Humor in Boardgames

After playing a game of Galaxy Trucker last night, I was pondering "funny" games. The post-game discussion consensus was that GT is "funny like RoboRally" as opposed to "funny like Munchkin.

In Munchkin-funny games, the components are funny. The cards have funny names or flavortext, and it's amusing to be attacked by thousands of orcs while you have a duck stuck to your head. I'd put Illuminati and Chez Geek in this category as well (not that Steve Jackson Games has a monopoly on these). These games are very funny to begin with, but (to me at least) become less amusing as you become more familiar with the cards. It's probably no coincidence that Munchkin and Chez Geek have a lot of expansion sets.

In RoboRally-funny games, the gameplay is funny. You make plans, you have an expectation of what will happen - and then something completely different actually occurs. Instead of sprinting along the conveyor belt and jumping off just as you reach the flag area, someone accidentally pushes you onto a turning block and you sprint in the entire wrong direction, jumping onto the conveyor belt that throws you into a pit. I'd also put Wiz-War and maybe Fluxx in this category. These games don't sound as funny on first glance or on a read-through but in actual play both the players and bystanders were laughing raucously as our Galaxy Trucker ships got blown to pieces by asteroids and pirates. These games stay funny as you play them.

A funny subject or cards, like in Munchkin, can be applied to a very strategic game (I'm sure there's some way to make Go funny) but RoboRally-funny games are by definition not strategic at all. I'm sure some people would be too frustrated by this to enjoy the game but I really like them.

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3 Responses to Humor in Boardgames

  1. Jake Eakle says:

    While I agree with (what seems to be) your general point that RoboRally-funny games are more fun for longer than Munchkin-funny games, I beg to differ with your conclusion that RoboRally is 'not strategic at all'.

    There's plenty of strategy in RoboRally. You can think about where your opponents are, how many options they have, and what they are likely to try to do, and structure your turn accordingly, and this sort of gameplay will be rewarded. I guess you can play it totally without though, just slapping down cards that get you in the right direction without taking your opponents into consideration, but you'd be ignoring a significant part of the game.

  2. Denis Moskowitz says:

    OK, "not strategic at all" was a little over-the-top. But your ability to plan for the future is very limited - I often say, when playing games like Carcassonne, that "it's never too early to start playing the endgame" but in RoboRally it's probably too early to start playing the endgame until the last 1 or 2 turns.

  3. Andrew Plotkin says:

    I see two things going on, and neither of them is exactly "strategic".

    First, it's funny when rule consequences pile up in some unexpected way, or go wildly outside what people are familiar. This is Fluxx when someone recurses several actions onto each other, or Truckers when one hit blows a third of your ship away. But it's also Race if, say, someone has way too many Explore powers and winds up doing draw-7-keep-3 on someone else's Explore phase. People laugh when that happens.

    Second, there's a question of investment. If Truckers had exactly the same flight rules, but you spent half an hour pre-game carefully designing your ship with a thick manual of charts, getting blown apart wouldn't be nearly as funny. The whole setup encourages you to think of your ship as a pile of cheap, hastily-assembled junk -- because you have to assembly it hastily, there's no cost system, and the result is asymmetrical and ugly.

    (Similarly, there's a reason Roborally provides only a slender penalty for dying.)

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