Friday, July 28, 2017

The disappointment of Stonehenge the Game Anthology

As I will tell anyone at the drop of a hat, I am a big fan of game systems. I think a deck of cards is one of the most essential things to have in a game library and the bare minimum of what I'll pack for a trip. (You know, after my toothbrush) The Looney Pyramids were a big part of my start in gaming. I think the Decktet is brilliant.

And then there was Stonehenge.

When it was first announced, I knew that I had to get Stonehenge. It was billed as a board game anthology. Both the original game in the expansion head top-notch designers create games with the components. 

Those components, at least for the time, were pretty decent. There was a big board, a deck of cards, druid figurines, plastic trilithons, discs and bars. That wouldn't be that impressive know but it was pretty good for 2007.

I had to get it. A game system that came with games by Richard Borg, James Ernst, Bruno Faidutti, Richard Garfield, and Mike Selinker? With more games promised from other well known designers like Andrew Looney and Bruno Cathala and Klaus-Jurgen Wrede? What could go wrong?

Well, my friends and I started trying out the different games and they just kept falling flat. It has been about 10 years so time has mercifully blocked out the details but I still remember the profound sense of disappointment. It isn't my biggest board game disappointment (Hi, Thunderstone!) but it's up there. The fact that it ultimately wasn't even that memorable doesn't help it's cause.

It is probably telling that every game only got a two-page spread in the rulebook. And some of them clearly needed more. Even for folks who were experienced reading rules and playing different board games, it was kind of vague.

And, as much as I enjoy other things that all the designers are done, it really felt like they phoned the Stonehenge games in. There wasn't a single killer app in the lot. Would I buy a standalone version of Zendo, for instance? Oh yes. Any of the Stonehenge games? Wouldn't even cross my mind.

And I don't accept the argument that the five games are just examples and the real goal is for you to come up with your own games. The examples still have to hold up on their own.

I think part of the problem is that the pieces don't really work as a toolbox. The need to tie everything back to Stonehenge made too many of the pieces too specific. That took away from the flexibility of using them as general tools for games.

As an idea, Stonehenge was great. As an execution, it was terrible. In the end, it proves how difficult intentionally designing a game system really is. I honestly believe that an important component is having an active and committed community. If Stonehenge ended up developing one, it was after we gave up on it.

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