Question of the Week: Favorite Abstract, and more importantly…

In the recent episode (108b), we talk a lot about the breadth mechanical substance of competitive video games like League of Legends and StarCraft compared with relative lack thereof in board games, especially abstract games like Chess and Go. It was a bit of a weird conversation to have, because Chess and Go are massively popular games and have been so for such a long time that they are a part of the collective consciousness about games, whereas MOBAs, competitive shooters, and RTS games are all young upstarts by comparison.

So, I wondered what could explain the difference? On the one hand, you have games so simple a child could learn them that were created hundreds (maybe thousands) of years ago and will possibly be played for hundreds (maybe thousands) more. And on the other, you have games so complicated that even the creators constantly need to rebalance their efforts, games that may in the future be replaced by even more complicated games, relegating these to a past of emulators and GOG sales. But both types of games have strong competitive scenes, and can sustain thousands of players all over the world without growing old or stale.

I don’t have much personal experience with competitive video games, mostly because the sheer breadth of possibilities is intimidating, and although I am fully capable of absorbing the details big and small, I would rather spend my time on (abstract) games. This was the source of a lot of my questions, though: why would I rather spend time on a simple game that has little to no flash (and I include almost every board game, even the ones I love, in this category)? I can see the draw of complex, competitive games like Street Fighter, DOTA 2, and Overwatch even if they aren’t my kind of game, but, despite my enjoyment of “analog” games as abstract as Onitama and Tak, I have a hard time explaining the attraction. Which brings me to the question of the week:

What is your favorite abstract board game, and what is the single biggest attraction that makes it worth playing?

We covered a lot of ground in the podcast, so I’d give it a listen. And, even better than any of the discussion, we explained how you should enter our contest so that you can win a copy of one of my favorite abstract games, Tak. Toward the end of the episode, we discuss how you can enter (you are going to need to answer the question of the week, for one) and how the contest will be run. So please, tell your friends, tell your coworkers, tell random people on the street: if you want to win a free copy of Tak from Cheapass Games, listen to Episode 108b and send us your answers!

Question of the Week: Most Punishing, But Fun?

In the latest episode (107b), we talk about the way that games punish players for certain behaviors, what kinds of behaviors are punished, and what exactly punishment is in the context of a game. No one would say they like being punished, and that’s basically the point: it’s not enjoyable, and it’s meant to steer you away from doing certain things in games

For the most part, punishments are meant to split your attention. You have certain things in the game you are trying to accomplish, towards which you need to put resources. In some games, that’s specific in-game resources like “food” or money that must be spent on upkeep, in others it’s just a more vague sense of time and effort. It’s loss that you must account for or avoid, because loss is visceral in a way that gain is not, even if it is mathematically equivalent. It’s more important to avoid losing points in Agricola for not feeding your family than it would be if it were simply extra points for making sure you did.

Avoiding punishments, figuring out how to split your resources to either get ahead of the loss or avoid it altogether, is a fun element of many games. And last week, I asked if you prefer to have games where you need to avoid punishment, or if it was more fun to not have that worry. I prefer it, because the extra tension is enjoyable, and for me, overcoming tension is a major part of what I enjoy in games in general. But this week, I’m curious about more specific examples!

What is the most punishing game you have played that you enjoyed? Why was it good?

Because for me, there is an upper limit, even as I enjoy punishing games. It was an essential and enjoyable part of getting “good” in Through the Ages to avoid the pitfalls of the economy and not get punished, but the problems you face in The Capitals and Food Chain Magnate are so brutal that they are games I have a hard time recommending to everyone. The setbacks for failure in Dark Souls and Transistor are fairly significant, and they can be more frustrating than fun, and in the case of the latter, were enough to put me off from the cool mechanics.

We spent a lot of time talking about what makes things kinds of mechanisms in games important and enjoyable, despite the counterintuitive nature of “wanting” penalties and costs in games. But I want to hear from you, because of how counterintuitive it is: send us an email to let us know what punishing games you’ve enjoyed, and we can talk about them on the show!

Whatever you want to tell us, email us at We’ll respond and discuss, I promise!

Question of the Week: Punishing games or not?

In the upcoming episode (107b), Brandon and I talk about “punishment” in games, specifically there being mechanics in games that will penalize you in some way unless you can avoid them. In almost every game, the point is to win, be it through killing the bad guys, scoring lots of points, capturing a spawn point, or rescuing the hostages. In many of these, that’s all you do; in competition with the other players, you simply try to “win better.” But games that feature punishment ask you to split your time and resources on another task: don’t take this penalty.

