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Buying Board Games: A Cautionary Tale


Over the course of lockdown, my family and I have taken sanctuary in our relatively new and slowly evolving board game collection. We hadn’t added to the collection for a while as presents needed to be bought and we were pretty happy with the ones we had. My sister went Christmas shopping one day and brought home a copy of a game called The Arrival.

My tale of woe

It caught me off guard. I’d neither seen nor heard of this game, let alone seen a review or watched a playthrough of it. I was thoroughly unprepared. I mean… why buys board games on a whim?

When it comes to purchasing board games in our household, that’s generally a Craig job. I look at reviews, watch playthroughs to make sure they’ll be playable by everyone in the household, and then I’ll go on Zatu and purchase. My sister had done none of this. No playthroughs. No reviews. Nothing.

I started my journey into The Arrival, peeled off the wrapper and opened the box. After the initial excitement of having a new board game to add to the collection, I opened the rulebook and started reading. I then started re-reading. The majority of the rules seemed clear, but there was a fundamental part of the game that I couldn’t understand: how the game started. On the first round of the game, you are only allowed to do one action, but you’re also not allowed to have any Fomorians in your hand at the end of your go, so does that HAVE to be your one action?

Now I appreciate some of you may be reading this and thinking “oh come on, that is such an easy game to play,” but there was something about this game that was just not resonating with me. The more I tried to understand it, the less sense the rulebook made. I was getting frustrated because I have played complicated games and understood them, so why was I struggling so much with this one? At that point, I knew I needed help.

I hit the BoardGameGeek forum to see if I could find answers to my questions, but other people on there seemed just as befuddled as me. I tried watching playthroughs with the rule book open in front of me, and in some circumstances there seemed to be conflicts between the written word and the gaming veterans playing the game.

The rules suggest that you’re only allowed to put one building token down at a time, but also suggests you might run out of building tokens, but if you can only put them down one at a time it would be mathematically impossible, so maybe you can put them down more than one at a time, but that’s not what the book suggests, but it is what the videos suggest, but…

(At this point I took a break for ten minutes to listen to Taylor Swift and eat mint Viennetta, then I cuddled a pillow and watched videos of red pandas on YouTube for a further twenty minutes)

In the end I gave up. The Arrival had lost all its charm and I placed all the pieces back in the box, put the lid on and tucked it inside the bottom of the cupboard, which is where it has spent the last few weeks without being revisited. I was disappointed for two reasons:

  • My sister was doing this really lovely thing in buying a board game that we could hopefully all enjoy. The problem is that when you’re buying a board game in our house, there’s a balance that needs to be struck. It needs to have complexity without being too complicated. It needs to be aesthetically pleasing but still have substance. This needs to be a game a range of gamers can enjoy. I was sad because the more I disappeared down the rabbit hole of reviews, forums and videos, the less confident I felt about teaching the game to the rest of the household. All I wanted was to be able to show my gratitude and appreciation for this lovely gesture, but I just couldn’t


  • I see board games as an investment, and not just a financial one. Yes, they’re fun, but ultimately I want to be able to open the cupboard and look at every single game and be reminded of something. Every time I look at Azul I’m reminded how my Dad beat everyone the first time he played despite having no clue what he was doing. When I look at Betrayal at House on the Hill it reminds me of the time I was the traitor but accidentally read the wrong scenario and basically ruined the game, but had the most hilarious night as a result. Every time I look at Pandemic it reminds me of the fact my sister has the greatest difficulty pronouncing Riyadh – like honestly she never says it the same way twice. It’s an actual art.

It’s a cupboard of happy memories in testing times… except for this one game which frustrates me every time I see it.

I need to point out that I am not saying you shouldn’t buy The Arrival. There might be more experienced gamers out there who can decipher the rules and have jolly good fun playing the game. There does seem to be a lot of love for it in the gaming community, and maybe when all this has blown over I’ll be able to take my copy somewhere and have someone explain and play it through with me, so it can create its own memories. I really hope so too.

What I am trying to say is that gaming can be oh so fulfilling. For me, the best way to get the full experience is to put in the time before committing to purchasing a game. Watch playthroughs, watch and read reviews, look for copies of rulebooks online, and speak to people to see if they recommend any games to you. It can be an expensive hobby, so it is worth investing your time before investing your money and filling your cupboards or shelves with happy memories too.

Oh, and one last bit of advice: type “red panda playing in the snow” into YouTube – you shall not be disappointed.