I slept through the changing of the year, and it might as well have gone that way, what with the general consensus that 2020 was rotten and No Good. I was fortunate to not have my life disrupted terribly by the pandemic. I was already working from home and I’m not particularly social. My main outdoor hobbies–golf and disc golf–had minimal disruptions due to their relatively solitary natures.
But I cannot deny that the year took a mental toll on me. My depression is relatively well-managed by this point, and the malaise that kept me from writing for this site didn’t have the thumbprint of that beast. Run of the mill stress and lethargy seem to be the culprits. That invites some discomforting ideas re: how much of my laziness I can blame on forces outside of my control, but managing the demon’s in one’s head is a practical exercise so I’ll continue to avoid the tough questions.
The new year is, of course, arbitrary, but that doesn’t make its use as a symbol unimportant. The day is about renewal and rededication and looking towards the future, so in that spirit here are some ways I want to approach 2021 with regards to board gaming.
1. Search for Greatness
I don’t want to settle for the merely good. When you play so many new games you find a lot of “good not great” and it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that’s all there is. But if 2017 taught us anything, it’s that greatness is still possible in the realm of board gaming. Honestly, as a form of media, board games are both young and very, very old. Many of the basic principles have been established for millennia but the past couple of decades have brought a flurry of development.
Pushing the edges of what board games can do should be encouraged, and I want to do my part by trying out the new and weird, searching for those nuggets of brilliance, or even interesting failures.
2. Hone In Strategy
I want to get better at games. Over the past few years I feel like I’ve been able to explore the breadth of board gaming and I now have a decent understanding of the major games and ideas out there. Playing broadly has made me pretty good at remaining competitive in new games I’m picking up, but there are very few games I’m actually good at. Playing a number of 18xx games online over the past couple of months has reignited my desire to push myself into that next step beyond understanding how to execute the obvious strategies the game presents. I want to be able to find those uncommon, insightful decisions that seem to break the rules of the game but actually open it up to frontiers you hadn’t yet considered.
Practically this means writing more strategy guides. The few I have written have been received well, but I hold myself to a high standard. I’m not interested in writing the kind of guide someone brand new to the game would find helpful. I want to write the kind of guide that brings someone from playing the game to competing in it.
I’ve already sent out a short designer diary to my Patreon supporters about a game my mom and I are designing together. Amber and I plan to resume work on the pepper-themed game we podcasted about a while back. I think 2021 is the year I really try to take the plunge into designing games. I don’t know if I’ll complete a design, but I’ll definitely have at least one in serious playtesting.
As I take this next step into design I expect this will open my perspective more, allowing me to write more adeptly about games and what makes them work. I’m excited to see what essays result from it.
I don’t know what this will look like specifically, but I want to collaborate with others, not for its own sake, but to dig into interesting minds and explore how they see games. Part of what I’ve wanted to do with this site from the beginning is to inspire people to think about games in a deeper way. Talking with others might be the best way to do that.
New Years is arbitrary symbiology, but so are games. They’re bits of cardboard and plastic but they can transport us to different worlds, elicit real emotions, and inspire new thoughts and ideas.