Transcript of our podcast from 21 April 2008

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Why Games Are Loud or Silent

by Moritz Eggert

As a kind of second thought to the last show I would like to talk about what mechanics makes games silent or loud.

Most gamers are pretty communicative, as gaming is a social activity after all. At the Westpark Gamers we sometimes need half an hour to actually start gaming because there are so many topics that we enjoy talking about, from politics to our last travels. Still we found that some games feel as if they were "Schweigespiele", like "Tigris and Euphrates", games in which very little is said and most action happens on the board, whereas other games are "talkative" or even incessantly loud, like "Bluff" or "Liar's Dice".

With talking I mean table talk, not announcing in game actions like "I move this piece from there to there", this doesn't really count. Talking encompasses anything from side jokes, loud laughing and screaming, banter, friendly insults like "I'm going to crush you, you pig" to funny observations, which - in my opinion - really make a game come to life.

The worst kind of talking is of course out of game banter about the weather or sports, because that usually shows that the game one plays is rather boring, but I'm not going to talk about that here.

With some analysis I found that one can exactly pinpoint the mechanics which make a game louder or softer. With this it would be possible to create a pretty definite "loudness" rating of each game by simply using the various mechanics or traits that are listed with each game at boardgamegeek and assigning negative point values to silent game mechanics and positive values to loud game mechanics.

Let's look at some of the mechanics. The ultimate silent mechanic is of course everything that has to do with abstract strategy. Chess is usually an extremely silent game, because there is not really a lot to talk about hence you would expose your secret plans. It also gets players into a brooding mode that makes them look inwardly. The same with hidden cards. Bridge is almost completely silent except for the formalized bidding phase, and even that is done silently with signs in professional bridge clubs. Poker players also don't talk much except the most necessary utterings to keep their cool. The opening phase of "Agricola" is completely silent, because each player has to study his cards intently. Trick-Taking games fall somewhere in between - if you have to announce certain things like "Rummy" or "Mau Mau" it gets players into a talkative mode. I have often observed that Tichu players become extremely excited and loud when they announce bombs or Tichu.

2-player games will always be more silent than multiplayer games as a rule, because actions have to be announced to a larger group and there will be the inevitable comment like "Look, she's winning - we have to do something about it", which isn't necessary in a two player game.

Open bidding makes a game louder, whereas secret bidding makes it more silent of course. Luck or the element of the "Unknown" about which I talked a few shows back, will make a game louder, because chance tends to create an element of surprise. This is why Backgammon is usually a tiny bit louder than chess, for example, even though it is also an abstract strategy game, simply because dice are rolled. And I don't mean the noise of the dice roll. Strategy would also count higher on the silence scale than tactics, because tactics tend to be more short-term oriented and therefore don't tax the brain as much.

Wargames are often strategic and sometimes abstracted, but very often they are not silent, as there is either a storytelling or simulation element to them (which creates "about the game" banter like "it's incredible how important artillery was in Napoleonic times" "No, you're wrong, it wasn't" etc.). Another factor on the loudness scale is actually complexity of the rules, because rules lawyering is inevitably vocal, and in the worst case rules arguing.

Quiz games are usually very loud, of course, as are games with a timing factor (action A has to happen before B to be valid, for example). The loudest game ever recorded at our gaming group was "Kohle, Kies und Knete", in which it is possible to play "play anytime" event cards that have to be timed, so if you react too slowly you're done for. The game lasted exactly 10 minutes because there was immediately an incredibly loud argument about who had played a card first. We never played it again.

The loudest games are of course games that include open Diplomacy or open trading, like the infamous "I got wood for sheep" game that everybody knows. "Advanced Civilization" rates high on the loudness scale for example, because it's trade phase is free for all and you have to make yourself heard.

Another loudness factor would be role-playing, as this would necessitate you to say things freely.

Theme also plays a role - if a game has funny cards and concepts like "Bohnanza" or "Munchkin" it will invariably be louder than a game about developing the postal system in Germany, that's for sure.

With these ideas a simple rating system could be constructed that translates game traits into loudness or silence points. So abstract strategy could be a -4 whereas open bidding could be a +2. We could then derive an exact Eggert scale for the loudness of games that could be introduced as a feature on boardgame geek with little work of Aldie, as he simply would have to associate numbers to the game traits. Right now I don't have the time for that- so if there are any volunteers I would be very happy! If not I will try to experimentally devise an Eggert scale for loudness which will range from Chess (0) to Hystericoach (20) for example. We will see.... Until next time, when the Kimchi sprouts are blossoming in Tom's garden while some Korean garden gnomes look on with a puzzled expression.

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