Tobold's Blog
Sunday, November 08, 2020
Are video gamers supposed to be dumber than board gamers?

In 2018 I pledged for a board games called Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon on Kickstarter. For some reason at that time I thought it would be nice to also have the optional box of large monsters miniatures. That turned out to be not such a good idea, because the core game shipped in 2019, while the content of my pledge is in the second wave of shipping, which is supposedly happening just before Christmas this year, a good year later. I think I really messed up my pledge, because I wasn't fully aware of the timing of the shipping waves, nor what additional things I really wanted for the base game. While I wait, I already watched some people playing the game on YouTube, in order to learn the rules. I am looking forward to this game, because it has exploration, "choose your own adventure" style decision making, and a complex combat and diplomacy system.

Then at some point I remembered that my Kickstarter pledge also gave me access to Tainted Grail on Steam. That is not the companion app, but a PC game made by the same people, and playing in the same world. It is supposed to be similar, but different, to the board game, so as to not have any spoilers. So I tried that out, and was severely disappointed. Yes, the PC game has card based combat, but while the board game combat is a complex puzzle where you can only play a card if its "keys" match the previous card, in the PC game you can just play any card you want. And the effects are much simpler. The exploration and decision making in the PC version is also very much dumbed down compared to the board game. Also the PC game has a game mechanic I absolutely hate: The game is designed so that you can't win, but rather die early. And every time you die, you get some bonuses for your next incarnation, until at the n-th playthrough you are finally strong enough to beat the game.

Now I am sure that some people will like that Tainted Grail PC game, and that there is a market for that sort of game. But there are hundreds of "roguelike" dungeon crawler games on Steam which are somewhat similar. And there are not many games on Steam that are as complex as the Tainted Grail board game. In fact, the Steam tag of board games shows, besides easy family games, some of the more complex games on Steam, like Gloomhaven, for which the PC version is a lot closer to the physical game.

So I am wondering why some game companies feels the need to significantly dumb down a game when making a PC version of a complex board game. Are video gamers supposed to be dumber than board gamers? To me that strategy feels like a mistake: People looking for simpler games probably don't know the brand of a complex board game, and people who know and love a complex board game don't really want a dumbed down version of it.

I hope you put "roguelike" in inverted commas on purpose! Enthusiasts for actual roguelikes hate meta-progression, the process you described where you get stronger on each run. They refer to games with some roguelike elements but also game altering meta-progression as "roguelites".

[They will tolerate meta-progression that unlocks new character classes etc.]

Unfortunately, this IS rather a disease of video-games. I suspect it comes in part from people getting used to grinding models in FTP games and subscription MMORPGs. You advance by playing a lot, not by playing better, as in classic roguelikes and strategy games.

I guess a lot of people like it because they play a bit and make a bit of tangible progress, win or lose. There ARE games out there that operate by other rules though.
Maybe the company didn't have the resources to make a more complex and accurate video-game rendering of the board game. It's unlikely the same individuals would have been able to do both, isn't it? Or maybe the video version is a side-project of a sub-group within the company, perhaps one that has different ideas of what constitutes a fun game. Or maybe it's an intentional diversdification specifically intended to appeal to a different demographic. Perhaps the producers didn't expect to get much of a crossover audience between the two. Or perhaps they did but felt that audience would be more likely to want two different experiences using the same I.P. rather than the same experience, replicated exactly, across different platforms.

Really, there are countless reasons it could have turned out this way, only one of which is "we think video gamers are dumber than board gamers". But, hey, it could have been that, too.
How do you know this was a choice to dumb down the videogame and not a limitation of game development, ie. Time, money, talent, etc.
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