The Appeal of Simplicity

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  • I have a problem, and it involves board games: I have too many of them. I’ve tried to limit myself to just one shelf, but it hasn’t worked, and the overflow is threatening to appropriate a sizable portion of my living room. I’ve begun to put together a list of games to sell or trade away, but that’s just a quick fix. If I don’t address the root of the problem, the cardboard mass will return tenfold and ruin all my cherished relationships.

    Inspecting my game shelf, I looked for a common thread that linked all the games together. Something that might point to my compulsion to own them. After a lot of head scratching, I realized that it’s not a specific theme or designer that draws me to games, but the ease at which I can learn them.

    A simple rule set is, by and large, the most attractive feature a game can possess if it wants my attention. A thin rulebook acts as a sort of peacock tail that draws my eye and sends me scrambling to add it to my Amazon cart. Take Concordia, my current favorite game. The rules could not be simpler: choose one card from your hand, play it, and take that action. Granted, there’s a lot more to think about, like resource management and area control, but there are never any questions about the rules.

    The Manhattan Project, another darling in my collection, is equally simple: place a worker on a space and take the related action. In fact, the whole worker placement genre appeals to me thanks to the relatively simple base mechanics. Every worker placement game has varying rules revolving around how to manipulate workers and gain additional resources, but it’s all based on “place a worker and take an action.”

    A game with simple mechanics allows for a larger focus on strategy rather than on rules. If you don’t have to pause-play every other turn to consult the instructions, you are free to give the table your full attention. This is what draws me to games, and why my collection has become so bloated. When watching one of Rahdo’s fantastic walkthrough videos, if I can grasp the rules of a game in the first few minutes, it almost assuredly will pop up on my radar. A simpler game also means that it will get to the table quicker. The more preamble a game has, the more likely you, and the other players, will lose interest and check out.

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    That’s not to say that my collection doesn’t contain its share of big, complex games; Terra Mystica and Trajan are two gems that see a lot of play. I am just more likely to impulsively buy a game with a shorter rulebook, where a massive, heavy Rosenburgesque beast requires days of rigorous research.

    And so, with my collection bordering on unhealthy, I dive headlong into a purge, and pray that any future purchases come with a fair bit of scrutiny.

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