Boardgames? Those are for kids, right?
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Having Fun
Boardgames have always been a part of my life. From the time I was very young I played children’s classics like Chutes & Ladders, Hi-ho Cherry-O, and Life. My mid-youth was spent playing my sisters in Monopoly. They were playing the game, and I was playing them, tricking them into deals that ultimately lost them the game as I overtook the board with an iron fist.
“That’s a bad deal for me,” they’d cry.
“I know I bamboozled you last time,” I’d reply in a sweet voice, “but this time is different. I really think this is a smart move for you.”
There was even a point where my family and I got addicted to Pacific Northwest Farm Economics Simulation The Farming Game wherein you place little vinyl representations of fields and herds and equipment on a map of Central Washington, and drive your fellow agrarians out of business while lining your own pockets with the literal fruits of your labors. My uncle loved it so much that he re-themed it into a new game, The Construction Game and sold it out of his house. He still has dozens of copies if you’d like one.
As I worked my way through college, I spent hours upon hours playing, loving, and hating Risk, the original area control game that ruined friendships and took an infamously long time to complete.
After college, there was a drought. Boardgames were something that kids did, or that parents did with their kids. I had vague memories of my parents playing classic deduction games Scotland Yard and 221 B Baker Street, but those were anomalies, right? Boardgames weren’t really for grownups.
It was an article in the Sacramento Bee in November of 2007 that first alerted me to the idea that there was a type of board game for people who were interested in more complexity and flavor in their social entertainment experiences. These games were aimed squarely at adults, with beautiful art, thematic gameplay, and strategic or tactical depth. The article mentioned a set collection and card drafting game called Ticket to Ride about building networks of trains across the United States at the turn of the century.
The next day, I went a nearby hobby store that was filled with plastic plane models, train sets, R/C cars, and on one shelf near the front of the store, board games. Designer board games. I scanned the different boxes until I found Ticket to Ride. The price took me aback.
“Holy cow. This thing is fifty dollars.”
I waffled over whether to purchase only briefly (spending money has always been a gift of mine), then rationalized that for the hours of fun I’d be having with family and friends, the game was actually a bargain.
“It’d be irresponsible not to buy this game,” I reasoned to myself, thinking a sentence I’d repeat over a hundred times in the next decade.
With game in hand, I went home and shared the new treasure with my wife. She was ignorant (as was I!) of the spending patterns this first purchase portended, and so she welcomed this addition to our oeuvre of evening activities excitedly. That night, we played a modern, new-fangled game for the first time.
I remember it fondly. Little did we know how many times we would repeat this experience in the future, often with the same results.
1. I buy a game that I think we’ll both like
2. I coerce my wife into playing it with me
3. I — armed with hours of research and planning — explain the rules in the simplest way I can, to make her entrance into a new mechanic or ruleset the smoothest it can be
4. She beats me handily, either through intuitive skill or luck
5. We decide whether we will ever play it again
The first play of Ticket to Ride, we were absolutely blown away. It was so much fun! The rules were intuitive, the play was fast, and it didn’t overstay its welcome. Within a few weeks, we had introduced Ticket to Ride to as many other couples as we could convince to play it with us. Family gatherings became evangelism sessions for this incredible gaming experience.
A question began to bubble up for all of us: were there more of these games that were worth playing? Dozens and dozens of positive answers to that question now line my shelves, and my life is richer for the experiences they provide.
I can’t wait to share them with you.