Every Christmas Santa Claus used to bring me a board game. One year it was Kerplunk, the next it was Frustration. I often used birthday money to buy others: Buckaroo, Perfection, Cluedo, The Game of Life. Over time Guess Who, Screwball Scramble, Monopoly, Connect Four, among others, all found their way into my collection. I adored playing them all!
Because board games are absolutely bloody brilliant!
Board games offered escapism, fueled the imagination, provided a source of education and presented problems to be solved. Everyone had copies of these games so everyone knew how to play them. They were very much a perfect cure for the rainy summer days in the pre-digital video game age, before home video game consoles invaded kids’ bedrooms.
As I got a little older and my tastes evolved. More “grown up” games were introduced, such as Risk, Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Taboo, even Chess, and my passion was cranked up a gear as the luck elements of the simpler games were replaced with more choice and strategy.
By 1996, 12-year-old me had the revolutionary boom of the video game industry in full swing, with the N64, Sega Saturn and Playstation becoming as common place is households as a toilet. The wonderful tradition of board games that had been a proverbial source of fun was evolving to compete, with game changers such as Atmosfear (part of the Nightmare series) that brought new medium into the genre in the form of an accompanying VHS tape. Featuring the creepy ‘Gatekeeper’ that directed you through the gaming experience, Atmosfear was huge. Everyone wanted it. It was a must have game with massive demand throughout the UK. Add to that the explosion of Brit Pop and Power Rangers on TV; it really was a magical time to be alive! (well, maybe kappa shell-suits aside!)
But this also marked a turning point…
I don’t exactly know how and I don’t exactly know when, but as I navigated my way through my teenage years, my love of board games was dislodged. They became completely unimportant, with the puberty process and ever innovative video game market reducing traditional tabletop gaming to an afterthought; an un-cool relic of the pre-digital age.
Many of my board games were sold for buttons at car boot sales (same with ALL my action figures as a matter of fact!) as I sought to get money for buying the latest video game, or the next version of ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’, maybe just to make sure my wardrobe was kitted out with the latest designer tracksuit. The ones that didn’t sell were neglected to a point that when we flitted in 1998 they were thrown in a bin bag and shoved up the attic in the new house. It wasn’t until my mother undertook a mass clear out of the attic in 2009 that these games resurfaced, with countless missing pieces and damage making the vast majority un-salvageable and fit only for the bin! A collection of two dozen games reduced to a few simply by not looking after them, not caring for them or not appreciating what I had.
The kicker now being I had owned a copy of Hero Quest, a game I adored as a child. And here I was 19 years after my mum let me buy it with my birthday money from ‘What Everyone Wants’ throwing the few remnants left of an abused game in the bin. Now in 2016, intact copies of Hero Quest regularly sell for over £250.
Sure, I still played board games from time to time during my teens – the annual Christmas Day games; a period where my flatmates and I played games of Risk in our first year at University; the giant Jenga and Connect Four in the Student Union that got pulled out after a few beers. However, they were all just something to do. We brought a board game out to entertain us – we never purposely met up to play board games. They were a passing distraction, not the hobby they had been in my younger years. Laterally during this period, the occasional board game was even replaced as we jumped on the poker bandwagon following its explosion into the mainstream in the early 00’s. Regular poker nights were a fixture of my last few years at University and board games were completely forgotten – even the Christmas day games tradition lapsed. By 2007, board games had disappeared from my life, and somewhat tragically, I didn’t seem to bother.
Fast forward five years, and this was all going to change in ways I could never imagine…
New Year 2013 saw my wife and I visit friends down in Essex. There had been a games night arranged while we were down, which I was happy to go along with, despite regarding board games as nothing special. A friend of our friends was bringing the games – that was his thing. He rocked up on the day with five games in a special carry case. One by one he brought them out: Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Dixit, and the game we would end up playing first, 7 Wonders.
Having never heard of any of these games at all, snooping around them I was immediately put off by the level of complexity, despite the fact they all looked visual enticing. An hour was wasted trying to explain how 7 Wonders is played, that resulted in my irate side coming to the boil, “we will learn as we go along” I insisted in a fed up manner. And that’s what we did.
We slowly went through each step of the game, stopping to ask countless questions. It was more hassle than it was worth to me, I definitely wasn’t feeling it. We finished the first of three rounds and had been playing for two hours; this was insane! This wasn’t fun at all! However, I let my polite side come to the fore and persevered.
Noticing with delight that less and less questions were being asked during each phase of the 2nd round, we were now saving time! We were going to get this nonsense finished and out the way soon. Then we’d move onto something proper like Monopoly – if we had to endure a games night, we’d play a classic that we all knew. I’d insist.
As the setup for round three was being sorted, I subconsciously browsed through the 12-page rulebook. From surveying what was in front of me on the kitchen table, I understood that I was in a position to win the game. Time for my competitive side to take over. I decided that even though I wasn’t into this ridiculous game, winning is still winning.
That’s when it happened…
Over the final half hour it took to play the final round, I found myself getting really into the game, I mean, REALLY into it. To coin a total, overly-clichéd phrase: this 3rd round of 7 Wonders is something I will never forget! It was as if part of me had just been switched back on after more than a decade of not being used.
