Most of us have heard that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the axiom holds true for tabletop games, too. Let me take it back to the early to mid-Nineties. I went to a Mississippi high school, and my family and I saw every one of the traveling displays at Memphis’s Pink Palace.
One year we took in the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire exhibit. My brother Ben—after much poking and prodding of our mother about how much he’d wear it—convinced our mother to buy him an Ottoman hat. The hat cost $30. I didn’t see anything that I liked at the Pink Palace, so my mother told me I could get something at Waldenbooks (back when there was a Waldenbooks). It didn’t take long before I found a board game for $30. I showed the game to my mother, and she told me that the game looked boring, put it back. I ended up not getting anything, but that’s not important. What’s important is that the game I showed her was Settlers of Catan.
Yes. The same Settlers of Catan that introduced a lot of Americans to the German board game industry. The same Settlers of Catan with game mechanics so inspired that it sparked a tabletop game renaissance. Settlers of Catan the game that my aunt—my mother’s sister, Sjonneke—would call her favorite game of all time fifteen years later. Settlers of Catan the name my mother would drop every Christmas time phone call and say, you know your Aunt Sjonneke has played a game that she really likes, and you should try it. It’s called Pioneers of Qatar or something.
I wouldn’t mind playing a game titled Pioneers of Qatar, and I don’t judge a game by its cover and neither should you. And you shouldn’t be scared of playing games that have premises that sound boring either. Power Grid may have its players constructing utility poles and laying electric lines, but it’s a heck of a fun game—the same goes for the trains in Ticket to Ride.
A tabletop game can look cute but have devilish strategy components like Antoine Bauza’s Takenoko. Don’t let the fluffy panda fool you; it’s a fun game, but it can be tough. And movie or TV show tie-ins like in video games—think of the E.T. the Extra Terrestrial game that almost doomed the industry in 1983—often fall way short of the original source material. If you’re wondering what that fetid smell is, it’s The Walking Dead Board Game.
Never judge a game by its cover. A game can look great but stink or look like a snooze, and it’s anything but a bore. You should always leave yourself open to new experiences. When you do, you let the fun in.