Vive le difference- a sommelier showdown and open challenge

I not only agree that the Spiel forum can exist as its own entity rather than being absorbed by bigger fish, as you've occasionally mentioned on the show,  but hope to see even more distinct voices emerging. I'll spare you what irritates me about some of  those big fish- it's quite a list. I'm still itching to write that more acerbic piece somewhere, if only to find out whether I'm alone in my feelings about a few things, but Stephen and Dave's living room isn't the place to spray venom all over the padded walls. In editing this defanged version, though, I did filter out one of the many reasons I steer curious players here first (and increasingly away from some other places entirely, but again, I'm trying to play nice today.) The distinction for me is that while many of the fish seem to share the assumption- and at times insistence- that we, the game players of the world, all come from essentially the same experience. The Spiel seems to celebrate that we're all different in our own strange ways and is much more interesting and sophisticated for it.

According to R.C. Bell, only two human cultures throughout history left no evidence of table games. In contrast, the current stereotype of the "gamer" only began to calcify about three decades ago. The word "nongamer" is even younger and I'm still not sure I buy the idea; it's one of several buzzwords that eventually began to put my teeth on edge. "Gateway game" runs a close second because, from my experience, the barrier to recruiting new players hasn't been complexity, but the willingness of my audience to go with the experience. If I've lost willing players, it's either been a problem with the game itself or my lack of preparation for teaching it. If, on the other hand, my companions were reluctant if not flatly unwilling to play the particular game at hand, I've found myself, as the old saw has it, "teaching a pig to sing." (It wastes your time and annoys the pig.)

Take your sommelier list of good games with supposedly off-putting themes. To many of my friends, any of those would be more attractive than Descent, which was highlighted elsewhere in that episode. They hear "elves, orcs and wizards" and squirm uncomfortably behind strained smiles and patient but glazing eyes. Power Grid on the other hand attractively deals with a subject they all immediately understand, with a subtle environmental subtext to boot. (It might help that with its auctions, paper money and little wooden houses, it reminds some players of a familiar item frequently blamed in some cloistered quarters for turning people off boardgames forever, yet praised on Amazon with an 4.5 average rating out of a possible 5. From 127 reviews. 95 of which give it a 5. Like I said, we're all different.) Personally, I'm a bit of a tramp- it's rare that I meet a game I hate. (When I do, though, man it's grueling. "Chez Goth" staggers to mind, along with its many cousins. "Goth rave", by the way, is an oxymoron as anyone who ever really hung with either crowd could tell you.)

When I caught myself describing you to a friend as "the Siskel and Ebert of games," however, I realized that you two don't disagree as often as that. (Maybe more the Sifl and Olly of games?) But we are all different- right? Your challenge then is for each of you to secretly select a list of 5 games that you honestly enjoy playing but which you suspect will send the other bolting from the table. For a change, you'll each be hoping to hear "thumbs down". I hesitate to sow such dissent, but I think it'd be fun to hear those feathers fly and I'm curious about how your individual tastes will manifest. So here's how I'll make it a win/win scenario. If you fail, you learn that you can happily bring a new game to the table. For each time one of you successfully makes the other cringe, I'll donate 2.50 to the Spiel Foundation for games to the underprivileged. (If Mr. Weaver offered a fiver each for one sommelier, I figure that's fair for two.)

Sommelier Kombat! It has begun!


That came out looking a LOT longer than it did in Wordpad.... I need an editor...

Hey, GregoryIS, I like the cut of your gibe.

I, for one, would be pleased to hear the extended piece and suspect that it would not result so much in venom on the padded walls but in insightful conclusions, well framed, and thought provoking to us all.

All power to anyone who can shoehorn the word 'calcify' into their diatribe with scarcely a literary stumble on the vocabulary hurdles.

Is it really the case that there were only two cultures that left no gaming records ? Which ones ? Dude, that is an awesome fact.

I think your point on Gateway games is very well made. Interestingly I read a very similar article on Fortress Ameritrash - not my normal reading material (a statement which, itself, goes to show how received perceptions can skew our openess to good debate).

