Breaking down (Topic Discussion Podcast)

♪♪ Intro music plays ♪♪ Hello and welcome to another Tabletop Games Blog topic discussion. Breaking down Classifying things we encounter is important. It gives us a way to describe them to others, allow us to decide whether things are similar or different and provides a method to create
connections between them. Classifications help us with
decision making and predictions. However, classifications alone don’t fully
describe things, and especially when we
talk about classifying tabletop games there are a lot more nuances and details
that cannot be described by classifications alone. So I want to explore how far classifications can go
until their usefulness deteriorates. Let’s start with how categories
are applied to tabletop games and how this is useful. I think many of us will have seen the
classification sidebar that appears on the overview page for every tabletop
game on the Board Game Geek website. You have type, category, mechanisms and family all of which are different versions of a classification. I don’t want to discuss how well this breakdown of games on the BGGwebsite is implemented or whether there are too many overlaps and
ambiguities or missing classifications, but I do want to talk about how these classifications can help in the way they are currently available. If you’re quite involved in terms of games hobby, chances are that you will have been asked by people what games you would recommend to them. That’s already a tough question,
which can be made a little easier if they tell you what sort of games
they have already played and like. It allows you to think about games that are similar and in your head, you start to break down the games they like into some rough categorizations such as player count, game length,
complexity, mechanisms employed, whether they’re cooperative or competitive, maybe the art style of them and maybe some other things. Once you’ve distilled the most important categories,
you can suggest games that have similar properties. In fact, you rarely do this consciously. You will usually know immediately
what games are similar. Someone who likes flux, for example,
they might also like Star Realms, or if someone like Clans of Caledonia,
they might like Terra Mystica. You will also be able to say what differences there are between the game that the people like and the ones you suggest, including different mechanisms or whether the game is more complex and takes longer to play. At the same time you will never be certain whether your recommendations are going to be a good match. Fluxx and Star Realms are both
hand management games, but just because someone likes the one
they won’t necessarily like the other. It’s just that those two games are
a pretty good match, at least in my view. You might have a different opinion of what game might be a better match but even then you can’t be sure that your recommendation is right for everyone. All you can do is make an educated guess. The point is you’re using your classifications
of the game to find alternatives and you can do something very similar on the BGG website or any other directories that use classifications. Find a game you like, then search for those
whose classification overlaps with it. So when I search BGG for “card games with hand management” the result is a long list including
Android: Netrunner, Dominion, Love Letter, Star Realms and Fluxx,
all of which I’d say are good matches. However, there also games listed that aren’t great matches, such as the Seventh Continent and Wingspan. You could argue that if the BGG
classifications were more detailed you would get better results and that is,
of course, true, at least in principle. Also, if I had added player count and game length
or complexity into the search filter the list would have been better. An option to add theme or art style might also
have been helpful to find closer matches. Yet, a database search would never be
as good as asking a friend for advice. The problem is that there some things that are
very hard, if not impossible, to classify, at least when it comes to having to describe in words, why you like a game so much. Simply saying that it’s the set collection element combined with the competitiveness isn’t going to be enough. Flux and Jaipur, for example, both fit those two criteria, but are very different games. I don’t think I’d recommend one of those two games
if someone likes the other but of course, someone will like both games. A lot of what makes a game enjoyable
can be classified but not everything. Just think of how you experience
game length in different games. One game that takes over an hour to play could feel
very exciting and over too quickly, while in another the hours just drags on
and feels much longer than it is. The feeling you get from rolling chunky dice is different from rolling cheap plasticky ones. Having a game be decided on the last turn and finishing with a tight margin is much more memorable than the game where the winner
was pretty clear from the start. None of these things can easily be classified,
if they can be classified at all. Yet when friends ask you to recommend games chances are you will give all of them answers
from a relatively narrow pool of games. You will have your own favourites and you
will probably recommend those first. That means your advice will be a sort of echo chamber narrowing the options of your friends. When searching a database like
the one on the BGG website you will very likely come across games you would
have never considered or even heard of and at the same time also see many games
that are probably a bad match. Yet, the opportunity of being able to be presented with a list of games that you or your friends might like but that you would otherwise have never seen,
is a good thing in my view. Sure, you will have to do more research on the games listed in the search result on BGG but then the same is true when
you recommend games to friends. I think you should always tell your friends to try games first to be sure that they enjoy them. Of course when you recommend
games from those that you own you can play them with your friends so they can see for themselves, whereas when you just go by a list on BGG,
trying the game will be a bit harder. However, even then you can probably find playthrough videos and reviews to help you decide. So classifications definitely have the place and their use but they’re definitely not the be-all and
end-all to find the perfect game. You always have to use common
sense and intuition too as well as your impression of what
someone loves about a game in order to make recommendations. Yet don’t be blinkered and always rely on your favourites, but be open to new games. I’d really love to know what you think about the topic of classifications. Do you think they’re not useful? Do you think they take the heart and soul
out of deciding what games are for you? How do you decide what games to try and
what games to recommend to friends? Please share your thoughts in the
comments of the podcast or go on the
blog, the description has the links to it. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Thank you very much for listening to this Tabletop Games Blog topic discussion. There is a written version of it on the blog.
Please see the link in the description below. There you’ll also find links to my Ko-Fi and Patreon pages, if you want to support me financially. Please also look at my Twitter feed and generally
pass around the word of this blog and this podcast. I’d really appreciate it.
The more people know the better. If you are on Apple podcasts, please also leave a review and leave some stars, but other than that, thanks very much for listening
and I hope to see you again soon. This podcast was made possible by my Patreon supporters David Miller of subQuark Publishing, James Naylor of Naylor Games, Paul Grogan of Gaming Rules, Robin Kay of Ruined Sky Games, Sarah Reed of Undine Studios, Tim Virnig and Richard Simpson of We’re Not Wizards.

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