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The Evolution of a Board Gamer

I may be an adult, but I still play board games. To some people, this makes me an immature person who simply refuses to grow up. After all, what adult still plays with toys? (And the people who say this with a houseful of Lego or comic books need to look in the mirror. Pot, meet kettle.) I’ve managed to coat this hobby with a thin layer of respectability by writing reviews of games, but some people just think that all I’ve managed to do is surround myself with other would-be-kids. Whatever.

Occasionally someone will actually be interested in my quirky little hobby and ask me how I got into such a thing. So how does an adult get into games? First, you have to understand that I’m not talking about the games you find on the shelves at Wal-Mart. Monopoly, LIFE, Battleship, etc. all have their place, but they aren’t considered “hobby” games. Hobby games are based on games that are popular in Europe (which has a much more robust gaming culture than the reality-TV addicted U.S.) called (not surprisingly) Eurogames.

Eurogames are generally more thematic and challenging than the games you find in the toy store. They usually involve more than just rolling dice or playing cards in order to make your move. They’re found mostly in specialty gaming stores, online, or in comic book shops. (If you ever want a small sample, Target does carry a few such as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Pandemic. If you want to see a few played, Wil Wheaton (of Star Trek Next Gen fame) produces a great show about boardgames called Tabletop.) And no, hobby games aren’t at all the same as Dungeons and Dragons, which is a role playing game, not a board game. I play those, too, but that’s another post for another day.

Board Games
Some games from my collection

Now that I’ve defined the games I play, it’s time to answer the question: How does one get into this hobby?

I played games all the time as a kid. I grew up before the Internet and before TV became so all consuming. As a result, my primary entertainments were reading, playing outside or at a friend’s house, or board games. At the time, most of what we had were mass market games like LIFE, Battleship, Monopoly, and various movie and TV tie-in games.

(Side note: I was a strange child. Since I was an only child, I’d often play games alone, setting up a stuffed animal as my opponent and making his moves for him. Finding partners was tough. I tried not to cheat but, well, when the stuffed animal wasn’t looking, I’d move an extra space, or make the non-optimal move for him. Sorry, stuffie. There’s a reason you never won. Nowadays there is a whole market of games specifically designed to be played solo. Where was that when I was a kid?)

In college, I played a lot of Trivial Pursuit, Scene It, and party games like Taboo, Balderdash, Hugger Mugger, and Pictionary. After college, I kept playing those games because I didn’t know that other, better games existed. It wasn’t until years after college that I discovered hobby games. It all started when I found Ticket to Ride in a local hobby shop. Everyone in this house really likes trains, so I figured a board game based on trains would be a hit. Well, it was and it wasn’t.

(Side note #2: Ticket to Ride is one of the most popular “gateway games”, so called because of its ability to help people transition from mass market games to Eurogames.)

The idea of trains was great, but the rules for Ticket to Ride were unlike anything I’d encountered up to that point. They weren’t difficult, but they were complex when compared to the “Throw the dice and answer the question” rules of Trivial Pursuit. We stuck with it and found that we enjoyed the mental challenge of a more complex rule set. The success of that game let us to look for more.

Learning a new game, trying new strategies, and physically moving the pieces on the board is much better for the mind than just slumping in front of the TV.

My involvement in the hobby really exploded when I found Boardgamegeek.com, a database/community of games and gamers. Information on just about every game in the world can be found there. We tried all kinds of games, liking some and hating others, and seriously damaging our budget in the process. (It isn’t an inexpensive hobby, but it does provide high value. Games can average $20- 50 a pop and some go as high as $80, but when you consider that they last a long time and have staying power, it’s a good value for the money. Unlike a night at the movies which can be $40 and it’s over in one night, a game can be played many times before it gets boring, if it ever does.) We’ll still give almost anything a try, although now we have a better sense of what will make us happy so we buy fewer games. Our game closet thanks us because it was about to throw off its doors.

Gaming has replaced most of the TV in this house. As we get older, we love the extra mental stimulation that board games give us. Learning a new game, trying new strategies, and physically moving the pieces on the board is much better for the mind than just slumping in front of the TV. It’s also a great way for us to spend time together yet still do something fun. Sure, we could go to the movies, but movies don’t give us the chance to interact and talk the way games do. Face to face across the table, we can talk while we play. In this disconnected world, that alone is well worth the price of a game or two.

Games aren’t for everyone. No hobby is. But I encourage people to give games a try. Even if you start with the staples like LIFE and Monopoly or some basic card games, just try something. You might find that its more enjoyable than TV or other hobbies that don’t involve interaction among family and friends. And if you don’t have a partner, try one of the solo games (or get a stuffed animal to play with you). Gaming doesn’t make you a child and even if it does, who cares as long as you’re having fun?

P.S. If you ever want to come visit me on BoardGameGeek and talk games or see where my interests lie, you can visit my profile.

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