I often hear the term ‘Beer and Pretzels’ used to describe games. It’s generally used to describe games that are simple to set up and play in groups, but it is also sometimes used in a more derogatory way, as a way of suggesting that a game is too simple and unchallenging and so not worth bothering with. I remember in particular the phrase being used a lot last year in relation to the newly released eighth edition of Warhammer and the perceived simplifying of the game. The feeling seemed to be that the game had been ‘reduced’ to the level of a beer and pretzels game and that people shouldn’t play it as a result.
I don’t like this attitude, and it’s made me suspicious of the phrase when I see it used. Fundamentally, I think most of us see gaming is a social activity and I for one dislike any implication that it’s somehow wrong to see it as such, or for that matter to share a drink or a snack with your friend(s) over the course of play.
But more importantly I don’t like it that some people seem to think that playing a game you can play easily and enjoy with people is somehow a lesser activity, as if we should be aspiring to play games which require so much concentration and thought that conversation is impossible and only a fool would try and spare the brainpower necessary to lift a chocolate hob nob to their mouth.
We all like a challenge, but the challenge of a game should be in playing it rather than the complexity of the rules. And I don’t agree when anyone suggests that complex or obscure rules are somehow better or more grown up or that playing complex games rather than something ‘dumbed down’ is the sign of a gamer who is somehow keeping it real.
I’ve seen some forums where it seems to be seen as okay to sneer at people who prefer things a bit more streamlined. Much as we love our gaming, we largely all have jobs, partners, families, even other hobbies and non-gaming friends and it’s surely not unreasonable to want our games to run straightforwardly and smoothly so we can have time for the other things in our lives.
Of course, sometimes ‘beer and pretzels’ is just a harmless phrase, but sometimes it’s uttered with an attitude that seems to run completely against what should be the spirit of the hobby, which should surely be about having a good time with other people and not judging them. It’s an exclusionary attitude that’s as bad for the gaming community as those people who just want to win at any cost, people who lack sportsmanship, people who lack a sense of personal hygiene and anyone who judges you simply for buying army with the the latest codex.
I love gaming, but let’s be honest with ourselves, it’s not exactly rocket science is it? And I don’t think it does anyone any credit to unduly pretend it’s some rarified intellectual pursuit. Generally people who do sneer at others come across like they’re just looking for ways to pass themselves off as smarter or more grown up than they really are or feel they have to justify their hobby to other people by making exaggerated references to how ‘clever’ it is.
Rules do get rewritten and they often get simplified or streamlined but I don’t think this is necessarily ‘dumbing- down’. Yes the modern games are simpler but they have also evolved to a point where you can play a game in an afternoon with armies much larger than you could practically field in the old days. Admittedly this also allows GW to sell you many, many more toys but that’s a separate issue. All games need new players to survive and grow but in some quarters making games accessible is bemoaned as dumbing down or selling out. Like gaming hipsters they claim they preferred something before the masses got involved.
I wonder if the reason people with these attitudes have latched on to the beer and pretzels image is because it appeals to their snobbery. The implication being that people who like games that don’t meet their standards can be written off as fat, drunken, low born oafs. Somehow you can’t imagine people complaining about ‘tea and crumpet’ games, ‘cheese and wine’ games or even ‘brandy and cigars’ games.
There is a whole spectrum of games out there to suit all tastes and situations, and in an ideal world we would respect the tastes of our fellow gamers. I don’t think anyone benefits if we let attitudes of snobbery and pretension lead to some gamers judging others as less than they are and sneering at how they like to have fun. In the end, these are all just games, and we should never take them too seriously. Gaming is for bringing people together, not giving them something else to exclude each other over.