How Board Games Have Impacted My Life

Clans of Caledonia

Clans of Caledonia

Growing up, video games were always my favorite mode of entertainment.  The Nintendo 64 cemented my passion for gaming at a young age. I remember sitting in front of the television set with my father and brothers playing Mario Kart 64 for hours and hours.  I would always pick Yoshi, while the others would fight over Toad.  And my brothers and I would always laugh at my dad every time we played Rainbow Road--he hated that track.  This is one of my fondest memories.

As gaming evolved, my brothers and I graduated from the likes of Golden Eye and Super Smash Brothers to move on to Halo 2 and Crimson Skies.  We were now gaming online against people all over the globe--mind blowing, right?  Surely gaming could not get better than this.

Soon after the Halo 2 era ended, the juggernaut World of Warcraft consumed me whole.  It introduced me to something I’ve never experienced before: a persistent fantasy world ripe to explore, populated by thousands of other real-world players.  Before I knew it four years of my life had flashed by. During my years with World of Warcraft, I made many friendships--nearly all online--and most of which ended with the game.  Stepping away from mouse and keyboard, I realized the days of Mario Kart 64 were gone.  My oldest brother had moved away to college and modern video games had, for the most part, become too complicated for my father.  Soon multiplayer games slowly began removing split-screen capabilities. Gone were the days of couch co-ops and LAN parties. Face-to-face human interaction cast aside, online gaming would go on to dominate the video game landscape.  College came, and I quickly fell out of love with gaming altogether.

Near the end of my college career my fellow Cardboard Reality host, Joel, invited my now wife (then girlfriend) and me over for a double date board game night.  I have very limited memories of playing Clue or Monopoly growing up.  You could say that I wasn’t overly enthusiastic at the prospect of playing such a board game.  However, we did not play Monopoly that night; instead, my friend introduced us to a little game called Dominion, which is a game about playing cards with various actions on them to allow you to purchase and play more cards until you can eventually afford to stock up on provinces (the primary method for scoring points in the game).  Needless to say, I was impressed with Dominion and I was eagerly looking forward to the next play of it.  

Terra Mystica

Terra Mystica

However, it took me awhile longer before I discovered the plethora of other great board game titles and the wonderful hobby that existed therein.  During another game night, a year after being introduced to Dominion, my wife and I played Monopoly Deal with another couple, which is actually a much better game than Monopoly believe it or not.  Sitting around a table playing a game and laughing with friends was so refreshing.  It was a deeply social and hands-on experience that proved to be substantially more engaging and rewarding than anything its digital gaming counterpart could offer.  The next day I went to Amazon to purchase a copy of Dominion for myself.  It was then when I discovered other interesting looking board games.  I immediately browsed to YouTube and stumbled upon Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop.  I was floored by all of the innovative and highly social board games that existed.  In the next moment, I was at Barnes & Noble purchasing Carcassonne (a beautifully simple tile laying game all about trying to score the most points) and Pandemic (a cooperative board game where players work together to stop the spread of deadly diseases).  Soon after, I snagged Dixit (a social party game) and The Resistance (a social deduction team game where no one knows who anyone else is unless you are a spy) and then I was quickly on my way to being completely immersed in a new and exciting hobby.

In the beginning of my time with the hobby, I found myself playing a significant amount of games at the 2 player count.  My wife and I would make dinner together, pour a glass of wine, and pull a board game off of the shelf; a perfect evening if you ask me.  A wonderful bonding experience that trumps watching television together after dinner, no contest.

We began inviting other friends over to introduce them to designer board games.  Before we knew it, we were having biweekly board game nights. The group started small with around four to five people commiting to regular sessions.  Soon after, people began inviting their friends and so the game night continued to grow and evolve.

Around this same time, I began introducing board games to my coworkers, which lead to the conception of another regular board game group hosted by a coworker of mine.  Suddenly, I had more friends and was more actively social then I had ever been in high school or college. I owe a lot of great friendships to this hobby. And let’s be clear about something: making friends post college is oftentimes a tricky and awkward thing.  Thankfully, this was never the case when board games were involved. They have a great knack for demolishing social barriers and working as a catalyst for social bonding. Matter of fact, in the past I’ve always tested as an introvert; after spending time in the board gaming hobby, my personality shifted towards extrovertism--a definite surprise to me.

However, board games are definitely not all about the social experience either; they can also excel at making your brain churn and think in a myriad of refreshing ways.  As I dove further into the hobby, I began discovering more complex games like Alchemists and Terra Mystica.  In Alchemists, you mix ingredients to brew unknown potions in an academic setting.  Your goal is to deduce the chemical makeup of key ingredients and then publish theories on your findings while hoping your opponents don’t debunk said theories.  In Terra Mystica, you play as one of fourteen asymmetrical fantasy races trying to terraform terrain into habitable land for your settlements.  To succeed, you will need to build an efficient economy capable of affording expensive actions in the game.

Alchemists

Alchemists

It was around this time that I really began to appreciate the hobby on a deeper level.  I started hosting smaller scale board game nights focused on playing this heavier (more complex) style of game.  Joel was a frequenter of these nights, as was Scott who is another host on our podcast. Both of them began slowly collecting new and exciting board games as well.

Eventually, Joel and I decided we wanted to take this hobby to the next level and share our newfound passion with more people.  To accomplish this, we decided to create a board gaming podcast. We quickly put together the format for the show, bought some recording equipment, and began practicing.  With a little bit of convincing, Scott joined the show too. After a few rough practice episodes, we were ready to release our pilot. We began meeting multiple times a week to game or record, and on the days we did not meet, we actively communicated via group text about the next enticing board game release or what we wanted to discuss on an upcoming episode.  Soon thereafter, we met our newest podcast host, Dylan, via a local gaming subreddit. With his high energy and passionate personality, he quickly assimilated to our gaming group. After having him guest on an episode and witnessing his board gaming knowledge shine on air, it was obvious that he was the right fit for the fourth seat.

As Cardboard Reality continued forward, we began crafting a little board gaming community via our Board Game Geek guild (a forum dedicated to our show located at https://boardgamegeek.com/guild/3124).  This place provided us the wonderful opportunity to interact with the listeners of our show, which has proven to be one of the most rewarding experiences this hobby has offered us to date.  Hopefully with convention season on the horizon, we will get to meet and game with some of our listeners in person. A truly rewarding experience I do not doubt.

Our board game group has now grown well beyond its initial four or five friendly faces, and as a result, I’ve befriended many incredible people--people I would never have met if it were not for this hobby, and they will unequivocally persist as my dear friends for many years to come inside and outside of analog gaming.

And now here I sit trying to ponder a befitting way to conclude these ramblings.  Staring at my computer screen, all I can think to do is to go offline and get back to the table--to experience the laughs and smiles board gaming has a knack for mustering--to escape reality for an evening and get lost in good company.  In the end, board gaming is not about the games or winning--it’s about the people. Gaming has always been about the people.