GDC Thoughts (on board games)

Anyone want to rule a small fiefdom by trading cards? Or cure a worldwide pandemic with SCIENCE?

I just got back from San Francisco, where last week I was attending the annual Game Developer’s Conference (GDC). There were a bunch of great talks, and you can get the low down on them from plenty of other sites, so I won’t try to recap what has already been discussed.

Instead, I’ll talk about GDC from the incredibly important (and somewhat irrelevant) board game angle. One of my favorite parts about going out to California is that I get to visit a lot of my friends from college (Zetes, you know who you are) and a big part of what we do nowadays is play board games, usually while trash talking each other and eating/drinking.

This year was defined by two games, Pandemic and Dominion. The first is a strange board game in that it is a cooperative affair; everyone works together to try to eradicate 4 rampaging diseases before they wipe out humanity, and in each game the entire team either wins or loses together. It’s a lot of fun to strategize together to figure out what to do next, and there are some really neat mechanics (like how outbreaks work, or that the same cities tend to keep getting infected) that really do a great job of ratcheting up the pressure. The specialized abilities for each player is great too – everyone has their own role (i.e. superpower) that really drives each player’s personality in the game. I’m a big fan of the Medic and Scientist, but maybe that’s because they are the most newbie friendly and I haven’t played it much. It’s worth mentioning that the box art for the game is some of the worst I’ve ever seen, it seems to scream “I’m an educational game, don’t play me, I’m not fun!”. Hilarious.

Dominion is a f*ing expensive card trading game that is ridiculously addictive, and pretty well balanced too. If you play with the two expansion sets (which you should) the game has a whopping 75 sets of cards, and in each game you will randomly play with 10 of those sets. Each set represents a different rule for the game, so the game basically has infinite variety in that you will probably never play the same game twice, and which rules are available in each game drastically changes how that round plays out. Dominion also has the added bonus of being a quick game to play, so we found we would frequently play 2-4 games back to back. It’s so addictive that I found myself often thinking about playing while I was at GDC, which is impressive considering how much attention grabbing eye candy abounds there.

If you like these board games go check them out! Also props to Jeff Ward for organizing a kickass board games night at the beginning of GDC.


  1. crb

    I don’t get it. You play games all day and you somehow get paid?

  2. Sometimes I surf the intertubes too

  3. Charna Rose

    I didn’t really like Dominion as much. It was alright. Maybe I need to play it a few more times. I still haven’t played Pandemic (bad me since I work in a comic/gaming shop). The game I have been obsessed with lately is Small World. Great game. It’s like fantasy Risk, except game play only lasts about 45 minutes – an hour. Eitan, I didn’t know you were such a gamer!

  4. Stick with Dominion! It gets really good after a few plays. As for being a gamer, I suppose I’ve gotten more into it since Carmiel 🙂

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