Let’s Get Physical, Part II

Posted on Sep 24 2012 by pomomojo in Board Games, Chess, Dominoes

Board games continue to thrive in an increasingly digital world, in part, because of the appeal of physical components. Just like in the movies when watching special effects, computers can be used to do amazing things, but there remains something comforting about real physical objects. With that being said, here are the next two items on my top ten game components list.

5) Chess Pieces – Although I am not an avid Chess player, I don’t think one needs to be to appreciate the beauty of Chess pieces. Pretty much all of the back row pieces have appeared as decorative elements in various places because the Staunton shapes are so iconic. At the same time, there’s an endless variety of styles and looks to choose from as premiere designers and artists give their takes on the classic pieces. Color, material, and design all matter if one is assessing a particular Chess set. The classic black and white sets are what are most often seen as the opposing colors look attractive and evoke a sort of power struggle between two equal forces. However, sets that accentuate the wood with different shades of stain create a more natural mood, while those sets that go with bright colors like blue or green seem very modern. Looks are not the only thing that makes these pieces great, however. A competitive Chess set will have properly weighted pieces and, as I mentioned in Part I of my top ten list, psychologists have determined that weight gets mentally associated with seriousness, which is perfect for this deep and serious game. How many movies have used a closeup of a Chess piece being set down with a heavy thud on the board to suggest the importance of the moment? Clicking a square on a computer Chess board just wouldn’t be the same.

4) Dominoes/Tiles – Dominoes is the game most Americans probably associate with tiles, but similar components are used in Mahjong. The cardboard tiles found in many board games are quite fun to mix and match as you build a board of some sort, and a game of Dominoes or Mahjong offers a similar aesthetic experience as you watch the playing area slowly grow and take on intricate designs. Although dominoes simply use dots to denote the value of each tile, the patterns of the dots within a grid seem to evoke deeper meanings – coded messages or mechanical locks. Mahjong tiles are almost like little works of art and their combinations of circles, bamboo, and flowers certainly remind players of the game’s long history and Eastern origins. The heavy white or black tiles found in a good set of dominoes, however, also provide all sorts of additional tactile pleasures. Rare sets of tiles might be made of bone or ivory, but even if the tiles are simply a form of hardened plastic I enjoy the clatter of the tiles knocking against each other in the case or when putting them away. I enjoy the feel of the heavy tiles in my hand and the thickness that allows them to stand on their own. I believe I currently have three sets of dominoes in my game closet right now. The kids have lost tiles so none of them are actually complete, but I can’t bear to throw the rest out. Any other game with missing pieces would be sent away, but somehow an incomplete set of dominoes is still something worth keeping.

Both Chess pieces and Domino tiles carry a lot of history and beauty within their simple designs, but they also reveal just how appealing a solid physical object with real weight and refined material is in one’s hand.

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