Sunday, August 11, 2013

How I Got Into Board Games

I don't understand these dice at all
If you've talked to me in the last three years you'll know that I've become something of a board game evangelist. At this point, I've stopped being embarrassed when people curl their lip at me and say, "wait, you play board games?"
"Yes," I reply, "this isn't Monopoly or Risk. In this one we play crime lords fighting for control of an entire city!"
Sometimes that person walks away with disgust. Sometimes they'll actually sit down with the slow caution of a deer who suspects a hunter is watching them from the woods. Other times they'll simply stand nearby and watch, arms crossed in a skeptical fashion.

I was like that too, once.

It was fall 2010. The biggest movie of the year was Toy Story 3. I made friends with a guy named Keith in a college math course because of our common interest in video games. A few weeks into the course, he was invited to game night by one of the girls from our class, and he invited me.

The game nights were held once a week, on Tuesdays. Typically we'd meet up at 9pm, drink coffee and play silly party games like Scattergories or Cranium. It was a nice way to unwind while listening to cable TV radio stations and occasionally playing charades.

One night I was suffering from terrible insomnia and I had a surge of creativity. I started creating a D&D adventure. It involved traveling into a cave and later, slaying a dragon. Since I had never actually played that kind of game before, I designed the adventure literally room by room in my head. Each room had one specific solution to get through it. In many ways it was much like a video game. The next morning I wrote down everything and took the printed adventure to game night that week.

Much to my relief, no demons were spawned during the game.
The results were... unexpected. Nothing went as I had planned, the players made silly characters ranging from a Warrior Assassin based on a Resident Evil character, to something called the Candy Queen. I was not prepared, but we were all entertained.

At that time, I went kind of RPG crazy. I began researching the heck out of “real” dungeon and dragons and designing great adventures to play with Keith and the girls. Sadly the game night group fell apart when the semester ended, so those plans fell through.

A few months later, Keith invites me to another game night. This one is all guys in their early 30's, two of whom are either engineers or engineering students.
Are we going to play D&D?” I asked Keith over the phone.
No,” he said, “we're gonna play a board game that's kinda like D&D.”
Pshaw, I thought. A board game! What was I, ten years old? The last board game I could remember playing was Clue Jr!

...To be fair, Clue Jr. was pretty awesome
But I went anyway. I ducked my head as I entered the tiny apartment. The game was spread out on a table almost too small to hold it. The graphic design was terrible, the cardstock was yellowed with age. The illustrations laughably poor.
“How old is this game?” I asked with the worried expression of a man in over his head.
It's from like, 1989,” said the game's owner around a mouthful of Chinese food, “I've had it since I was little.”

Oh,” was the reply. With colossal apprehension, I took a seat. Keith handed me a deck of Wizard cards and said, “pick your spells.”

It was a watershed moment.

The game was called HeroQuest, and it would ultimately change my life.

The game has each player going around opening rooms, killing monsters and collecting treasure. I had a terrific time.

It was a Grinch heart-growing moment: Maybe board games weren't boring. Maybe RPGs weren't the only way to have fun at a table.

When I got home late that night, I looked online to find the game and found it cost $200. Two hundred. Apparently it was very old, slightly rare and quite popular. I also found out that, holy crap, there was a huge community of people who loved this silly little dungeon game.

Very soon after that, a website started called Shut Up and Sit Down. It was created by two British guys who made quite entertaining videos explaining exactly why you should be excited to play board games. Because of them, I bought my first two games; Citadels and the Resistance. Two very different card games.

I found it was quite easy to talk people into playing card games. Easier than, for instance, RPGs. I still loved playing RPGs, but it was just so much easier to throw a card game out there and play it. I didn't have to prep anything. It was a breath of fresh air.

So RPGs kind of faded away. Another group of friends sprang up and we had a regular board game night, this time with much less focus on RPGs One summer, I was a camp counselor and found out there were lots of people in my church who wanted to play board games. Strangely, they acted like it was some terrible secret, like a dead body in their freezer. So I asked a few people if they wanted to play board games (and later) RPGs. They jumped at the chance.

So here I am, still researching games every day. I've long since moved on from any official Dungeons and Dragons product, but I still enjoy Savage Worlds and more recently, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. When I see people turn up their nose, I know what they're feeling; that familiar dread of being glued to a table, forced to play some boring thing like Candy Land.

Where we're going, we don't need Candy Land.


  1. This is great. I felt like you let me in on the secret life of William.
    I am glad you play board games but I know I do give you the eye because after years and years of watching you play the latest in video games to see you return to board games is just so funny to me. I do think you have found a fun niche.

  2. What a fun journey! I always wondered how you got so into board games. I think the key is having someone to play with. The munchkins have decided that arranging chessmen however they want and rolling dice to move them is more fun than actually playing chess. I think I need to invest in Candyland.

  3. I have always loved board games too. Apples to Apples has been one of my favorites. Of course good old Trouble and Parcheesi are always fun. I would also like to compliment you on how well you write. It was a pleasure reading your posts and I look forward to reading more!