Mark Johnson's occasional & opinionated podcast about family strategy boardgames

Monday, May 04, 2009

BGTG 94 - Are any of our games Classics? (with Greg Pettit)

It comes up from time to time in discussions about our hobby--will any of the games we're playing now achieve "classic" status? There are commercial classics like Monopoly, Risk, and Scrabble, as well as cultural or timeless classics like Go, Chess, and Poker. That's an awfully high standard for any game to achieve, even ones we think so highly of on our game nights and gamesdays. What does complexity or availability have to do with it? And is the world just so different today that games have a different path to achieve that status?

The conversation is long, but a particularly good one. I think so, anyway. I told my guest, Greg Pettit, afterward that this is just the sort of subject I enjoy tackling in the podcast. Because I always enjoyed reading about it from the likes of Peter Sarrett, Mike Siggins, or Greg Aleknevicus. That's good company to be in!

We go back & forth between philosophical descriptions of classics, and considerations of individual titles. Partway through the show, Greg poses a wonderful question about what games we might put in a 50 or 100-year time capsule, wanting to show future generations how wonderful, entertaining, and creative these games are . . . even if those future people are used to playing virtual reality, holographic, full-sensory "videogames" and zipping around in their flying cars. :-)



Anonymous Sobelius said...

Thanks guys – enjoyed the listen! I liked that Greg had 5 criteria which gave the conversation a structure, plus the whole time capsule discussion (no idea which games I’d put in mine).

I also liked that you guys hit on the notion that there are those of us who enjoy learning new games as much as playing the games.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great discussion. Very thought provoking, but not too serious..

Just one thing - Greg said that in 50 years there will be wargames, but couldn't think of a particular wargame that would be there -- the only wargame that I think has a chance for 50 years is ASL (the starter kits may keep it alive)..

Timecapsule? Wow, I've no idea. Maybe different games for different categories (such as a cooperative game, card game, heavy themed, auction, area control, etc...)

Keep up the good work

Eric G

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Wow Mark. This is one of the reasons that though your podcast is more sporadic than others out there. I still look forward to it whenever it does come out.

While others talk about what they are playing, or reviewing games, discussing gaming news, etc. Your show much of the time tackles a topic and discussion of that topic takes place until its logical conclusion.

My only regret is that shows with topics this intellectually stimulating are few and far between.

Keep up the good work.

Oh, BTW. Greg and I were competing to be last place at the Tigris & Euphrates tournament organized by Marshall (mdp4828) at BGG Con in 2006. He edged me out and came out on top (err. bottom?!?).

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Waza said...

I am currently listening to this episode. The bit where it is mentioned so many will want to comment but so few will actually do it. However what I want to comment on is not the games missed from the classics list. What I want to challenge people on is the Time Capsule idea.

Let's do it! Why make a list of what to put in a time capsule, lets actually do it. They can vary a lot, decide if yours will be for 20 or 50 (or 30, 40, 10 or 100 years) depending on your life situation and when you want it to be used. Do you want to play them with your future children or grandchildren or nursing home buddies or have them played at your funeral or by your great great grand children wondering what life was like in the olden days. It may have 3 or 5 or 10 games. Whatever you decide go buy new shrink wrapped games, seal them in a secure container and marked them with their to open date.

What will the people who open them think? They may be classics but they are amused by these archaic editions and how they have or have not changed. Or they may have never heard of them. Or it may be you reminiscing about a game from long ago you have not played in so long. Or it may be you glad you send yourself a replacement for an out of print game that you have almost worn out from playing too much.

So put this into action. I don't know if you want to post what is in it but please comment on how many games you put in and when it is to be opened. The only problem with this it is a game for the patient.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Gregarius said...

Thanks for all the positive comments! Mark and I had fun recording it, but I was unsure what sort of response it would get.

Eric G-
Good call on ASL. I've never played it, but I know it is very popular and has been around for over 20 years, I think.

Ah, yes. The E&T Tournament. What an awful, awful showing I had. It was still a lot of fun, though, and I've vowed to participate every year that Marshall does it.

That's a cool idea. I would have no idea how to hide/store/encapsulate it, though. Do I seal them in a box and bury it? Do I put them in a safety deposit box and put it in my will? How would one actually make a time capsule? Interesting idea.

I'm glad so many people enjoy the time capsule idea. Maybe we should throw our ideas into a Geeklist?

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best episode in a while, thanks for the entertaining discussion.

5:29 PM  
Anonymous Waza said...

> I would have no idea how to hide/store/encapsulate it, though.
>Do I seal them in a box and bury it?

That was what I was thinking is most practical. Rather then Burying I would just store under my house or in the rafters of my garage. As we are buying our house and plan to stay there a long time this should work for at least the next 20 years.

> Do I put them in a safety deposit box and put it in my will?

I had had this though but have no idea how much they cost or how far in advance you can pay them up for.

>How would one actually make a time capsule?