In that moment, I remembered playing Risk with my flatmates at Uni and how I had treasured it despite being very blasé of the experience at the time. I remembered the excitement of setting up my cousin’s copy of Mousetrap ready to try (and likely fail) to play it without something going wrong. I once again felt the rush of getting to stay up late on a Friday night so I could play Trivial Pursuit or Taboo with my folks and their friends. Memories of games of Monopoly with my friend, featuring our own house rules that would really make the game last forever; trying to put my friends off as they attempted to remove the spleen in Operation; it all came flooding back! Long forgotten experiences, now so vividly returned; memories of winning Guess Who with my first guess; memories of my “street world record” 27 second run through on Screwball Scramble; memories of the first time I executed the scholar’s mate in Chess; so many amazing, happy memories!
Because board games are absolutely bloody brilliant!!
The final round of 7 Wonders progressed and I knew what I was doing. I had learned this complex game, and was now looking to master it. As we finished, it was too close to call and the scoring up was a tense affair, with me eventually losing by two points in what can only be described as a perfect example of beginners luck.
The thoughts of an hour previous had vanished as I demanded we played again – this time we would add in “expansions”. Immediately I was in awe of the ingenious way games could be modified with official additions to the base game. In this case, we had 7 Wonders: Leaders and 7 Wonders: Cities, both adding excellent new dynamics to the game.
The seven of us managed to blast through the game in 90 minutes this time, with a few pauses to check on the expansion rules – discovering for myself by reading rulebooks and not asking. Totally engrossed in what I was doing, I formed a plan – a strategy to victory. What a sublime feeling being immersed in such an interactive battle with friends around the table. I kept thinking of all my options, of all I could do, trying to read my opponents, what they were planning. Easily surpassing the previous games experience, by the time we got to the scoring I knew I had done enough and it was only a matter of the official announcement. Once again, I was that twelve year old boy that had got a little lost over the past 17 years. I was so happy!
Within a week of this games night, I had ordered my own copy of Antoine Bauza’s award winning euro-game, 7 Wonders, and introduced it to my friends, many of whom had had similar experiences with games in their childhood as I had. Instead of meeting up every now and then to go to the pub or whatever, we now had games nights.
The following New Year we returned to our friends in Essex and learned more games – Puerto Rico that was missed the year before, Ticket to Ride and Cards Against Humanities. The possibilities and variation offered by games were limitless! My love for tabletop gaming had been completely reignited.
Instead of buying friends a bottle for their birthdays as I had done since we were all 18, I now bought them games – and likewise. I signed up to boardgamegeek.com and I went out my way to visit games shops. My collection grew.
I subscribed to a tabletop gaming magazine, I started to watch video reviews and regularly visit board game news websites, such as Dice Tower and Shut Up and Sit Down. I started going along to a few games clubs. My collection grew.
I created a wish list on Amazon so folk knew what games I was interested in come Christmas or birthdays, I started writing reviews, I joined Kickstarter and started helping bring board games into existence. My collection grew.
In the past three years I have not only fully reset my passion for board games, I have taken it to a whole new level – an obsession. From January 2013 when I first bought my copy of 7 Wonders, I have amassed a collection of over 60 games with around 20 expansions. I have bought dozen of games for friends, to date I have supported 14 through Kickstarter, and I have played many more that I don’t own.
Today, there is very much a misconception that board games are “not current”, or not cutting edge. That couldn’t be further from the truth…
In 2016, the board gaming industry is in better shape than it ever has been in its history, with the community evolving and expanding at an exponential rate. Forget what you think you know about board games; the traditional titles you will be familiar with such as Monopoly, Kerplunk, Cluedo, Guess Who, etc don’t even scratch the surface of what modern board gaming offers.
The constant flow of new and exciting titles coming into existence is absolutely mind-blowing. The revolutionary new mechanics being pioneered that are spearheading the industries assault on the mainstream – even influencing the video game industry! None more prominent than the ‘legacy system’ that provides a completely unique experience to each individual that owns a copy of the game, that not only can’t be replicated, but can’t be predicted.
Video games still play a part in my life, but they have been easily overtaken by tabletop gaming. In fact, my rejuvenated devotion to the board gaming world has had a knock on effect on my video gaming experience, with me undertaking the challenge of the Dark Souls trilogy – something I wouldn’t have done prior to my reintroduction to board gaming due to the difficulty. The desire for a challenge offered by physical games and real human players is very hard to replicate in the digital world – Dark Souls is one of the very few available titles that does, and to amazing effect. I now regard it as one of my favourite game series ever.
Co-incidentally, April this year saw UK based Steamforged Games raise over £3.7m on Kickstarter to bring Dark Souls: The Board Game to life – the 24th most backed crowd-funding campaign ever, and 2nd in the tabletop game list behind Exploding Kittens. As a backer, I cannot wait for April 2017 to have a go of this stunning looking game to see how this incredible video game franchise translates to the table.
If you haven’t already dipped your toe into this world, you most certainly should. If you were like me and enjoyed them as a kid, take a trip down memory lane and treat yourself – you won’t regret it. Today’s games offer an immersive, interactive, engaging and entertaining experience you share with your friends, usually through an eye-poppingly beautiful visual theme. It is simply the way games are supposed to be enjoyed, not on your own in front of a TV screen.
The possibilities are endless, with a level of variation that is almost incomparable to comprehend. Believe me, there is a game out there for absolutely everyone. With over 85,000 games registered on Boardgamegeek, it would take several lifetimes to experience them all. Over time I will provide many worthy suggestions for you to try on That’s Not Current, so stay tuned.
Looking back, my only regret to this tale is I wasted at least 15 years of my life by not feeding my passion.
Because board games are absolutely bloody brilliant!!!