Language Independent Games – My Response to Matt Thrower

Matt Thrower has a problem with language independent games and he decided to voice this problem over on Board Game News. If you scroll down you will see that I commented on his post and I wanted to make sure I linked from here to there.

I really think people should read his post for a couple reasons. While the main part of my comment at the end was about Japan being more interesting to gamers than Germany (I still am shaking my head over his one comment) I think a lot of the other things he says are just silly. The two games he mentioned are Shogun and Race for the Galaxy, the first because it was redone as a language independent game Wallenstein while the original was not language independent, and the latter because of its use of symbols.

While I haven’t reviewed Shogun yet I will say right now it is a neat game. Our group has taken to it and I played it several more times this weekend. While the cards have no words on them and use simple symbols to tell you what is going on I don’t think this has caused any problems at all. Apparently for Matt two swords crossed and then the letter “A” to indicate Attack A is too complicated and a picture of a treasure chest or a picture of rice to mean “collect taxes” or “confiscate rice” is somehow bothersome. I just don’t get it.

About Race I feel similarly. Matt tells us straight off that he’s “been nosing around Race for the Galaxy recently” but hasn’t actually played it. To say that he is bothered by the icons when he hasn’t actually used the icons just seems like putting the thrusters before the space ship to me. It only took our group a game or two at most before we had basically figured out all the symbols and the nice little cheat sheets that are provided makes it even simpler. I admit I’m biased because I love the game but it really seems that he should have played a few times before forming an opinion on this.

I’ve played games that use symbols and I’ve played games that don’t. Sometimes the wording on cards is just as bad or worse than a symbol or picture or whatever. More than once I have read an Agricola card and went “huh?” and had to read it a couple more times before it made sense. After playing the game several times I tended to know what they meant, but that came with time in the same way that learning symbols in Race or Shogun came with time.

I will admit that my rant here was a simple response to his rant there. I will also admit that I might not have been so quick to have an opinion of my own if he hadn’t brought up two of the games I have been playing a lot of recently. So, if you feel I am completely out of line on this feel free to sound off and tell me so. You can also agree with me, which is welcome!


    I haven’t played any of the games mentioned, but I will say that, as a player and a designer, I really appreciate icons as shorthand for blobs of rules text.

    Of course sometimes icon execution is better than others, but the same could be said for written rules.

    FC Says:

    Icons Rule, nuff said.


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    Language Independent Games – My Response to Matt Thrower – Gaming News & Views – Pair O? Dice Games