Now I’m not technically a kid anymore, but that is just a technicality. There is still a rather big kid in me who knows that this is one of the greatest weeks of the year. This special week between Christmas and the New Year is a free week, the last of the year. This is the week we all get to play with our gifts without a bedtime or a morning alarm.
I guess when I say we, I really mean all of you lucky jobless boys and girls with no school until the new year, I still have to work this week. But compared to the past 4 weeks, this upcoming week will hardly feel like work. We had a very busy month, we had a strong holiday season, and we had some stellar support staff that made it all run smoothly, I mean stellar.
But now its playtime folks. Kirsten and I enjoyed a few light kid games yesterday during our PJ Christmas. I spent some time sorting out my copy of Star Wars Imperial Assault (I love you Fantasy Flight, nobody can provide cardboard punching and token sorting game preparation joy like you do). This week I’ll be digging back into Doomtown and building at least one new deck for the upcoming meetup.
I still feel so silly getting excited about this stuff, like I did in high school when I hid my inner game geek every day until that final bell rang. I had to chuckle at my glee this Christmas as I ripped open the Imperial Assault game and admired every beautiful cardboard tile. Assembling the Walker was a bit dicey though, did a little finger damage and nearly shot my eye out.
But once I had my Imperial Assault game all prepped, my bubble deflated a bit when I realized that I had to wait for the gang to play it. This got me thinking, as I’m prone to do, about the social value of board games, which then lead to a reflection on my progression through the hobby. Now, many years after my first fateful plays of Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan, my approach to the hobby has changed dramatically.
See, our humble little shop gets visited most during the holidays by new gamers, or people shopping for new gamers. This season I interacted with a lot of folks who were new to the hobby. I could tell that, like me, they had played their first game of Settlers, or T2R, or Carcassonne, and were left awestruck. Like seeing your first David Lynch movie, the first experience with modern strategy board games leads naturally to the thought ‘Wow, what just happened?’.
I vividly remember the games I played during my early days in the hobby, and I remember my reactions to them. The three pillars, Carcassonne, Settlers, and T2R, left strong impressions. Without these games I would not be involved in the hobby, our shop would not exist, and Target, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s would find something far more profitable to fill the shelf space in their game section. I can also recall some early disappointments, like Notre Dame and Power Grid. But you know what I don’t remember as much from those early days that is so important to me now? The people I played with.
Early on in the hobby the games were so mind-blowing that they took the spotlight and the people I played with were largely just opponents. I didn’t care who I played with, only the game mattered. I would play nearly anything because it was all so new, and I just needed bodies to fill the seats around me. Then, I got a bit pickier about the games, but still less-so about the players. Just take a seat and move those pieces will you, I want to play this hot new game.
Now, after playing many ho-hum games with great people, and playing great games with ho-hum participants, I’m much less concerned with what’s on the table and more interested in who is sitting around it with me. I, like many board game enthusiasts, spent far too much time in the land of game snobbery, and I still often revisit the dark gooey world if my sleep schedule is disturbed or I’ve had a wee bit much to drink. At one point for me, the pillars of the modern strategy game world were simply gateways to larger and more complex games. They were high speed train cars to the land of game snobbery where any muggle in my path to find the greatest brain burner was punished with a swift joy-depleting kick to the gut.
Through all of the long hours spent selling games this Christmas season, one of the greatest joys was witnessing people leave our shop excited to give and possibly try out the goodies in their bag. Our aisles were largely filled with the new or more casual game-players that too often get discounted by some of us hardened pros. They are the reason this hobby is blooming and staying strong, and their glee and awe are so contagious and nostalgic. Moving forward as a gamer, I want to avoid the trend of narrowing my taste in games and instead try to recapture that new-gamer glee by playing big games and small games, simple and complex games, amazing games and crappy games, but always enjoying the people I’m playing with.
To honor the idea that the latest and greatest don’t mean much without good people, we’ll be hosting a game gathering this Saturday night dedicated to the lowest-rated games in your collection. Go ahead and bring some stinkers, we’ll still have a great time.
Enjoy the end of the year everyone!