Agent of Chaos


Written by Ed Gibbs of The Failing Forward Blog, where this feature was originally published. It has been posted here with permission.

For my birthday, my dad very graciously got me a copy of Imperial Assault. For those of you not in the know, Imperial Assault is a Star Wars-themed adventure board game. Most of the players play Rebel heroes, and one player plays the various agents and soldiers of the Empire. Games consist of scenarios with varied goals like collecting certain items or making it to a certain spot on the modular game board. I stole a term I heard Will Wheaton throw around to describe games like this: “A Roleplaying Game in a Box.” Other games like Imperial Assault include Mansions of Madness and Descent.

I was very excited to receive the game. Then I looked at the back of the box and read the component lists. The hundreds of unpainted, plastic miniatures. The several decks of cards of various types. Stacks upon stacks of different tokens, chips, and cardboard bits. And I actively found myself dreading just opening the box, because I didn’t want to deal with all of that. Though I received the game a week ago, the box still remains, plastic-wrapped, sitting on my bookshelf. I’m even a little tempted to return it to Amazon, or trade it for something else…something I really don’t want to do, as I try to cherish and hoard every gift I’ve ever received.

But one other thing I really don’t want to do is open that box and deal with the monumental task of organizing all that shit!

The Big Dump

I also own Mansions of Madness. Anyone with even a touch of OCD who opens my box of Mansions of Madness would, quite appropriately, go insane. Every card, figure, token, and game board are scattered inside the box, flowing freely, not unlike the toy chest of a little boy. “Setup” when I play Mansions usually consists of literally dumping the entire box onto the table, then assigning organization tasks to each player. “Cleanup” is a simple series of arm swipes directed into the box, the only hints of organization being an order to the swiping (boards and instructions first, then cards, then tokens, figures last).

You’d be surprised how well this works. I’ve got it down to a science, and I know for a fact that I can taskmaster the setup of this game as quickly as someone who keeps every piece in a separate box (I’ve done it before, side-by-side, against someone who keeps a neater collection of the exact same game). And cleanup…please. However, what can’t be ignored…and what ultimately makes me realize I can’t do this for every game…is the morale hit the group takes when that box comes out. I hate that a bunch of neat freaks can potentially ruin the fun of a game before it even hits the table, especially for such a superficial reason, but I cannot deny that tabletop gaming, like many live pastimes, is all about morale and spirit. So when the box for Mansions of Madness opens up and the chaos is unleashed, I have to constantly reassure everyone at the table that yes, everything is here. Yes, everything is in fine enough condition. And yes, we will play, not only promptly, but just as promptly as a more-organized system, as long as we work together. It’s an exhausting explanation. Look at how many sentences I’ve just spent talking about it. And yet it’s a fight, every time. I’ve literally gotten into arguments with people about it. Quite frankly, it’s soured me, not only on Mansions of Madness, but every game that “requires” an organization system.

Long-Term Effects

This whole notion has honestly curtailed a lot of my boardgame-buying habits, much to my wallet (and my wife’s) glee. I’ve all but shunned card games now. Any board game review/gameplay video that “strongly recommends” printing player aids or buying something to organize your stuff gets ignored almost immediately by me. I’ve even found myself actively searching for games that contain decent organization methods right in the box and exclusively focusing on them…or games that have few enough components that don’t require careful organization.

Anyways, this brings me back to Imperial Assault. I received quite a few great board games from friends and family this holiday season. The unexpected bounty has given me the urge to get back into boardgaming. But this lingering issue of organization is holding out. I find it interesting that prep work for an RPG is something I will do willingly, diligently, and often, but prep work for a board game is practically a deal-breaker for me.

Take everything you see here, load it into a shotgun, then fire it into a cardboard box. That's how my game of Imperial Assault is going to look, shortly after my first play through of it...

Take everything you see here, load it into a shotgun, then fire it into a cardboard box. That’s how my game of Imperial Assault is going to look, shortly after my first play through of it…

Hassle-Free Organization

I’ll end this bitchy blog post with a list of my favorite “self-organized” games. If you have any requests, both for hassle-free organization for existing games or self-organized games, please let me know:

  1. Terra Mystica: All of the numerous bits to this game come in their own plastic bag. Even after everything is bagged, the box closes properly. Voila!
  2. Pandemic: I can’t speak for the new edition, but my old edition has few enough parts that I can quickly put the game together, from mass of stuff on the table to ready for turn one, in less than ten minutes.
  3. Arctic Scavengers: This brilliant deckbuilding game of Dominion for hipsters has few enough cards that organizing them can be quick and easy, especially if the other players are willing to co-sort during setup.
  4. Lords of Waterdeep: Perhaps one of the best boardgaming inserts I’ve ever seen, this game is ready to go almost from the moment the box opens, and cleans up just as quickly.
  5. Conquest of Nerath: Appropriately, this D&D-themed game does for wargames what Lords of Waterdeep does for euro-style worker placement games. And, like it’s sibling game, the insert is brilliantly useful, storing the various cards, tokens, and figures with no clutter and quick access.

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