Board games: cultural assets, entertainment for millions of people worldwide for children and adults – but the mass of titles don't really come across as really adult. Even hard-hitting themes from reality are often softened for their implementation on the gaming table. It doesn't have to be. It may not be. An opinion.

Even a brief contact with the historian Lukas Boch, founding member of the "Boardgame Historian" project, was enough to germinate a central question: Do board games too often ignore the real world? 

No question, even in board games people like to break a lot. A colorful world is dying: opponents, buildings, vehicles, resources - but please everything in purely fictitious environments. Authors and publishers often make things too easy for themselves. They circumnavigate tricky topics, and if a project then boldly dares to approach realistic events: only as a setting, please. You just don't want to deal with content during development. 

Themed board games: cases like boxes full of air

Even "thematic board games" are therefore primarily to be understood as empty shells. With an instructive short story and then visually, they provide a framework within which the players can let off steam. And it is also the players themselves who are supposed to read cultural information into it or even discuss it. One wants to avoid “Winnetou” incidents with toys as much as possible. 

This sometimes takes on absurd proportions. You can fight each other on the board game table – and you should also feel good. Having fun with battles. Even actual historical events such as the Second World War then become playgrounds whose thematic framework only serves to allow two players to let small figures go into battle. That war is somehow stupid and peace is much nicer, no one says a word about it. Can't you? Don't you have to? Shouldn't you? Possibly all three. Don't talk about uncomfortable topics. It doesn't have to be at the board game table, where fun and entertainment count, not arguments. And you shouldn't, because too much criticism just doesn't sell well. Even board games for adults are thematically softened: shallow entertainment and cultural assets - does that go together? In a world where traditional consumer themes are all declared cultural assets, this is obviously not a problem. 

Instead of using the exciting topics of this world, authors and publishers often go to great lengths to constantly pull new fantasy worlds out of their fingers. There's no question: that's nice too, and it's important. Switch off, travel to foreign countries, meet imaginary creatures. In a board game - in contrast to books or films - this is actively possible.

But this is exactly where the problem lies: even without long historical introductions or textual contributions to the discussion, board games can be used to playfully criticize. Video games, but also parlor games, offer unique opportunities to turn dark hours of history into light. Polishing the face of Nazis in a big city setting? Hell yeah! Scare powerful corporations out of the rainforest? Definitely! Mangle big game hunters with lions, tigers and cheetahs? I'm in! Letting the sun explode and engulf the earth because humanity has failed to deal with the climate crisis? Enormously instructive! 

board games medieval

Doubly embellished: Fantasy and the Middle Ages – many a knight from back then would certainly wish for the Middle Ages of today. Photo: Volkman

If necessary, it can also be done much more subtly. Because board games allow creative tricks, you can take advantage of them to point out urgent problems, possibly even point out possible solutions. The toy industry rarely seizes the opportunity. Not but never. Because: There are now a number of board games that not only dare to tackle sensitive topics, but also give the players opportunities to influence them. 

Spirit Island for example. The board game by author Eric Reuss (also: For Science!, Fealty) represents the antithesis to typical titles with a conquest setting. Here the gods strike back. Or the anti-war board game This War of Mine, an adaptation of the video game of the same name. It addresses the horrors of war and its consequences for those who are innocently drawn into it. Players have to deal with uncomfortable situations, make momentous decisions.

Other games focus at least rudimentarily on climate change or an impending nuclear catastrophe. And something is also happening: When even authors like the duo Inka and Markus Brand – who otherwise stand for good entertainment but shallow topics – deal with the transience of life in the Middle Ages in their board game, then that is a faint signal . Ravensburger's guide to the new edition of Puerto Rico even includes an explanation of the cultural background for the revision. 

The majority of the industry still relies on glorification, and one can hardly blame the publishers: the Middle Ages are a popular theme in board games, for example. Farmers then till fertile fields in a kind of alternative reality, noble warriors storm the battlefields. The fact that people in the Middle Ages were possibly not confronted with the sunny side of life is better ignored - also for the sake of the players. Who wants to rack up points with starving peasants, or knights in battered armor, smelling of their own feces, marching onto battlefields only to lose their limbs in a brutal hacking operation? Sometimes reality just isn't as sexy as board games make it seem. 

And the essence of the criticism? Board games don't always have to be serious, they should and must stimulate the imagination, allow thoughts to wander, be a way to switch off, but they are allowed to touch the wound where necessary.

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Pegasus Games 51896G - Spirit Island (German Edition) Pegasus Spiele 51896G - Spirit Island (German edition) * Currently no reviews 54,99 EUR

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Last updated on 5.12.2022/XNUMX/XNUMX / Affiliate Links / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API. * = Affiliate links. Images from Amazon PA API