[-empyre-] Tabletop-inspired action

Brent Povis twolanternsgames at gmail.com
Thu Mar 12 14:29:12 AEDT 2020

Aaron asked me in his last post if I viewed Morels more as simulation or
entertainment. The initial concept was actually both, which I don’t intend
as a cop-out answer since I don’t think most tabletop designers aim for, or
at least prioritize, simulation at all (unless specifically working in that
sub-genre, with games like Civilization). I believe many or perhaps even
most board games are designed “logic first”, basically working out the
abstract mechanics for what will drive a game, then pasting on a theme at
some point downstream, sometimes at the very end. Hall-of-Fame designer
Reinier Knizia, for instance, is universally panned for this (though he’s
so good at what he does that, by and large, folks don’t mind). When I
design, I prefer to bring theme in as early as possible, sometimes even as
the initial spark, so that it can suggest game mechanics as I go. The
result is inevitably a more organic feel to the finished product, with what
would otherwise be abstract in-game choices instead woven into the thematic
experience such that it can feel like a simulation.

We were also talking the other day about a board game called Agricola
<https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/31260/agricola>, the big kahuna of
2008. He drove 2 hours to get a copy and I lusted over one for months until
the owner of the game shop where I was working gifted me a copy as a going
away present. It was hot! In that heady era for tactical tabletop
agriculture, I remember someone posting on Board Game Geek that, after
playing countless sessions of farming-themed Euro-games (Agricola being
only one entry in a surprisingly rich genre), it made him literally want to
farm (!). Several years later, with Morels nearing release, it occurred to
me that a similar result was possible.  I’d never formally tested the
hypothesis, but began to warm to the affirmative when emails began
trickling in to the effect that, because of Morels, folks had joined a
local mushroom club, bought a mycology field guide to enhance walks in the
woods, picked up some Hen of the Woods from the local farmers market to try
for the first time, etc. As a former science teacher always on a mission to
help foster positive relationships with nature, these were some rewarding

Which brings me to my question: do theme-heavy tabletop games have the
power to change attitudes, behaviors, even lifestyles? I suspect there is
whole field of academic research centering on how digital games do just
that, so here once again is the analog jump (I imagine there may be analog
research on this too, but if so I’m just unaware of it…sorry folks, not an
academic). To address this question I selected three outdoor-hobby themed
games and created a poll for each on Board Game Geek to churn up some data
on whether players experienced what I called “hobby crossover”, basically
the action of board gaming instigating or furthering action in the hobby
portrayed by that game. I wanted to look specifically at games with
outdoorsy themes, so, with links to the polls, the games I selected were
, and Wingspan

The results were downright fun! Both the data and the basket of anecdotes
that came with suggest that “hobby crossover” is taking place with these
games. Here’s a summary of the numbers with a couple of user quotes as
well, taken from comments sections of the polls:

Morels, themed around the relatively (extremely?) high-barrier hobby of
mushroom foraging, saw 40% of participants agree or strongly agree that
they were MORE interested in mushroom foraging having played Morels, with
14% reporting they had actually gone mushroom foraging at least once more
than they may have otherwise. (n= 35)

1. *My explorations have mostly been academic, but certainly the game
inspired me to read up on mushroom foraging which led to an interest in
foraging in general…while I've not used my gained knowledge to pluck and
cook, I have gone on my share of walks to do some shroom-spotting.*

2. *I'm not sure I would ever actually go mushroom foraging because I
wouldn't trust myself to not accidentally pick a fatally poisonous
mushroom. But Morels HAS changed my grocery store and cooking experience. I
recognize exotic mushrooms in the store from the game, that I wouldn't have
otherwise known about, and I'm more likely to take them home and cook them.
I really get a kick out of sauteeing up some mushrooms that I've seen in
the game.*

PARKS, themed around visiting National Parks, saw 43% of participants agree
or strongly agree that they were MORE interested in visiting National Parks
having played PARKS, with 3% reporting they had actually visited a National
Park that they may not have otherwise. (n= 31; PARKS was only released last
September, so these visitation numbers may go up over time, especially with
the passage of a summer).

Wingspan, themed around birdwatching, saw 46% of participants agree or
strongly agree that they were MORE interested in birdwatching having played
Wingspan, with 20% reporting they had actually gone birdwatching at least
once more than they may have otherwise. (n =101)

1.* I wasn't consciously 'birdwatching' at all before Wingspan and had a
very vague understanding of the avi-fauna. I was deliberately
pipe-organ-watching and a bit of train-watching ;-)** Months after some
plays of Wingspan I got enough aware of this interest, so that in a walk to
a park that also has a large lake, I was able to recognize Mallard ducks
(males vs females) which are here in Romania too and the whole Europe; a
local gull species different from Franklin's and a wild goose species
different from the Canada Goose. I took several wide-angle and zoomed
photos of environment and birds and specific behaviors (picking food from
under water, diving, gliding, taking off from water-walking) - something I
never did expressly before.*

All of which I thought was pretty cool for a little sideline investigation.
My apologies for the length in sharing and many thanks to the generous
folks at Board Game Geek for participating.

Anyone with more robust data or insight on any of this, please do jump in!

*Brent Povis*
Game Designer
Two Lanterns Games
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