Sunday, October 11, 2020

Cardboard Corner

It’s happened. I’ve been pushed over the edge. To blame? Arkham Horror: The Card Game.

As you, my loyal thimbleful of readers have noticed the past few years, the blog has branched out into video games. While some may balk at an interactive, digital medium invading the space of what was primarily a blog reviewing the analog, for me it represented two things: a natural evolution reflecting my life (i.e. a person can only review a hundred or so books per year without looking for something else invigorating), but also a chance to write about another form of narrative that, while most often simpler in form compared to fiction, offers a participatory experience that books simply can’t. (It’s no surprise that the games I prefer are largely those which utilize a player’s agency in a story for thematic purposes.)  And besides, since the beginning of the blog I’ve posted randomly my family’s various world travels (what some might argue is also a form of story—ha!). <drumroll> As of today, there is another contemporary form of narrative that has pushed for a place on this blog.

I’ve always played board games. But as a child,  I never had a collection, a handful at best, and most of the games were common for the era—Monopoly, chess, Life, checkers, Jenga, Boggle, Mouse Trap, Sorry, Scrabble, etc. But I also had a couple of games that sparked a little extra enjoyment, games that brought to the table something a little less ordinary, namely Fireball Island and Scotland Yard. In Life and Monopoly, the “narratives” are dictated by wheel spins and die rolls. The number of outcomes to Life can’t hold a candle to the seemingly infinite paths the title—reality—holds for us. But in Fireball Island and Scotland Yard, a different “story” plays out on the board with each game. “Remember when your detective was standing here? I was just one space away, and I thought for sure you were going to catch me!” you might say after the game. Or, “If you hadn’t played that Fireball card here, she wouldn’t have been able to steal the jewel. That’s what allowed me to sneak up behind her and get to the docks ahead of you!

Throughout university and the majority of my twenties, board games were not a part of my life. (Nor were video games, and while reading was, certainly not in the volume of the past decade.) I was too busy traveling the world, settling down, starting a family, etc.  Now that I have children, however, many of the things I did as a child have returned, including board games.

But in 2020 it’s a whole new landscape. Falling in line with the remainder of the cultural explosion we are experiencing today, board games too have a seemingly infinite number of publications. Too many good movies, books, albums, video games, series, etc. to experience in a year? Board games are also on the list. Thousands of new titles are published each year. And while many are mundane (games similar to Life, Monopoly, etc.), there is a whole new horizon of more vibrant, sophisticated board games that make for wonderful, often narrative-based experiences.

Today, the majority of games I play are with my children. And I love very minute. There are hundreds available today that both small children and adults can enjoy together—Enchanted Tower, Magic Labyrinth, Monza, Mice & Mystics, Robot Turtles, Outfoxed, and soooo many others. Not brainless, roll-the-dice-and-move experiences, instead, they ask the child to think and interact with others in a simple, fun environment that is as often as not, cooperative. When my son was four, he “accidentally” learned basic math by adding card values together to see if he’d defeated a monster playing Karak. Doing the math was just a way to get what he really wanted: to know if he’d defeated the skeleton warrior.

And lately I’ve been playing games for more advanced minds (if you, dear reader, will allow me such space), as well. I won’t go into the list here; I’ll save that for what’s to come. But it is Arkham Horror: The Card Game which has finally pushed me to start adding board game content to this blog. I’m not a fan of Lovecraft’s work; his strained diction is a turn off, and of what few stories I’ve read, the content didn’t really seem to stand out from the decades and decades of horror since. In game form, however, the Lovecraft experience is something quite different. Choose Your Own Adventure combined with card playing, it is a wonderful experience that uses adventure/horror stories to drive tactical and strategic thinking. It turns out agency in Lovecraft stories makes all the difference.

This is all a long winded way of introducing Cardboard Corner to Speculiction. Board game reviews to come… And perhaps someday I will get into what makes board and card games such a wonderful respite from the fast-paced, digital, social media-infused world of today.


  1. Hi

    I was interested to see you are branching out. My wife and I have been picking up some of the newer style board games, Eldritch Horror, Scythe and have purchased a couple others from Kickstarter, Etherfields and Frostpunk. The new game designers are doing a good job of offering a lot of different scenarios that challenge your thinking and require more planning. They are a lot more complex than the fairly static twice past Park Ave games of my youth. The fact that they also have embraced a the tropes of genre fiction which we love and allow you to be immersed in interesting story lines some based on fan favourites like Conan Doyle or HPL and some totally original to the game design is an added bonus. I have to admit one guilty pleasure we also get from them is the games we select often come with cool plastic toys, I mean nicely designed game pieces.

    All the best.

    1. Thanks Guy for the support, and glad you're enjoying games, as well. If you like narrative in your games, I strongly-strongly recommend Arkham Horror: The Card Game. It is the best at mixing narrative with game mechanics. It changes itself up every game in a way that complements story in a very thematic way. Have a try!

  2. Congrats, Jesse! I have to say, with your interest in board games it was bound to happen at some point :)

    1. Thanks, whoever you are! :)

    2. It is I, Robert Janicki! I was quite sure I selected my email to be shown, but, to be fair, Blogger is not a thing I use often, so I might have messed something up. Hopefully this will show up properly :)