Do you want to play a game?
Now on with the show.
I was not one of those teenagers in the ‘80s who played Dungeons and Dragons. My circle of nerds1 wasn’t that one. Not that there’s anything wrong with the role players. It just wasn’t my scene.
Because of that, the whole Eurogame revolution passed me by. Until 15-ish years ago, I had no idea that board games extended much beyond Monopoly and had even less idea why anyone would want to play them — because Monopoly is the worst.
Fifteen years ago, however, my husband and our two kids reconnected with two friends from college and their two kids2 at a lakehouse in the Poconos. We decided to test drive a weekend together because our kids were very young and the olds missed hanging out with other olds. Our college friends brought new school tabletop games like Settlers of Catan and Munchkin. I was skeptical because I figured this would be Monopoly with better graphics and played along just to be a good sport. I had The Best Time.
For the record: I didn’t enjoy myself because I found some untapped skill and kicked all kinds of ass. I kicked zero ass. Any game that requires “strategy” or “tactics” or “planning” is one that I will lose. What I love is the act of playing.3
The documentary Gamemaster (now on Amazon Prime) digs into what makes modern board games work as it follows four would-be designers as they navigate this multi-million dollar industry. But those four are only the spine of the story. Really, the film is about why our brains like games, how marketing works, and what it takes to succeed at any creative endeavor.4 There’s also a thread about social justice and what that means in this very white, very male space.
If that’s too much to take in, you can ignore all of that and just geek out on the games. I made a wishlist while watching.5 And since that same couple, our now very grown children, my husband, and I have made a yearly tradition of gathering to game, I’m sure I’ll play at least a few of the ones I track down.
Two more related thoughts:
1) I watch a lot of documentaries. Or, rather, I start watching a lot of documentaries. The ones I finish are frequently from Gravitas Ventures, a distribution house. They aren’t all winners, mind. Their batting average is way above .500, tho. This is one of my faves. As was this one, even though I had zero interest in the topic.
2) Again: I am a nerd. Not only do I like playing tabletop games, I also like reading about them, especially when the writer has a personable style that makes the topic even more engaging. Eric Thurm’s Avidly Reads Board Games is a sprightly-yet-deep look at what/why/how games are, as well as filling in some history6 along the way. I’m trying to not take it personally that Thurm is easily 25 years younger than me and has written a book I wish I’d written first but here we are.
Are you a game fan? Do you not see the point? Do you also agree that Monopoly is the worst?
Speech-and-debate nerd, for those playing at home. I did mix with the band nerds and the choir nerds but was never in either myself.
Two of the four kids are now going to the same college that all four of the adults went to. This is a total kick in the head that I can’t even put into words.
(as long as there aren’t a million rules or a million pieces to move every turn.)
Failure, mostly, and learning from same.
There is a turn-of-the-century game about beating Black children with a stick that is both unbelievable and totally believable.