While my wife and I sit at home alone again, self isolating because of ever-increasing COVID infection numbers, I ponder my gaming groups that have to shift online again for a while. Tabletop gaming contributes much of my social life, so I greatly miss it when I cannot sit around a table with my friends over a game, eating great snacks, talking, and enjoying life together. In fact, my gaming experiences growing up have impacted my gaming hobby. Certain games in my life changed my perspective of tabletop gaming and evolved me to the gamer I am today. Here are those games that had the most impact on me in the order I first played them.
Rummy was the first game I really took seriously. Other games growing up (Hangman, Battleship, Life, Sorry, Trouble, Monopoly, etc.) were fun, but this game took off as a lifestyle. I played it with my mom, my uncle, my grandma, and my friends. We played it at home, in the car on trips, in the hotel, and in the tent camping while it was raining. It is when I fell in love with card games and how portable they can be.
Backgammon taught me games can be a way to meet people outside my family and build friendships. Backgammon became one of the ways my step-dad and I got to know each other before he married my mom. Backgammon also provided me the opportunity to meet after school with a teacher when I was in Junior High and get to know him better. Since then, games have been a central part of my social life and often how I meet new people and build new friendships.
Risk introduced me to the concept of the metagame, a game outside the game rules. Up until Risk, except for some smack talk, the game was the rules and playing. Risk changed all that as the talk outside the game was what was the most fun. The alliances, the promises, the backstabbing, the conniving, the social elements of Risk are what made it so much fun to play. For some, Monopoly might have been that social game for them with meta elements, but for me it was Risk all the way. Now, so many games have that element, but back when I was a kid, this was the first one to encourage me in this way.
While Portal Games state they publish “Games That Tell Stories” (which they do very well), Talisman was my first story-based board game. Life and Monopoly have some story concepts to them, but nothing like Talisman. Talisman had me playing a character while adventuring across a dangerous land in search of fame and fortune. I first played Talisman with my original AD&D gaming group, so I do strongly associate my roleplaying hobby with Talisman. We really got into our characters, even when they died and we picked a new one. We would come up with stories of why we were the new character and keep the story going. To this day, I love heavily thematic games that I can envision a story in my head or, even better, tell a story collectively with my fellow players.
I first played Pente in Calculus in high school, which showed me that games can be teaching tools. Our teacher hosted Pente tournaments when we had breaks in instruction as a treat and to teach us about strategy and out of the box thinking. We would play traditional Pente but alternates like blindfolded Pente where a pair of players had one person moving the pieces and describing the board while the other player had to listen and tell the other player where to play the pieces from memory and visualization. I still vividly remember those Pente games in Calculus and the impact they had on how I viewed teaching and learning. Since that introduction decades ago, I have taught courses on game studies where we talk about games as educational tools and the use of gamification in classes.
While in college, my friends and I haunted a used bookstore in a nearby town a lot. It had inexpensive books, comics, rpgs, and board games. One of those games I picked up used was Star Fleet Battles, my first ever wargame. I am a huge Trekkie, so the game grabbed my attention quickly. Then I opened the box and was overwhelmed with all the tiny square chits with numbers on them and the rulebook with pages and pages of text and numbers. What had I purchased? I had never experienced a game with so many and so complicated rules. The rules frustrated my gaming group at the time, but we had so much fun building our own battle scenarios. While I never did truly get into wargaming heavily, the itch sneaks up on me at times and I try a new miniature wargame or abstract wargame to get that feel of massive battles again.
Soon after our marriage, my wife and I were invited to a friend’s house to try out this new board game they really liked. That was my first experience with a Euro style board game, and I was hooked. Loved it so much I went out to purchase The Settlers of Catan and still have my original box set on the shelves, showing the wear of years of playing it. While it has the dice rolling of games I had grown up with, the game felt so different in how it played. Honestly, this game rekindled my love for board games and my hobby grew from there to where it is today.
Remember how I said I have been playing games since I was a young kid? Did I also mention I was really competitive? No? Yeah, it was really bad. So, when I started playing games with my new wife, well, things did not go so great at times. In fact, they got really bad for a while. I wanted to win more than enjoy the game…not good. It got so bad, I was at a game store and asked the guy working the desk, what he would recommend for a couple to play if one of them, ME, was too competitive. He didn’t hesitate to think, he just walked over to a shelf, took down a small black and white box, and handed me Fluxx. He said this would be fun to play and help me blunt my competitiveness. And was he so right. I still struggled with competitiveness over the years, even to this day (just not as bad as I get older). My wife and I jokingly, but somewhat seriously, call Fluxx the game that saved our marriage. It has become our favorite game and we have a drawer full of various thematic versions of the game. We introduce it to others, give it as gifts, and pull it out whenever we want a fun and relaxing game night.
Remember that competitiveness I discussed? Well, I found both another way to blunt that and what has become one of my favorite game types to play. Forbidden Island introduced me to the idea of cooperative games, where you work together to win the game rather than compete with each other. What?! This brought my joy of roleplaying with my friends which had us working together and merged it with my love of playing and winning board games, but now we do it together. My game collection is now has shelves of different cooperative games which I love playing over and over as there is always another new challenge to beat or adventure to go one beside my friends and family.
Board Game + Storytelling + Cooperative + Your Decisions Have PERMANENT Effects?! What? Pandemic Legacy Season 1 was the first legacy style game that I played with my gaming group and we were hooked. Writing on a card or putting a sticker on the board felt odd yet so cool to do. But tearing up that first card so it could never be used again was so painful for all of us. Destroy a game we purchased and enjoy playing?! Yet, that is the joy of a legacy game. You play it for hours, days, weeks, even months with all your choices having permanent effects on how the game plays going forward. When it is over, you have experienced a game like no one else who played it. Since this, we have played two other legacy games and preparing to play our fourth. So excited!!
What board or card games have had the most impact on your gaming hobby?