Interview no 2.
Please introduce yourself
Hi. I’m Ben, and I’m the co-founder and organiser of the Ross-on-Wye board gamers. We are a small (typically one or two tables) and very informal group. We tend to prefer mid-weight Euro games on the whole, but have been known to stretch our wings into other genres, and we’re never above a silly
party game. The bottom line for us is that games are a fun way to socialise and we’d never make anyone play something they didn’t enjoy.
How many games do you own?
My boardgamegeek profile suggests I own about 640, but many of those are
expansions, print-and-plays and other such throwaway stuff. I would reckon
about 500 is the right number. It’s a number that I have stabilised over
the last couple of years, trimming out games that are ‘the same but less
good’ as others in my collection, and buying fewer games on impulse. I am
baffled by the current Kickstarter trends, where people will pay money for
a game that hasn’t actually been built yet and is existing on a marketing
promise. How do people think marketing actually works?
How many of your games have you not played?
Currently, about 50-60, mostly due to lack of time. Me – and the group –
have quite a short attention span and will generally turn down anything
that is upwards of 90 minutes in favour of two shorter games. So 2-hour
games are thin on the ground anyway in my collection, and unplayed ones
will often get traded without any table time, apart from a few pet
favourites. My current policy is to try and at least SUGGEST something from
the unplayed pile every week.
What is your oldest game?
Um…would ‘chess’ be a really boring answer to this question? Scrabble?
My oldest ‘designer’ game that gets regularly played is probably Eurorails:
a classic of the ‘crayon-rail’ genre, where you literally draw all over the
board in order to create your delivery network.
Last game you played?
That would be Colonialism: a little-known and vicious card-driven area
control game. It got roundly slated on release due to its bleak and
uncompromising theme, which essentially consists of killing Third World
natives in order to steal all their resources. Underneath, though, we found
lots of interesting decisions and an interesting arc to the game as we
gradually cleaned up all the resources.
Best gaming experience?
Loads and loads: quiet nights on pub balconies with my wife; intense 5-6
player sessions at Ross-on-Wye; long weekends mixing tabletop and garden
games. Perhaps my favourite of all was introducing Cyrano to six vaguely
sceptical gamers at Midcon a few years ago. Cyrano is about as far from the
gamer stereotype as you can get: it’s a game where you write your own
poetry! I watched six faces go from polite bemusement to uproarious
laughter in about 40 minutes.
Favourite colour to play?
I don’t normally commit myself. The Ross-on-Wye group has one player who
always plays red, one player who always plays green, and one player who
always plays ‘a drab colour’. I’m happy enough with whatever is left over.
I don’t mind playing purple if it’s available, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
Favourite person / people to play with?
The core of the Ross-on-Wye group: Becky, John, Tony, Bill and Dave. We’ve
learned a huge number of games together and enjoyed at least 90% of it.
Your favourite game to play?
The undoubted champion of our group is Agricola, and it’s an outright
favourite for at least two of us. There are dozens and dozens of
worker-placement games on the market these days, but I would happily do
away with all but about half-a-dozen, all six of which are part of my Top
Which game would you save if there was a fire?
Depends where the fire was. My games shelves surround our wood-burner,
which draws many an anxious glance from over-protective fellow gamers.
What game advice do you have for a new gamer?
Do not believe the hyperbolic reviews and ‘advice’, especially those that
think all the good games have been published within the last five years.
The best way to work out what you like is to play it. Don’t get suckered in
by Kickstarter campaigns and other tacky marketing. You can pick up some
excellent games in second-hand sales and trades (probably only about 40% of
my collection was bought new). Don’t worry about learning new games: these
days nearly every games table has at least one learner. Don’t be shy about
asking to sit down with complete strangers at conventions.
What type / themes / styles of games do you like to play?
So, as discussed, I am an advocate of the ‘Euro’ – those games that tend to
run short on theme and low on luck. What you gain as a result are
intelligent mechanics, and thoughtful decision-making and games that reward
successful strategy. If that sounds terribly deep and heavy, it doesn’t
have to be: good designers can cram a lot of good decisions into a
half-hour card game these days.
I also enjoy a good card game (I was brought up on Bridge) and have an
unreasonably large number of dexterity games. I’m definitely not a fan of
lazy stereotyped themes: zombies, dungeon-crawling and sub-standard sci-fi.
How competitive are you and how often do you win?
Quite a lot, and about average. There are plenty of games which I’m happy
to play just for the enjoyment of it (Terraforming Mars being a recent good
example of ‘more fun than strategy’), but if you’re not playing to win then
you’re not getting the most out of any game. Both me and my wife come from
unreasonably competitive families, so 2-player sessions can often result in
mild fisticuffs and swearing!
What would your ideal game session be, with whom, where and what game?
I’ve tried answering this before, but ultimately it’s futile. I don’t
hero-worship anyone – gamers, designers, or celebrities. I have favourite
games, but even sessions of those have fallen somewhat flat. You never know
when the next session might turn out to be a brainburning masterpiece or
hysterically funny, so you just have to keep your options open.
Finally what question would you want to ask of the next gamer to take this quiz?
How important to you is the theme in a game?