Playing a game can be fun, infuriating, and thrilling all at once. However, there are so many elements which go into the playing of a game, bringing me to ask two great questions: What makes a game fun? And what makes you want to come back and play again?
Using my own personal experience, I’ll be attempting to answer these questions by analysing my play experience of three vastly different board games.
The game “Rhino Hero” was designed and released by German toy and game company, Haba, in 2011. The premise of the game is to construct a building that allows our hero, “Super Rhino”, to continue along his hero journey, saving the people (or in the cover art, perhaps other animals) of the city. There’s not much to the physical game itself with there being some roof cards, some walls, and the wooden Super Rhino himself.
“Rhino Hero” seems to be targeted towards younger children; the art style is quite simple, the directions are overly clear, and the physical pieces are of fairly low/cheap quality. Beyond that, the box itself says ages five and up. With that being said, it didn’t feel like I was playing a kids game, but rather just a simple, quick game that was easy to pick up. Rhino Hero is often categorised as a “dexterity” game, as well as an “educational” game, and while I can understand those aspects, it never really felt demeaning or frustratingly difficult.
Learning to play the game was quite straight forward; we simply read the instructions and it led us on our way. We checked the play manual a few times to ensure we were actually doing it right, but the way it was set up allowed for little variation as opposed to other board games like Uno or Monopoly (where house rules often apply).
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the gameplay of Rhino Hero, it’s simply a matter of stacking wall cards and ceiling cards until you either run out of ceilings or someone makes the building collapse. Here’s the hard part: the walls must be set in very specific formations as specified on roof cards, at times you have to move Super Rhino to higher levels, and you can screw over other players.
The game itself was enjoyable, though the simplicity and repetitiveness of it made it an easy one to put down. While it has narrative elements (Super Rhino wants to save the day), the story was very clearly not the focus of the game. The gameplay was simple, the rules were easy to understand, and the story was minimal. If I may throw my opinion in once more, it’s a simple, fun game but it’s easily forgettable.
“Telestrations” is a 4-8 player party game which brings Chinese Whispers to a new level, making the original concept more visual and targeted more towards an older audience. In the box comes 142 double sided “word cards”, 8 erasable sketchbooks, 8 dry-erase markers, 8 clean up cloths, a 60-second timer, and one die. To summarise, every player has a little sketch pad (supplied). Each player is given (or selects) a secret word which they must draw and pass on, where the next player must guess what the drawing is. From there, the sketchbook gets passed to the following player, where they must draw the word which was previously written. This goes on until the book comes back to the original player. Unlike Rhino Hero, there’s no plot to this game whatsoever, though Crown & Andrews (the company responsible for Telestrations) says the objective is to “laugh a lot and have fun”. To be honest, it worked. We had a lot of laughs.
There is no game world here, but rather it very much exists in our own world and it relies on that fact. One thing I noticed while playing is that this game embraces the notion that different individuals, groups or social circles would have different ways of describing or even viewing things things. For example, you might see a group of stars and think the southern cross, but someone else might see that image and think of Peter Pan. Those ‘people’ elements are what really makes this game enjoyable.
The rules are clear and straight forward, so it was just a matter of reading the rules and moving forward. Myself and the other players quickly adapted this game to fit our own needs, removing the die, timer, and word cards, and instead played with words we picked ourselves without the rush of a timer. I think it’s interesting to note that it bases itself off of Chinese Whispers, assuming that the audience will know what that is. Beyond that, Telestrations has become widely popular online, so myself and my peers already had a brief understanding of the gameplay. Without those preconceived understandings, I’m certain it would’ve been more difficult to pick up. Collectively, these aspects created an enjoyable game which could be easily forgotten.
Catan is a significantly more complex game, with over two hours going into one single game (in this instance). In the box you’ll find 95 resource cards, 25 development cards, two special victory point cards, two d6 dice, and the robber. To summarise, Catan is a game of building, conquering and trading. Points are accumulated by the cities and buildings you establish, as well as (possibly) through development cards. Board Game Geek describes it as follows:
Catan took a while to learn, with the first half an hour or so being quite slow and tedious. The rules were clear but there were a lot of them. However, as we started to get the hang of it and things started making sense, the game picked up and we fell into this beautiful rhythm. Things quickly became tense as we all started wondering who would betray who, and what would ultimately push the others over the edge. While the plot itself is perhaps a little vague, with time, the players actually become the plot. Suddenly, you have things to gain and lose, you have goals and dreams and aspirations. Sure, we haven’t been handed a player card or developed our own DND-type characters, but we’re part of it all.
The box and pieces themselves are much higher quality than the other two games, with the visual and physical aesthetics being much more story-relevant than the previous two games. The game itself feels more mature, whether it be the quality of the pieces, the realistic art style, or the very real ideas behind the story. While Catan is filled with play and story and fiction, it echos real world elements of war like strategy, position, and luck. Sure, these features come into a lot of games, though the idea of actually taking over really pushes this story forward. By mixing serious elements with the fun of play, Catan brings forth a strangely unique atmosphere.
These aspects all come together to create something I aspire to create; a game with stakes, a game where your own passions are put into it, and a game which you don’t want to stop playing (even when it’s incredibly infuriating). Catan has quickly become a favourite among our friends, and for good reason.
Featured Image Source: The Spruce Crafts