I love board games.
I hear a lot about the ‘death of the American family room’ because of smartphones and social media and the like, and whenever I hear that I know they’re talking about families who clearly don’t have board games.
We play board games all the time. I think they’re useful tools to teach kids about teamwork, gloating, volume control, luck, the inherent unfairness of life and how to resist the urge to physical violence. Also, how never to be the one who says, “oh! I knew that!” when you did not, in fact, know that.
My board gaming life has probably been more Red Lobster than the Four Seasons. I didn’t have D&D Dungeon Master friends who might have pulled me into a higher evolutionary tier of strategy. We were a standard Milton Bradley kind of family growing up. At home we played Life and Monopoly and games of that ilk. I played chess in a club at school. There was a technological revolution at some point in the eighties when they figured out how to add sound effects to games like Battleship. There was pretty much a plasticification of every game at that point.
Pictionary and games like it seemed to take over from card games like Uno around that time. Party-based games soared. Then there was the explosion of trivia based games, followed by the hybrid kind of Cranium revolution, which combined many gaming skill sets under one umbrella. And then you had a new era of games like Scene It that incorporated your TV into the action.
Cut to this past Easter Sunday, when we bought a ton of stuff on the Xbox Live Sale, and ended up playing Trivial Pursuit and Boggle and Monopoly Plus without ever taking our eyes off the television. The digital takeover seemingly complete.
But, in the same way that reading an ebook feels much less satisfying than turning the pages of a real book, the ‘digital’ board gaming experience, even with all its bells and whistles, leaves a lot to be desired.
Case in point: I’ve only recently become aware of an entire genre of board games that you can’t find on the shelves of your local Wal-Mart. They’re more detailed and targeted toward a consumer who really loves the medium, and they seem to be as much art and culture as they are actual gameplay.
I feel like the breakout hit game Cards Against Humanity helped people broaden their horizons with the gaming genre, but once you start exploring, the choices are amazing and addictive. Take this one for example:
This is the game that got me hooked on European Style board games. Tesla vs Edison. I was already interested in the subject material and the game itself is fucking inspired. It’s the kind of game that just chuckles at the version of you who was proud of kicking ass at Scattergories. And it’s educational. For example, did you know that Edison didn’t electrocute Topsy the Elephant? That’s a myth.
The first game I ever remember really loving was probably Mastermind. If you can manage to not lose all the little black and white score pegs, that game is a lot of fun. And look at that absolute pimp on the cover. Two colors in his hair and his waxed Van Dyke. He has rocket hot women in white dresses following him wherever he goes. (No latent cultural misogyny injection at all in this image. No, sir!) Looking back, this cover probably damaged my life in a thousand ways because my goal has always been to be this dude. Sitting around, fingertip pyramid, smug asshole face, doing absolutely nothing next to high gloss surfaces, waiting for a pixie to show up in casual wedding attire and be my wingman. Because I’m a Mastermind. Oh god. Now that I’ve realized all this, I might consider a lawsuit. What an idiot I am.
Clue. I couldn’t get enough clue. I had Clue and Clue FX and like seven different versions of Clue including the one in a fancy tin with badass figurines and shit and one ‘luxury’ wooden one with sunken rooms. I still love Clue. We just got Harry Potter Clue for Christmas but the kids won’t crack it open because they’re on book five and I’ve taught them to avoid spoilers like the plague.
It doesn’t hurt that Clue:the Movie is an all time fav in my family.
Secret Hitler. Man, this is a fun game.
But also, when I was looking up pictures for this piece, I noticed that Tesla vs Edison has a kickstarter that started yesterday for a two person version called ‘Duel’. Looks like they fully funded in under four hours. I just got my order in. That may have been the fastest money I’ve ever spent.
Favorite Game of all time:
Balderdash. It’s so so so so much fun. Especially with a big group of people. Words and Lying? Ayup! Who knows why we love what we love? I just remember having some memorable victories in Balderdash by fooling the shit out of people with fake definitions. And in the end, isn’t deceit what it’s all about?
Backgammon. Any game that lasts five thousand years has to be good. And it’s great.
I’m sure some die-hard board gamers will scoff at my taste (or lack thereof), or point out that that even though I just found the upscale, high end (European Style) board game market, that it’s been around for years. But I think that we all find games at our own pace, and somehow that ends up being completely okay.
Board games are, in short, magic. Sometimes I’ll just marvel over the detail and affection that goes into the choice and creation of a tiny gaming piece. (There’s a whole cottage industry on Ebay for people who will sell you replacement board game pieces). Board games are as much a connection to our shared past as they are an indicator of our cultural future. And they can transport you, for a few minutes anyway, to a place where a fortuitous roll of the dice can mean the difference between soaring victory or crushing defeat. Whether it be the timeless Scrabble-s of the world or the games like Twister, that serve a very specific purpose, board games rule.
So where do you land on the board game spectrum? Is it Magic: The Gathering (do tradeable cards games count? I think so) for you or Mahjong ? Or is it a game like Risk?
What are your First, Childhood or Young Adult, Current and Favorite board games of all time?
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