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I had the privilege to play a rollicking game of Pony Express a few weeks ago. It’s a silly, light-hearted game where the players are Pony Express riders/cowboys trying to be the first to deliver a message. It’s a highly chaotic and random game that combines dice rolling, bluffing, poker hands, and even dexterity elements in an attempt to evoke the Wild West.

As a game, it’s not bad. It wasn’t my gaming group’s cup of tea because of the limited control players have and some of the crazier aspects of the game. But there was something else that detracted from the experience as well.

As I said before, the game treats the Wild West theme in a light-hearted, wacky cartoon sort of way. The problem is that it treats everything about the Wild West in a light-hearted, wacky cartoon sort of way: shooting cowboys, getting drunk, shooting “Indians” (as the rulebook calls them), getting gold for shooting Indians, and even bribing the Indians (which are painted red, by the way) with moonshine.

I honestly believe the creators of the game meant it all to be taken as a joke.

Here’s the thing: the box looks silly. The art is brightly colored, the cowboys are all goofy caricatures, and it looks like something out of a Hanna Barbara cartoon. It looks like the kind of game you might buy for your kids. If I had done that, I would have been a little non-plussed.

Not everyone is as sensitive about Native American issues as I am, and I’m not going to get into that here. What I want to talk about is the desire I have, as a parent, to know about the subject matter of a game before I buy it. Yes, there are “age” recommendations, but those are set by the publisher according to the skills required to play the game. Does it require reading? Counting? Math? Then say “10 and up,” for example. But those recommendations don’t consider the subject matter of the games. That’s what’s missing. Preferably by simply looking at the box, hopefully seeing a small logo on the box cover that quickly and efficiently calls out the game’s questionable content.

A “rating system,” if you will.

Movies have them. Video games have them. Television shows have them. Why not board games?

I want to be clear that I’m not advocating censorship or government-mandated restrictions. I just want information; standardized, compacted, concise, and easy to find on a box cover.

Is the board game industry ready for that? Probably not. Would there be a push-back? Yes. Am I the only one who thinks it’d be useful? Probably.

But I still want it. Being a parent is hard work; this would just make things a little easier.

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About Nate

Geek, Gamer, Father of Two, and Husband of One (so far), Nate has been a gamer since before he knew the word existed. From his very earliest memories of begging his older sisters to play Monopoly with him, and then crying when they actually made him finish the game, to his moment of Euro game enlightenment with his first play of Settlers of Catan (thanks to Father Geek's own Brian), gaming has always been his first, best, hobby. Now, with children of his own, he finds himself repeating the cycle of begging them to play with him, and then crying when they won't let him quit. He hopes that his daughters grow up to learn the joys of rolling dice, gathering resources, building civilizations, leveling their characters, seeing their enemies flee before them and hearing the lamentations of their women. Nate goes by the handle kungfugeek on Board Game Geek.

4 Responses to Rate This

  1. Cyrus says:

    You make an excellent point, my friend.

    Staring this weekend, Father Geek will provide the rating system you are looking for. We will go back through our previously reviewed games and provide the rating system you are looking for. We add this rating system to all reviews in the future, too.

    Father Geek is strongly committed to providing quality information and reviews. Including an “age appropriate” rating (much like the one used by movies and video games) will go a long way to inform our readers. By providing skill requirements and age appropriateness, we will be able to deliver a much clearer idea of what the game is all about making it easier for our readers to determine if the game is right for them and their little geeks.

    Well done!

  2. Karl Fritz says:

    I think we are a ways off from board game content ratings. In the US at least, I think that being a niche hobby, and the fact that board gaming is viewed as a “kids activity”, there aren’t enough people to complain to the federal government to institute a ratings system. Add the fact that games containing questionable content aren’t typically sold in big-box stores. They are sold in mall stores where the buyer is well aware of the content. But, as we continue to buy more and more items online, and from different countries, “offensive” content is more likely to show up where you would not expect it.

    The authors of Pony Express are not from the US. This is me thinking, but I would assume that they would not be exposed to the history of Native Americans and much as those living in the US have. Therefore, there is less sensitivity and the “Spaghetti Western” theme takes hold. So, there is a cultural gap as far as what is deemed offensive.

    I doubt we will see a “Tipper Gore” of the boardgame industry any time soon. I knew about the Native American Meeples from a podcast, but I wasn’t aware of the other material until I bought the game. I was shocked. Luckily, it wasn’t a centerpiece of the game to win (although landing on an “Indian” space was somewhat chance and somewhat a bluffing skill) and there were other elements that gave me a fair amount of chuckles.

  3. Aubrey Wells says:

    Though I’m not really opposed (at all) to having a rating as your suggest on game boxes, as a parent of a 5-year-old who LOVES to play games with me and his mom (and even his pesky 3-year-old sister when she’s able) I do think its unnecessary. I don’t care what logo or text is on a game’s (or movie, book, music, etc) boxcover, my wife and I play the game by ourselves first to get a feel for the game and weather or not it is a good fit, both in skill and in content, for OUR children.

    • Cyrus says:

      An excellent point and one that everyone should consider. It is up to the parent or guardian to determine if the content of a movie, game, song, or anything else is something that is worthwhile and appropriate for their children and no one else’s. Any ratings provided are simply guidelines and guidelines are not meant to be followed strictly. They are just there to inform.

      You can collect a generalization of a product’s message and content by looking at a rating. Movies, for example, are the most well-known for using the ESRB’s rating system. Video games have just recently in the past five or so years (I think) are also now using it. Looking at the rating, you get a pretty good generalization of what to expect. But, to your point Aubrey, until an adult sits down and plays the game or watches the movie, you really don’t know what it is all about.

      Us game geeks are very lucky in this regard. We play a lot of games and are familiar with the publishers, the game types, and what to expect. But, honestly, Pony Express caught me by surprise. Having never played it or heard about it, I was completely unaware of how the game was played or what it was about.

      So, let’s say that we all have the time to play every game, watch every movie, and read every book that might be available to our little geeks. If such a thing was possible, I’d say there was no need for any type of rating. Simply put, there are not enough hours in the day or Energon Cubes in the world to make such a thing possible. I am somewhat dependent on ratings to make a somewhat informed decision on things before I allow my kids to interact with them.

      Another scenario where having a rating would be very handy is during a game convention. Most people go to game conventions to play their favorite games and try new ones. My oldest little geek is almost old enough to go with me to such conventional greats as Gamer’s Reunion, Gen Con, and Origins. Having a rating next to the games would help me make a good decision on what games would or would not be appropriate for him. Because, let’s face it, I’m not about to shell out hundreds of dollars to play Candy Land for three days straight.

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