Has a new game genre formed under our noses? July 30 2018, 1 Comment
This post is by Nick Bentley, one of North Star Games' Developers.
There was a time, let’s call it “the early 2000s”, when there was a sharp distinction between party games and strategy games.
it was a strange time
And it was Montagues vs. Capulets: those who played party games didn’t much play “real” strategy games (i.e. the kinds of games folks discussed on BGG, mostly euro games then), and those who played strategy games SURE AS HELL didn’t play party games. I remember hanging out on BGG in its early days and keeping my love of party games close to the vest. To the extent the Gamerati discussed them, it was usually to excoriate them. So I was in the game closet.
Party games then weren’t as diverse as they are now. Games like Taboo and Charades and Balderdash defined the genre, mostly games about judging creative answers or shouting out answers quickly.
it was a time when games described themselves as “hilarious”
There’s nothing wrong with those, but you wouldn’t call them “thoughtful”, and gamers wanted thoughtful games. Received wisdom back then was that gamers disliked party games, period. But that wasn’t true. They just disliked the party games available then.
North Star Games exists in part because it was one of the first publishers to realize this. One of the company’s cofounders, Dominic Crapuchettes, had been one of the world’s top-ranked professional Magic players. Dominic had long wanted to found a game company so he could make strategy games, but when he looked at the market, he saw it was much bigger for party games than strategy games. So North Star started designing party games.
Dominic (and two of his finer creations)
But unlike most people designing party games then, Dominic was a strategy gamer at heart and wanted to design a party game people like him might enjoy.
The result was Wits & Wagers, a game which overturned what had become a stale genre: trivia games. He did it by adding betting. Wits & Wagers is a trivia game where you can win not by knowing the answers, but by savvy betting on what the other players know. It allowed players to win via keen probabilistic thinking. It also helped that, unlike many other party games (then and now), your performance in Wits and Wagers doesn’t depend on other players' judgments, so it was less capricious than other party games.
And indeed, Wits & Wagers was one of the first party games to establish itself with gamers: North Star at first marketed the game mainly to gamers through boardgamegeek and hobbyist conventions. More than a decade later, it has sold about 2 million copies.
If Wits & Wagers doesn't sound revolutionary now, it's because now there are loads of thinky party games. If you’ve come into the hobby any time in the last say, 8 years, you take their existence for granted.
Even so, traditional party games are still published all the time too. Cards Against Humanity, Joking Hazard, etc. These don’t feel like the same thing to me. It feels like the general genre category “Party Games” has split as it has diversified, but our language hasn’t kept up. We don’t have words to reference these different kinds of games.
Laggardly language is causing a quandary
One of my jobs at North Star is making ads. This month I’ve been making digital ads for a new game we’re launching called Most Wanted. It’s a hand-bluffing game where you’re an Old West outlaw, robbing banks, dueling at high noon, and other nefarious activities (you can read about its origins in this designer diary).
Most Wanted is a light strategy game that feels like a party game. There’s not much space for text in online ads, so I want to communicate what kind of game it is in a word or two. That’s not easy: if I describe it as a light strategy game, some might think it’s like Carcassonne. If I call it a party game, they might think it’s a traditional party game like Cards Against Humanity. But it’s neither.
The closest game I can think of, in terms of the way it feels, is King of Tokyo. Like King of Tokyo, you’re not trying to be funny or creative or to yell something out fast; you’re trying to make smart decisions. But the outcomes of those decisions make for a party.
Tons of games fall into this category. Examples:
- Captain Sonar
- The Resistance and The Resistance: Avalon
- Most Wanted
- Galaxy Trucker
- Various Werewolf variants
- Secret Hitler
- Sheriff of Nottingham
There isn’t a word for this kind of game, but it sure would be easier to talk about this corner of the game world if there were. How about Partegy Game?
I remember how useful it was when everyone started using “Ameritrash” (a term in use as early as 2000 on Google forums but which was popularized by Robert Martin on BGG around 2006). Its widespread adoption not only made discussing games easier, it changed the games industry. Once it was a buzzword, more companies started designing games fitting the description. I’m not sure Cool Mini or Not would be publishing games today if a buzzword for their kind of game hadn’t gone viral first.
i.e. language is powerful.
I realize a faint voice in the internet wilderness won’t change much. But maybe we can have a conversation and maybe it’ll lead to something down the line. The next time someone asks you what kind of game any of the above games are, tell them it’s a Partegy Game. If enough people eventually do I’ll finally be able to make ads for Most Wanted that don’t suck, and I won’t get fired. My life is in your hands.