So many gamers try to position 'gateway' as the key to the magic kingdom of the gaming world. At the end of the day people either want to play or they don't - if they fall into the latter category then no amount of "Ticket to Ride" or "Carcassonne" is going to sway them. I brought a friend into gaming via "War of the Ring". Is that a gateway game ???? Nope, but he is mad keen on hobbitses and that was enough.

Anyway - I just wanted to show solidarity for your perspective. I, too, think that Stephen and Dave bring something fresh to the gaming world with their persistence in finding the fun and refusing to bow to the wisdom of the majority (cf Crocodile Pool Party). And, you're right, there is a certain spin to the community here which is a little bit out of the mainstream. As I have observed in the past, the Spiel is the "Northern Exposure" of the games world.

Spiel on, dude.

If memory serves, he claims that the only two exceptions were the Inuits of the frozen north and the aboriginal people of Australia's outback- which I take to mean that the only people who don't want to play a game are the ones who are having to work full time to merely survive their harsh habitat. Heck, for that matter maybe the Inuit games just melted.

I wanted to weigh in with at least one thought right now since that's all my brain can seem to hold...

The term gateway game doesn't bug me, but it is inadequate for sure. In a way, the Game Sommelier concept is my response to the gateway. My contention is that almost any group of people can enjoy playing a game; it's more a matter of finding the right game for that particular crowd's tastes - a formula that is half art and half science I'll admit. There are definitely some people in the world who just do not like games but that segment of population is much much smaller than the people tagged as non-gamers today. Too many times I have spent evenings with friends who claimed to hate games only to discover they liked a particular title that I pulled down from the shelf. The problem is mostly exposure. To put it another way, I think of games as a form of artistic expression and entertainment in the same realm as books and music and film. Most people don't watch one movie, read one book, listen to one cd and decide they don't like films, music or books. It takes time and exposure to develop a sense of taste and to find art that speaks to you. Unlike books, films, and music, most people's experience with games is very limited,  only a few titles and many with bad childhood memories attached. Of course, this colors their opinion of games in general. Gateways come in handy since they deal with some of the possible objections people might have to games, but these tend to be from a mechanical standpoint (the rules are accessible, the game doesn't take forever, they encourage interaction). I certainly think aesthetics plays a part in the equation, too. The Sommelier tries to balance mechanics, aesthetics and the particular playing crowd of the moment to find games that will resonate with all around the table. In a way this means, the Sommelier is a kind of gate keeper (gate opener?) more than any one or two seminal gateway titles can ever be.

That gate can swing shut, too, I fully admit that. Some games just don't speak to a given player. The hard part about your challenge is we both have very broad tastes in games, much more than even the typical "gamer." But that's also what makes it fun.

I'm glad the forums here are gaining some traction and I'm really pleased to see conversations developing between you all! The Northern Exposure metaphor rings very true to me. We're glad to be the home for the oddballs in the hinterlands.


From someone who can bring Latin, Japanese and the great Mervyn Peake to the table, that's praise indeed. Writes a witty blog too. As far as the original, nastier and ironically shorter draft, it was kind of like going into a restaurant, cornering the manager and saying, "Yeah, your place is great but let me tell you how awful the service is at the place across the street." I shouldn't vent here about why output elsewhere is sadly becoming unpalatable to me, especially when some of that involves things beyond games. To clarify the relevant point though, my concern with phrases like these isn't merely that they're vague, it's also that they often take on a condescending edge. "The Spiel" retains the intelligence and discrimination yet somehow avoids the sneer and that's a refreshing balancing act.

As for bad childhood memories, I don't have kids myself but if I remember my own childhood, anytime you introduce competition, conflict and an activity in which participants will end up defined as winners and losers, you're asking for trouble regardless of the title in question. I'd keep the nippers on co-ops for the sake of a peaceful life. Perhaps I should have suggested Knizia's Lord of the Rings for your children's hospital packages. (Pandemic, I suppose, could be in poor taste under those circumstances.)