I’m not sure”) or a lack of understanding (e.g. “If I’d known it was that sort of thing I would have loved to play!”). I’ve also seen this problem form schisms within groups where more experienced gamers will choose to play a game using technical terms and unwittingly leave newer players the choice of only playing games where the concept is obvious or can be extrapolated easily. These issues exclude new players from playing some of the more technical games where specific terminology is required to describe the game play. Unfortunately many of the board game ‘classics’ also fall into this category, making it even harder for a new player to understand the culture of the community they wish to join. And, if we are honest, feeling like you lack knowledge necessary to the situation you are in is embarrassing.

This is Xia, a "sandbox" game! Xia: Legends of a drift system

As a newer player then, I have a request. Please be patient. Please, if someone looks confused or embarrassed (maybe even if they dont!) explain terms before they have to ask you. Finally, please welcome people into our community by sharing the games you love with them, even if it takes a bit longer to get through them than normal. The more people who feel at home with board games, the more games we will all be able to play. And for those of you who may read this and feel as at sea about terminology as I sometimes do, don’t worry, one day you will be in a position to explain these concepts to others as I hope they are being explained to you now!

And so, in the spirit of patience… why a meeple and not a merson? I’m asking for a friend…

Meeples in action in Carson City! Carson City board game with meeples