I am thinking of going for something around 35 years. By then I will hopefully still be alive and well (early 70's), retired and have grandchildren so there could be some great opportunities to share the opening of the capsule with new friends and family.

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Jeff Myers said...

Really great episode. I loved the discussion about what makes something a classic. Since I'm relatively new to the hobby, I was exposed to El Grande on the same day as Cities. When I played El Grande, I was told, oh this is a classic, you'll love it. When I played Cities, I was told, this is a new game, see if you like it. I don't really feel obligated to like the classics, so mabye this isn't relevant, but I do think I expect more of a game that is considered a classic.

Sometimes I play a game that I'm told is a classic and think, hmm.. I don't really see why anyone would play this when they can play Game X which is obviously a better version of the same idea. Then there are times I play something like Web of Power and think, okay this really is something worth having around for years to come.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Mikael Ölmestig said...

Kind of related to the topic of what to put in the time capsule I want to put a few games to replace some of the "newer" classics and would have had a chance if it were invented back in the days.

1. Monopoly would for me be replaced by Settlers. Both have the rolling of dice, are a little laid back and some negotiation, but I find the decisions in Settlers more interesting. As an alternative (and more of a personal favorite of mine) would be Bohnanza.

2. Scrabble. I kind of like scabble (I think I might be in minority here), but I generally think that the game is too long for what it is. I haven't played a lot of word games, but I like Big Boggle, since it is a fast filler. It doesn't have the social aspect of scrabble though.

3. Risk. Maybe Small World could be a contender for that. It is actually in some ways simpler than Risk, but there is more interesting interaction between players I think.

How about Clue? I'm not particulary fond of the game, but I can't come up with good induction games.

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Chris Norwood said...

Loved the show! Of course, it got me thinking, and my response was not particularly breif.

I posted it over on my blog, so check out both my thoughts on the show in general, as well as what I'd put into my time capsule!

1:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Podcast!

But made me pause...

I've been a serious gamer for 46 years - I bought Acquire when it first came out! So it isn't at all unreasonable to see what happens in 50 years.

Based on what gaming was like then, we live in the golden age of games. The "good old days" is right now.

So many games - so little time.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Tom O'Keefe said...

Excellent podcast as always. very interesting and entertaining.

I think personally that many popular hobby games will become classic in a sense.

In the world of film you can have silent films like Sunrise, Greed, and Birth of a Nation which are all considered classics. Most of the general population has never heard of them let alone seen them. They can't be found in the DVD sections of any major retailers. In addition they lack in accessibility, being silent and black-and-white and probably uninteresting to many. They have historical significance but their modern relevance (particularly of Birth of a Nation) is very arguable. And yet, they remain classics.

This goes not only for influential classic silent films, but also for classic foreign, independent and avante garde cinema in many shapes and forms. Even many classics of Hollywood have gone forgotten by modern audiences and are now purely the domain of cinephiles and movie buffs who put in the extra effort to seek them out.

I believe that there is room in the world of classics for both popular high profile classics (Monopoly and Star Wars) and classics that are enjoyed by mainly those who are very interested in the medium (El Grande and The Bicycle Thieves).

I wouldn't be surprised if the current era of hobby games becomes seen as a golden age, kind of like the 70s in American cinema, a period of great productivity and with many games that stand the test of time, at least with people willing to look a little harder.

7:41 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Great Show! I just noticed, that you did not mention any dexterity games. What about Jenga, Bausack or Passe-trappe.

5:37 AM  
Blogger Mark Johnson said...

Jenga was actually on my notes--I guess it didn't come out in the discussion. My definition of classic skews toward to the universal familiarity and commercial success criteria, and Jenga fits the bill.

The trick with dexterity games is that they cross over into toys so quickly. That's not a bad thing, just a difference. I mean, wouldn't Jacks also count?

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Dave A said...

Enjoyed the show, glad these are coming more frequent, still my favorite boardgame podcast.

I had trouble visualizing what you meant by classic throughout. Perhaps it would have been helpful using a simile like music, another pop culture art form we are all familiar with. In that simile, traditional boardgames would be like classic rock and roll, with exposure to the masses, whereas designer boardgames are more like jazz, catering to a smaller, more technically savvy group. Classic status is conferred based on importance to the media as a whole, but time is needed to see if an innovation leads to improving the art form, or to a dead end. But even classics don't receive as much play time as modern releases in music.

4:35 AM  
Blogger Hawk-9 said...

Axis and Allies (the basic game, not the spin-offs) will still have a significant following in 50 years. It has been going strong for 25 years and has gained awareness over time, not lost. In my own extended family and among friends, I have seen it taught and passed along from father to son and older sibling to younger sibling.

It has relatively simple rules, has the WWII theme which will always hold significant interest, and it is the core wargame of Hasbro (not counting Risk in that category) - a strong company which gives it a backing that should maintain market presence.

Great podcast as always, Mark. Nice job, Greg.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Daibhre Mac said...

