Variant: Balancing Analog Activities—Board Games and RPGs | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Variant: Balancing Analog Activities—Board Games and RPGs

I’ve mentioned before that my love of board games developed out of my love of role-playing games. My group was big into RPGs, playing some D&D and just about every White Wolf game, along with a smattering of Shadow Run, Conspiracy X, Call of Cthulhu, and Paranoia. As more and more time got sucked into various other activities, our Game Master (me) wasn’t able to come up with quality stories on a weekly basis. Board games filled the gap and eventually just took over.

Recently, I was able to get my hands on Misspent Youth—an RPG focusing on teenagers who rebel against the Authority, in whatever form that takes. Reading through the game, I’ve been reminded of some of my fondest role-playing memories and I intend to get this to the table soon to test it out. But it has also raised a few questions.

Do you, as a board gamer, also play pen-and-paper RPGs consistently? And, if you do, do you consider yourself more of an RPGer who boardgames, or a boardgamer who role-plays?

To answer the question for myself, I’m definitely now a boardgamer who (could) role-play. I don’t see the activities as exclusive at all. In fact, there have been very successful hybrid games that try to give an RPG-like experience in a board game package (Arkham Horror, Talisman). But I wonder how common my situation is. Have you traveled from one to the other or back again?

Though RPGs are fantastic, the one drawback they have is that they need a Game Master. The Game Master has to invest substantially more time, energy, and effort into the game than any other player. And if that person can’t do it for whatever reason, the whole session falls apart. Board games, on the other hand, just require people to show up and know (or learn) the rules. That one difference is what dragged me over into the boardgame crowd.

One of the reasons I’m excited about Misspent Youth is, at least if played as intended, it does not seem to have this problem as much. The stories are largely (though not entirely) created impromptu and all the players have a hand in developing the world, the characters, and even the storyline of individual sessions.

For other Game Masters out there, how do you handle it? Do you simply make the time, do you target games that are less pre-intensive?

There are 4 comments.

  1. Conor said on April 21, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    I play whatever I can get. If I’ve got a couple people that are up for doing an RPG sesh, I wear that hat. If I hear wind of a board-gaming night, I’m there. I rarely find myself with the richness of access necessary to making that kind of distinction.

  2. Wolfie said on April 21, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I personally favor board games but love both RPGs and board games. We try to do DnD regularly with rotating DMs, and fill in the gaps with board games. As well as the occassional extra board game night, and board games every friday at lunch.

    Nice thing about board games is its easy to add people in or take em out if someone cant come one night, and I can get my wife / family to play board games sometimes but never RPGs.

  3. Myrkwell said on April 21, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I might use board games as a filler when we can’t get enough people to meet for a session, but I love GMing too much to give it up completely despite the amount of effort it takes. I’ve tried to alleviate some of this by confining myself to running a maximum of two gaming systems at any point in time, despite the stacks of RPGs on my shelves begging to be played.

  4. Chris Norwood said on April 25, 2011 at 6:34 am

    You need to widen your ideas about RPG’s a little. There are actually quite a few games out there that do not require a GM and/or which have little or no prep involved.

    The most popular one right now is probably Fiasco, where all the players work together to create a story something along the lines of a Coen brothers movie. I just wrote a report from my latest game night which includes a session of Fiasco, if you’re interested.

    But then there are other GM-less games as well, like A Penny for My Thoughts, The Shab Al-Hiri Roach, Zombie Cinema, and Dirty Secrets.

    And as you’ve found with Misspent Youth, there are also a lot of games that have GM’s but still don’t require much (if any) prep, such as: Dogs in the Vineyard, 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars, and Spirit of the Century.

    All of these are pretty non-traditional (in other words, “nothing like D&D”), so the experience you get from them is more story-based rather than being so focused on tactical combat. It’s not necessarily better or worse than traditional RPG’s, but for me, I was pretty tired of all that killing monsters and stealing their stuff, so I was very glad to have found these games.

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