If you'd told me a year ago that not only would I be playing board games as an enthusiast of the form but actively collecting them I'd have laughed very very hard. In fact I'd probably still be laughing now, a whole 12 months later, as if I'd decided to breathe nitrous oxide instead of oxygen. The very idea! No, no, PC games were my meat and potatoes, thank you very much, you utter Nerd. I'd played with board games in my youth, dabbled with the more complex Games Workshop variety in my teens but had quickly shunned the D20s and brobdingagian rulebooks in favour of immersing myself in purely digital landscapes. No having to find adequate table/floor space. No fiddly parts and pieces. None of that tedious social interaction, particularly the arguing and endless debates over rules and dice throws. No, just give me a purring PC and I'd be perfectly happy at my monitor for as long as you cared to leave me there.
Then in 2011 something a bit odd happened. I helped form a Writing Group! Even odder: it worked! Write Club swiftly ballooned into an all-encompassing social monster that threatened to grow arms, legs, tentacles, fibrous facial formations...soon we were having film nights, geek nights, geek film nights, and, of course, the obligatory boozing sessions. And so it was that roughly four or five months into this delightful social merry-go-round that one of Write Club's newer members proposed an entirely different kind of meeting. A meeting to play a board game!
He did well, did young Master Gregory. His choice of board game was tailor-made to appeal to many of our members, delving as it did into the squamous, bubbling guts of the Cthulhu mythos. "Come and play Arkham Horror", he said, quite forgetting to veil the hideous insanity in his eyes. We fell upon that idea as if Cthulhu himself had subsumed our tiny, fragile human wills beneath its demonic, otherworldy essence (Translation: it was a popular idea. Lots of us turned out for it). Innsmouth! *shriek*
It happened on two occassions, both held within my humble abode, and it was impressive. Complicated as all heck, but that just introduced genuine awe into the precedings as we slack-jawed mental defectives watched poor Gregory running hundreds of rules through his head in order to help us all play our characters. It started out as Teaching but by the end, after watching us neck considerable amounts of tasty alcoholic beverages, he had collapsed into merely telling us drunken bums what to do in each instance, the poor sod. Sorry, Greg, for all the pissheads. We only played the game twice, losing dreadfully the first time but redeeming ourselves mightily on the second. After that, though, life moved away from cards, tokens and dice, as was only proper.
Cardboard Children happened next. A PC gaming website I had become addicted to, Rockpapershotgun, decided to do a wacky thing and devote some screen space to a weekly column about board games, reasoning somewhat recklessly that these were the proto-forms of the digital versions we were all slurping down as if life depended on it. I started to read Cardboard Children regularly, telling myself I was simply attracted by the genial, characterful nature of Robert Florence's writing but looking back I suppose a small persistent sliver of 'Arkham Horror' was growing in my head after all. And yet even at this point I maintained an easy distance. 'Board games are things that happen to other people', I told myself, in the happy, fireside tones of a man content with his lot, possibly cupping a brandy glass. Little did I know...
'Star Trek: Fleet Captains'. Four words that chang-ed everything (Community joke. Watch it now). Robert Florence wrote eloquently about it, passion and enthusiasm blazing across the screen at the speed of love: "This game is fucking incredible", he gushed, his vulgar non-Vulcan passion spilling over into colourful adjectives. Me? I wanted to climb into the screen, such was my excitement. 'Engage!" I cried, quite forgetting both myself and the near moribund state of Star Trek's 'prime' universe. "Warp factor nine, Ensign!". "Tea! Grey Earls! Cool cool cool!" I continued, becoming confused between Star Trek and the excellent recent series, Community, that you all should have watched so that it might have reached #sixseasonsandamovie.
My own passion for the ships of Star Trek was already firmly established. I had spent yeas tracking down every PC game that simulated the experience of letting me fly one (or a fleet of them), and then every mod for those games that promised more, and then every Star Trek mod for games that weren't even Star Trek related to begin with. Star Trek: Fleet Operations, a mod for the popular-in-2002 Real-Time Strategy (RTS), Star Trek: Armada 2, had been continually installed on every PC I ever owned and played at least once a week if not much more frequently. Star Trek: Fleet Captains, a mere paper and plastic board game, promised to let me fly these beautiful ships in the comfort of my livingroom!
I told my new, lovely and very geeky girlfriend of this game one happy morning, full of the spirit of awesome things. She had enjoyed many board games with an American friend and was keen to do more back in Blighty-ThistleGlens. I showed her Cardboard Children and the article devoted to it. She seemed to fall in love with it too. We talked excitedly about it then and on many occassions as the weeks passed. So much so, in fact, that I did a very soppy geeky thing and bought her the game as her very first Valentines present from me. Once she had stopped squealing delightedly...sorry, once we had stopped squealing delightedly we sat and played the game that evening, wrestling with the most badly written rulebook ever, while my shiny special 2-DVD edition of The Wrath of Khan screamed "KHAAAAAAAAN" in the background. Geek heaven? It certainly felt like it.
From that moment on we found any excuse to crack open that gorgeous box and empty its beautiful heroclix-style model ships and shiny card decks into our brains. I won only once out of the first six games, no matter if I played as Federation or Klingon, but BY GOD I enjoyed every nanosecond of the experience, as did my poor-winner, tactical genius girlfriend. This was it, wasn't it? Face to face interaction and making decisions with cards was surely the way of the future? We fell upon Cardoard Children like starving locusts, devouring every word, googling everything Rabbie Florence talked about, foaming slightly at the mouth each time. At Christmas he did a wonderful thing: a little rundown of his Best of 2011. A year in which many beyond-awesome board games had been released, he told us. ST:FC was listed, naturally, but only at number five in the runners-up category. Our tiny minds shattered: there were games more betterer than the game we thought of as Geek Heaven?! Foam foam foam ecstasy dribbling catatonia.
And that, dearest reader, is how we learned to love the bomb. From then on the passion spread through our friends and family like a cardboard plague. So many people expressed an interest in joining us, attracted by our ever-deepening enthusiasm, that we're now on the verge of setting up a regular weekly session and possibly even finding a local group to join. We discovered the venerable Boardgamegeek website and rampaged through its thousands of articles and forum posts, learning the state of the hobby past and present as well as the big titles to look out for. We bought board games at every opportunity; The tension-heavy, betrayal-happy Battlestar Galactica. The quick and fun, family friendly deck-building Dominion (+ Hinterlands expansion). The epic Kings-Bounty-PC-Game-In-A-Box, Mage Knight. The quick-but-deep space civilisation builder Race for the Galaxy (+3 expansions) . The delightfully quirky Discworld: Ankh-Morpork. We had crossed into a brave new world, forever lost to the charms of customised dice and tabletop adventurings. Google all the words in Bold type, peeps. Clicketh you the embedded hyperlinks. I promises you won't be regrettings it, precious.
They've made us laugh. They've made us cry. They've made us tea. Board games are AWESOME. If none of my carefully enunciated squeeeing noises above have convinced you then hold still while I crank up the pnuematic Word-hammer: BOARD GAMES ARE NOT JUST FOR KIDS THEY ARE FOR PEOPLE WHO ENJOY FUN AND FUN WITH OTHER PEOPLE PLAY ONE NAOOOOW!
Now that I have introductered you, look out for more board game squeee in future postings.