Hardcore vs. Casual Board Games: A Jesper Juul Perspective

Photo by Sharon Drummond

Type B: Chat GPT first, then me

ChatGPT prompt: Write a 250-word blog post about the difference between hardcore board games and casual board games using the principles that Jesper Juul uses in his article “A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and Their Players.” Use the examples of Azul and Root.

“In the world of board gaming, there exists a fascinating dichotomy between hardcore and casual games, mirroring the distinctions found in the video game industry. Jesper Juul, in his enlightening article “A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and Their Players,” provides us with valuable insights into the underlying principles that differentiate these two categories. Let’s delve into the essence of these principles by exploring the board games Azul and Root.

Azul, designed by Michael Kiesling, is a quintessential example of a casual board game. It adheres to Juul’s principles of accessibility and low threshold for entry. The rules are straightforward, and players can quickly grasp the gameplay. Azul emphasizes social interaction, making it a perfect choice for players seeking a relaxed, engaging experience. Its aesthetic appeal and tactile components further enhance the casual gaming experience.

On the flip side, Root, a creation of Cole Wehrle, falls under the hardcore board game category. Root showcases Juul’s principles of mastery and depth. With its asymmetrical factions and intricate strategies, this game offers a challenge that hardcore gamers relish. Root encourages repeated plays and exploration of different strategies, creating a sense of mastery over time. The game’s depth allows for a high level of complexity and offers an engaging experience for those seeking a more intricate and strategic gameplay.

Jesper Juul’s insights help us appreciate the diversity of the board gaming world. Whether you lean towards the casual, social interactions of Azul or the hardcore, strategic challenges of Root, there’s a board game for everyone. Ultimately, it’s the balance between accessibility and depth that defines the differences between these two fascinating gaming categories, enriching the hobby for players of all backgrounds and preferences.”

Photo by Býložravec

My Response:

As I read Jesper Juul’s article about the difference between hardcore and casual video gamers, I thought about how many of the same principles apply to board games and board gamers, as well. I would consider myself a casual board gamer and some of my family more hardcore gamers, like those who play Warhammer or something like it. For the casual game, I will use Azul, and for the hardcore game, I will use Root. Both games are very fun, but different as far as their characteristics go.

It seems to me that ChatGPT didn’t get the same characteristics of casual games that I was thinking of and that Jesper writes about in the article, which are fiction, usability, interruptibility, difficulty and punishment, and juiciness. Using each of these characteristics, I will analyze Azul and Root.

Fiction: According to Juul, “casual game design has emotionally positive fictions as opposed to the mostly emotionally negative, ‘‘vampires and war’’ settings of traditional video games.” Azul fits the characteristic of a casual game because it has the goal of creating a tile pattern that will win you the most points in the end. Root, on the other hand, is to use your faction’s ability to take over the woods by attacking other players and building in various places. This would make it more of a hardcore game because of its focus on war and conflict, even though the art and pieces in the game are cute.

Usability: Jesper rates the usability of a video game by how much knowledge you need to start the game. This differentiates Azul and Root. Azul can be learned and begun within 5 minutes, while it took my husband and I one hour to learn how to play, and it still takes us at least 25 minutes to explain the game to others.

Interruptibility: Jesper says that casual games should be interruptible or “allow the player to play a game in brief bursts.” I don’t think that either of these board games really meet this requirement because you have to play them all the way through to see who wins. However, Azul is a much shorter game, which takes around 30 minutes, while Root says that it takes 30 to 60 minutes, but really, it’s been more like 2+ hours in my experience. (We don’t play it very often because of that).

Difficulty and Punishment: Casual games will become progressively more difficult, but when a player fails, there aren’t huge consequences. Azul does not necessarily get more complex, but the strategy does change throughout the game. If you fail (maybe meaning that you get too many tiles), then you get negative points, but it is not too significant of a penalty. In Root, I think the result of failing is that you lose a fight. In this event, the penalties are that you have to remove your people from the area that you lost in or remove resources and buildings. If you would like to get to that area, you have to start all over. This might be slightly more hardcore than the consequences in Azul.

Juiciness: Juul defines juiciness as “excessive positive feedback for every successful action the player performs.” In this case, I don’t think that Azul is very juicy. You take tiles and have to play out the round until all tiles are gone before you get the reward (the score). Root might be more juicy than Azul because after every turn that you take, you get to take the resources and see the increase in points.

Jesper Juul’s insights can help us understand the difference between casual board games and hardcore board games, just as they can help us understand video games. Based on these criteria, Azul is more casual than Root, although Root does exhibit more juiciness than Azul.

2 responses to “Hardcore vs. Casual Board Games: A Jesper Juul Perspective”

  1. Brian Croxall Avatar

    I like what you’ve done here, Elizabeth, but that’s not surprising given my love of board games. Azul is an interesting game because I think it can be quite mean, despite it not appearing to have confrontation at its heart. People who are good at Azul will crush new players without too much work. That’s also true of Root, but the complexity of its systems means that it can be hard to know what to do at first. I would say that the punishment can be quite high if you’re playing with the birds and someone messes up your decree.

    ChatGPT of course misses the point altogether

  2. Garrett Mast Avatar
    Garrett Mast

    I think looking at board games is really interesting, especially because I think how casual a board game is often directly related to its time to play for more modern games, while classic games are perceived as casual despite their time. Games like Monopoly and Ticket To Ride are obviously pretty entry-level board games that fit some of the elements of casual games (I’m not sure how juicy Monopoly is), but they horribly fail in the Interruptibility, as although you can pause on turns, they aren’t something you generally want to save and come back to, and if you are, you’re treating it as hardcore. In terms of board games, I think the interruptibility factor changes a little bit, and for something to be truly casual in that manor, it needs to not take long enough that an interruption would be needed for anything more than food or a restroom break, it should be a single sitting game. Anything that will take 2 or more hours to play, regardless of the fiction, usability, or difficulty, in my opinion, begin to be viewed as hardcore solely due to the time commitment.

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