One word that you failed to mention: NOSTALGIA! Many games that some consider classics - like Mouse Trap, Sorry, or maybe Stratego - might be considered "classics" not so much based on sophistication or innovation or even repeat-play... there's just something nostalgic about those near-icons of (our?) youth. That being considered, Magic the G. will definiately bo a "classic" - whereas a cool little abstraction like Lines of Action or Salta or maybe Abalone... not so much. And speaking of Apples-2-Apples - our family has already made many cards of our own, and combined our set with the French version ("Concordances") for some REAL challenges. It will likely be in those condo drawers someday.

3:50 PM  
Blogger jtakagi said...

Great show - I really appreciate the more philosophic topic, I'd love to hear more like this one.

One thing I expected to hear was that was not mentioned was with respect to the non-abstract classics like Monopoly, Scrabble, etc.

How much of their status as classics is due to industry support and marketing? Or in other words, I think that many of "our games" could be classics if they were always marketed heavily and placed in stores where people could find them.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Shaun UK said...

Great show - liked the attempt at hammering down the definition of a classic at first. & yes that leads to Monopoly and Clue and all those games that ask so much of our time while giving so little strategy and depth back. But they're the quick sell - the 5 minute rules! The games that are sold by the ton every xmas.

Then the separation into the hobby/euro/strategy games and now we're talking. These are the games where the rules take half as long to explain as the first game. These games are not for the masses. But it's where the podcast gets interesting.

Who knows what's around the corner and what the future holds, but here in the UK recently there's been a lot of articles in the national media (The Times, The Observer) about these hobby games. Maybe the economic down-turn is why they're being spotlighted now, or maybe it's the apparent contrast to the solitary world of video gaming. But suddenly there seems to be a bit of a media wave focusing on these games that may bring new players in from the PC and video gaming world. Agricola has featured strongly and may become the introductory game to this new generation of gamers that are used to more complexity than role dice and move. Who knows - Agricola as the gateway game for the 21st Century video gamer?

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting podcast.

When searching for games with staying power, why did you restrict yourself to games with a rating of 8 or higher?

Chutes and Ladders: 3.15
Monopoly: 4.43
Scrabble: 6.40
Chess: 6.91
Checkers: 4.82
Go: 7.61
Yahtzee: 5.03
Battleship: 4.46
Life: 3.90

All of these have staying power in the psyche of America, and the one closest to cracking 8 is 'Go'.

4:05 PM  
Blogger jkwatson said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention Harry's Grand Slam Baseball...

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Chanfan said...

Interesting podcast - I'm about 2/3rd of the way through currently.

One thing I'd disagree about would be the availability definition. Greg was trying to limit it to things where one doesn't need actual production sets, but can make it themselves. While I think this is an interesting factor, I also think it's more a requirement of the times, and is not so relevant in modern times.

For example, almost no one can build their own car or computer from scratch, but this doesn't invalidate them from being classics of their genres. I tend to agree more with your idea of it just being available, and I'm not sure I'd go so far as requiring it to be mass market available. It it's still for sale in hobby stores in 50 years, that's good enough for me.

Also, I do wonder how technology in general affects things. It seems to me in the modern era, most everything is turning over much faster than, say, in ancient times - perhaps a modern classic is something that has a life of 100 years (vs. near 1000 for chess).

On another topic, when you were discussing the replayability over time of games (and how that affects their being classics) such as die Macher vs. Dominion, I gotta wonder about how their respective play times affect that. I own both, and still have yet do get die Macher to the table (due to complexity and time/players required), and I'm also a wargamer. Dominion may well suffer that burnout you were talking about - I've only about 12 plays, so not yet here - but one wonders how it would affect its potential perception as a classic if one were forced to only play a game at a time, and then not play it again for a month. I think shorter games that have as much replayability as longer games are more in danger of burnout, just because you can get more games in, and hit that point.

Anyway, good show, even if my tastes run into the more complex games!

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Victoria Bourne-Nisson said...

Thanks for the discussion, it was very interesting.

I think I need to voice on one topic: The classic status of Magic the Gathering. I'm not a fan of the 'cardboard crack', but it has lasted for at least 15 years now, and I don't see any signs of it going away. It also has the addiction effect, "I use to be a Magic Player", "Well, I only play one draft a year now", and then the "... I'm only going to buy one box, promise". Players come and go, but almost always come back. It's also crossed generations now too. I played as a teenager and now I am seeing players at least ten years younger then me starting to play.

I think it also fits many of the criteria that Greg put forth. It certainly has the availability, you can purchase it nearly anywhere. The rules arn't that hard to pick up, mainly just read the card and see what it does. And, it already has at least 15 years under it's belt.

Just my 2 cents. :-)

8:25 AM  
Blogger Mark Johnson said...

Thanks to everyone for so many great (& flattering!) comments. I'm about to record a new podcast, and will respond to some of these "on the air."

11:25 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home