It is better to give than to receive
’Tis the season… The questions keep on coming. Mostly they’re prefixed with the phrase: “You know what you’re talking about…” and then comes: “I want to give someone a game this year; which one should it be?” At first you feel honoured and flattered to be asked such a question – and completely clueless too.
Then the presumed expert draws a deep breath, gathers himself together and starts to ask his own questions. For example: how old is the person you’re buying for? Male or female? Do they play often or just once every few months? Who with? With how many others? Do they prefer an easy, laid-back type of game or a longer-lasting challenge? A party game or a strategic heavyweight? Intense competition or co-operative fun? Are they are a good loser or is that a no-go area?
Now the picture has changed completely. The expert has talked themselves blue while the original enquirer is more clueless than ever: You have to think about so many things when you’re buying a game for someone? Of course! And lots more besides. Ultimately it comes down to one precise question that always needs to be answered, to make sure that the giver and receiver of the gift are happy and satisfied: What do they like?
It’s obvious really, and it’s something that is immediately accepted when we talk about any other cultural product, whether literature, film or music. I can’t believe that anyone sitting on a jury for a literary award would ever be asked – without further comment: “I want to give someone a book; which one should it be?”
You wouldn’t give a Mills and Boon novel to your friend obsessed with crime thrillers, just as you wouldn’t give a Justin Bieber CD to an opera connoisseur. And giving a French art-house film to your friend who’s into action movies could send them into a crisis of existential ennui. I’ll let you into a little secret: it’s exactly the same with games. You should at least get the broad categories right: age, complexity, number of players etc.
And after I – if I’m the expert in this scenario – have explained all of this, I usually make things really easy: in clear conscience and complete conviction I recommend the winner of this year’s Spiel des Jahres award (or of course, the Kennerspiel or Kinderspiel des Jahres). The jurors have spent a lot of thought, effort and time testing with various different people in order to select the games they believe the awards’ target groups will enjoy. It’s no coincidence that it has often become a family tradition to give the current award-winner as a gift at Christmas.
This year it’s the lively and chaotic Western parody COLT EXPRESS. And if that’s not to the taste of the recipient; because perhaps it’s too hectic and too out of control? Or because he’d rather share victory with others rather than punching and shooting them out of the way? Then look no further than the other nominated titles: the city-building simulation MACHI KORO offers a more contemplative experience and THE GAME requires co-operation to succeed. In the recommended list you can find further suggestions for every type of game, every age group and every price, from simple games for pre-school children to hardcore strategic games for the experts. And then of course there are the winners, nominees and recommended games from last year…
For some more finely-tuned advice I recommend a visit to your Friendly Local Games Store. Here you can find answers to all your important questions and you can also check that the game you’ve got in mind is actually complete (sometimes it’s hard to recognise an expansion which you’ll need the base game to play) or whether you’ll need batteries – it can be a nightmare trying to get hold of some during the holidays. Most importantly you can ask someone to explain the rules to you. One or two test runs are especially useful for children’s games, where you want to start playing straight away.
Without a doubt the best thing about board and card games – and that which differentiates them from other cultural products – is that they are a collective experience. Reading, watching and listening are, by their very nature, a solitary experience. Games can only be played with other people and that changes some things. If only half of the group is enjoying the game, it can affect the mood of the whole table, even if it’s the perfect gift.
So now we come to perhaps the most important point: give some of your time along with the game itself. Try and be there for the first playthrough. If you’ve chosen correctly, it won’t do you any harm. That’s really what the upcoming holidays and gaming in general are all about: spending time with each other.