I kind of enjoy games that do this, possibly more than games without it. There is a challenge in always just trying to get a higher score than everyone else, being efficient in actions or movement, knowing every map forwards and backwards, whatever it may be. I recently have talked about The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game, which is exactly that: you get the same actions and same access to cards as the other players, and you must use your turns to grab the best stuff and block your opponents from doing the same. It’s fun…

But the addition of a penalty for not covering certain bases, for failing to run away in the face of being overwhelmed, of not splitting your resources right and falling short of a payment you must make, that really provides a visceral enjoyment that I don’t get from just trying to score lots of points, or finish levels, or whatever else it might be.

I have talked to a lot of people about this topic, and often I find they are surprised when I say avoiding a punishment in a game can be as much a part of the fun as trying to succeed. So, the question of the week is this:

In addition to the goal of succeeding in a game, would you rather have a punishment to avoid or not? And, more importantly, why?

For me, it’s about the depth of a challenge. Agricola and Through the Ages are both games where you expand your population to achieve more throughout the game, but as your resources expand, you must make sure that some portion of them are dedicated to producing food. There is an economic maintenance that forms the basis for both of the games; you can’t just improve, because every improvement requires additional costs! You have to expand your economic prowess as well as your point-production. This tension, along with many ways to approach relieving it, opens these games up far beyond what they would be without it.

But avoiding punishment in games not for everybody, and it certainly doesn’t always work for me… the Dark Souls games come to mind. But I don’t want to repeat too much from the podcast!

Think about our question of the week, and send your thoughts to We would love to discuss what our listeners think on air.

Question of the Week: How do you manage your gaming budget?

In our latest episode (106b), we talk about the process of discovering and researching board games, and eventually land on how we decide whether to buy them. It has occurred to me that we left out a major factor, and it’s not because it doesn’t affect our decisions, but it’s because I always assume it to be such an obvious thing that it almost never occurs to me to actually make it explicit.

That thing? The cost of the game. And to be clear, I don’t just mean the monetary cost. In that, I also want to include “opportunity cost.” Because while some games can be prohibitively expensive (think “games from kickstarter that massively underestimated their popularity, have to run a second kickstarter just to meet demand, and people who managed to get in on the first kickstarter start marking up the price on eBay 100% or more”), it is also important to count as a part of the cost of a game the other games that you won’t be able to buy because you don’t have that money anymore.

I know that seems obvious to some people, and I’m not here to lecture, but I was thinking about this as I read a few different discussions online about whether or not a game was worth the cost and complaints about how someone really wanted a game but couldn’t afford it. So, I figured as the “Question of the Week” day came, I should ask our listeners about this very thing.

How do you manage your gaming budget?

If you think a game is too expensive, but you really want it, do you save up and not buy a game one month so you can afford it the next, or do you just mentally put it into a pile of “I’m just not going to own these” games? When you are looking at games you want to buy, do you select one from a list, and push the other ones off, or do you figure out a way to budget for all of the games you want?

Talking about money and income can be gauche, but the board gaming hobby is strange sometimes… it can be an unbelievably cheap hobby, or it can be a wealthy collector’s nightmare. I’m really interested in where our listeners fall on that spectrum, and how they deviate or maintain once they’ve chosen their spot… or, really, if you guys think there is another, better way of looking at the cost of games. Let us know!

Email your answers to, and we’ll discuss what you say on the show!

Question of the Week: What online resources are the best for you to research games?

In the upcoming episode (106b), we discuss how we find and decide to purchase the board games we acquire.

I have had a lot of people come into my home, take a look at our collection of games, and after they recover from the shock of seeing so many different board games all at once, they almost inevitably have the same question: “How do you find all of these?” Now, most of these people are simply expressing their surprise; they don’t really want to know the extensive process that I go through to decide which of the thousands of games released every year I will be getting. So, for the most part, I just answer “Oh, lots of research. There are some pretty good resources online!”

It’s enough of an answer. But when the person asking is someone who is genuinely interested in games, I should provide a better answer, because I have one. Should I provide the entire spiel from Episode 106b? Probably not. But I do have a lot of good advice for people who are trying to figure out what games to get.

I imagine that most of our listeners have a process for deciding what games to get… you may not commit as much time to research or effort to acquisition as I do, but collecting and curating games is a serious part of gaming as a hobby. So, for this week, my question to you is this:

What online resources are the best for you to research games?

We list some websites and fora that have been helpful, but I’m looking for more specific answers. Are the monthly geeklists that you subscribe to? Are there certain subfora or individuals you have found who are especially helpful with narrowing down your choices? What video or written review series do you think has helped you in the past? And most importantly… are there really any podcasts that are of use?

Send us an email ( and let us know what online resources you use to research your game purchases. We want to know, and we want to let our other listeners know as well.