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What is a Game?

Last night at the Dice Cup, I was chatting to some people playing Concept.  In Concept players take it in turns to try to communicate a concept (a word or a phrase) to everyone else.  It might be an object or an activity, or it might be something more abstract (and therefore more difficult) like justice, or melancholy.

Players have to communicate using pictures.  At this point you’re probably thinking, “Isn’t that Pictionary?”  The difference is that Concept doesn’t involve any drawing.  You have a big board full of pictures and you place cubes or other tokens on the different pictures to communicate your concept.  Eg. You could put one cube on the picture for ‘Metal’ and another cube on the picture for ‘Hot’ to indicate a saucepan.

It can be surprisingly difficult for beginners, but experienced players can communicate with remarkable accuracy.  The question is though, is it really a game?  You can play with points, but most people seem to just play for the fun of trying to communicate the given concept each time.  When is a game a game, and when is it just an activity?

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Co-op Games

At the turn of the millennium, when Lord of the Rings was all the rage (The Fellowship of the Ring film was released in 2001), Reiner Knizia designed a game called… wait for it… Lord of the Rings.  The title itself astounds me.  We have so many different Lord of the Rings boardgames these days that it’s hard to imagine a time when there weren’t any, but this was the first of any note.

If you want to make a boardgame about Lord of the Rings now, you’re going to have great difficulty coming up with a name for it that makes you think of Lord of the Rings, but hasn’t already been taken.  Prior to the year 2000 though, despite having a wealth of very popular material in the trilogy of books, it was a relatively untouched franchise as far as boardgames were concerned.

Reiner Knizia’s Lord of the Rings did very well in part due to the strength of the name.  I know several non-gamers who bought the game simply because it was Lord of the Rings.  It was certainly an insta-buy for me.  However, it created a stir in the gaming world for another reason: it was a co-operative game.

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