If you know me, it won’t come as any great shock to learn that I’m not a “gamer.” I’ve never read a graphic novel, and the closest I’ve ever come to role-playing is taking a Facebook quiz to decide which Game of Thrones character I am. I’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons, nor attended Comic Con or spoken in Klingon.
It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks. In the past 4 months, I’ve learned how to play the board games “Carcassonne,” “Qwirkle,” “Takenoko,” “Ticket to Ride,” and more. As a result, I’ve made new friends and strengthened some key relationships as well.
But let me back up… A little while ago, my husband and I helped our niece move. We all wanted to find a way to spend time together that involved slightly more interaction than occupying the same room while we watched reality TV and occasionally muttered “pass the Doritos.” Enter board games (thanks to my husband’s discovery of Wil Wheaton’s YouTube show Tabletop.)
Full disclosure: I didn’t used to pay much attention to my husband’s pop culture fanboydom and general geekery. But time has passed, bringing with it an emptier nest and a greater focus on our marriage. I’ve become, it must be said, a bit of a Geeklet. I’ve embraced certain things (Sherlock and @Midnight) while steadfastly rejecting others (zombies and Star Trek/Wars/Whatever.)
One part of Geek Culture I’ve embraced is board games.
Not the board games of our childhoods. No Monopoly or Operation or Scrabble or Risk. Those are all fun, but apparently there’s a whole other subset of games, ones that are largely European imports and involve complex rules and roles, decks of beautifully illustrated cards, intricate miniature props, and—yes, I admit it—sometimes even multi-sided dice.
These games are a ton of fun to play.
We started small, with Jack acquiring about 30 games and playing more or less nonstop whenever he wasn’t working, and me joining him on binge-viewings of Tabletop. (When he does something, he does it!) Within days, he did a Google search for a board game Meetup group in our area, found one, and signed us up. The members were clearly experienced board game players—they knew the rules to seemingly every game, even the little-invoked exceptions (“ah, you have armor AND a shield, so you get to die three times per round!”) Even so, they were incredibly tolerant of newbies like us, who tripled their game play time and messed with their Master Plans out of ignorance, not malice. (We saved malice for the second round.)
This past weekend saw celebrations of International Tabletop Day. Not living near a board game store, we were toying with the idea of hosting an event ourselves, but as such novices, we preferred to go to someone else’s. Luckily, our local Barnes & Noble is managed by an avid board game aficionado, and hosted an all-day game-a-thon in which we happily participated. I won’t say I was nervous, exactly, but I didn’t know quite what to expect. Would this group be as accepting as the Meetup group had been? Or would they look at us—well, me, since my husband has by now learned enough to play most games really well—and sneer? When we first arrived, my fears seemed well-founded. At 5 tables, complicated strategy games were being played. Several players were the male, 20something, clearly-genius-level-IQ, likely-to-be-computer-programmers-in-real-life stuff of my stereotypical nightmares.
But wait! What’s this?
A young married couple… a lovely single woman in her 30s… an older lady comparing “strength points” with a gawky teenager… an executive type you’d sooner expect to see in a boardroom than playing a board game… they were all there too.
We played our first-ever game of “Settlers of Catan” (Jack won, as he insists on me pointing out. Beginner’s luck, as I insist on also pointing out.) There’s nothing like trading imaginary lumber for imaginary sheep with complete strangers to make you bond quickly! After the much-longer-than-usual game was over, we chatted with our former opponents, and with the other game-players as well. Jack discovered several fellow Dr. Who enthusiasts, while I found another writer who’s an avid blogger and specializes in urban fantasy. I write whodunits and now children’s books, but we agreed that if the characters in a book or movie are well-drawn, and the dialogue sharp and compelling, it doesn’t matter how many limbs they have…
Anyway, back to our niece, the reason for this whole board game adventure in the first place. That’s been the best dividend of all, as once or twice a month (or whenever our crazy work schedules and her photography business will allow), we all get together to play board games, talk, and laugh. It’s fun and invigorating and lovely.
Even if this old dog does sometimes need a magnifying glass to read the rules.