There is no particular time of year that brings the catharsis of a new start like New Years’. It is both a time for reflection on what you have done and preparing for the future. This past year has been another monumental step into the hobby of board gaming for me. I genuinely feel I have found a hobby with which I identify. The people I have had the good fortune of meeting and playing with some of the most extraordinary people. My only regret is that I didn’t get involved with board gaming earlier. I wanted to reflect on why I identify with board gaming and tell you where I am setting my sights in the future.
Where I Came From
I am thankful that I was able to play a decent amount of board games throughout my childhood. While none of them I would necessarily consider “hobbyist” games, they were nevertheless games that molded my gaming perception. Board and video games were always something I set my sights on from when I was young. Hardly, as I recall it, would we leave to go out on a trip without me bringing my Gameboy, iPad, or some other item to entertain me.
When I was younger, I had mostly played Magic: the Gathering, Catan, Cranium games, and Monopoly to a nauseating extent. I, of course, jest when referring to the games that I grew up playing. Some of my fondest memories are about duking it out with my father over the Monopoly board. My brother and I also played Stratego when we were younger. The idea you could bluff your flag’s location in Stratego was so exciting to me.
For a brief moment, I also had grandiose dreams of competing professionally in Magic. Many Friday nights in High School, I spent theorycrafting the next deck that was undoubtedly to get me past the Tarmogofys, which always seemed to be the bane of my existence. One of the best things about Magic was how the rules served as a framework to supplement gameplay. I say that as I site the golden rule of Magic From Rule 101 of the official Magic: the Gathering Rulebook:
“101.1. Whenever a card’s text directly contradicts these rules, the card takes precedence. The card overrides only the rule that applies to that specific situation. The only exception is that a player can concede the game at any time (see rule 104.3a).”
Magic: the Gathering was the first game to challenge if I could manifest my ideas. Spending weekends building lists of cards to retrieve from our local game store was an exciting puzzle. Each card had a certain “edge” to it. They all had layers in which they could interact with other cards all because of that one rule. Some famous Magic: the Gathering decks like Dredge, OmniDoor Thragfire, and Goblin Charbelcher are the result of some gleeful, mad scientist experiments by some of the brightest minds of professional Magic. The framework of rules and the economy of resources created by Richard Garfield stands today as one of the most influential games of all time.
My first foray into hobby board gaming came with a general discontent with the state of Magic: the Gathering. The amount of money you could spend and still get utterly thrashed by your opponents was not sustainable. I started to imagine two scenarios:
- I pay $50 for a semi-competitive deck in which I will not have a good time playing because others have made investments in more efficient cards, which ultimately will give them the advantage time and time again. I will sell my cards for 50-80% of what they are worth to yet continue the cycle when new cards obsolete old cards.
- I pay $50 for a brand spanking new game which I can play as much as I want with my friends. It will never go “out of rotation”, and as long as I take care of it, it will retain most of its value or even accrue value.
As much as I enjoyed video games, I just wasn’t as engaged when playing by myself anymore. I had gotten to play games with my friends, and nothing compared to the feeling of having your friends around a table sharing a moment. I had started watching the YouTube channel Geek & Sundry. While the show TableTop with Wil Wheaton is no longer recording new episodes, it was the first show to crack the lid of the treasure trove of hobby games.
In 2015, I played my first game of Betrayal at House on the Hill. Oh boy, did it knock my socks off! Not long after, I had received Betrayal as a gift from my ever-generous parents. I was so excited. The possibilities which laid inside the box blew my mind. The idea that a game could be modular in the way players placed the rooms and how the ending could be dynamic was mind-boggling. At this point, I had my first encounter with BoardGameGeek.com (BGG).
While new users might not have the same problems as I, the old UI for BGG was too unfamiliar for me at first. It took some convincing to get me addicted to surfing through game entries. However, I did want to locate what the best games were of all time. I had this perception that I was coming out of my metaphorical Plato’s cave to face the fantastic reality of what games existed. To see people espouse that Magic: the Gathering was archaic design by modern standards blew my mind.
The number 1 game of all time on BGG at the time was Twilight Struggle. It had to be number 1 for a reason! I would later enjoy Twilight Struggle but not to the extent of other games. It seemed odd to me that a game ranked 1 of all time on a website dedicated to the hobby of board gaming wouldn’t be accessible to me. Much like ice cream and music, I had to learn that there were certain ‘flavors’ of games that I had come to prefer. To explore them, though, I would need some willing participants.
I formed a weekly Friday night game night, which would define most of my college experience. At specific points, it seemed like not a week would go by without me thinking of a new game I would want to play with my friends. When we were able to find a game that everybody loved, it was such a brilliant experience. Nothing beats those memories of spending every Friday playing a board game or two, Magic: the Gathering, and Super Smash Brothers.
One of my early favorites was Carcassonne. I loved the modular board and worker placement. Dominion caught fire with our group, as well. Deckbuilding and traditional European board gaming ideas started to fill my head. Race for the Galaxy and Terraforming Mars were some of the first cerebral games we began to tackle. I had fallen in love with the patterns and systems that could arise from a seemingly innocuous set of rules.
I feel around then was the first time I started logging the times I play games regularly. I think that marks my steadfast commitment to being obsessed with hobby board gaming. I do mean obsessed. I subscribed to two different board gaming magazines. I am in the groups on Facebook, Discord, and Slack. I am familiar with most FLGS within my county. It is a lot, now that I am reflecting. I still feel relatively new and know that only the tides of time will wisen me to the larger board gaming community’s patterns.
Where I Am Going
I want to continue writing about board gaming, big surprise. I am still polishing a project documenting the history of 18xx games. I have become obsessed thanks to the creation of the website 18xx.games. I have had the fantastic opportunity to talk with some of the most brilliant minds in the 18xx community, and I am trying to make sure I do justice to what they told me.
Once that project is complete, I am going to set my sights on another long-term project. Having something driving me forward in my personal life helped distract me from some awful things going on this year. I also am redefining what I want to do with my writing. I don’t consider myself a journalist. I certainly am a blogger. With my limitations around that in mind, I hope to provide a more meaningful analysis to my readers.
I am hoping to play the games I own more, as well. I am finding many old & new games that excite me, but I also would like to play the games I own more. I am starting my first 10×10 this year. A 10×10 is where you set a challenge to play ten different games ten times each year. Last year I tried to play Dominion fifty times but failed at a modest 32 times. Without much more delay, here are the games I am going to play this year:
1846: the Race for the Midwest
Tom Lehmann’s outstanding 18xx entry. The more I play this game, the more it’s classic nature is revealed to me. Sure, it is a lot different from many other 18xx titles, but it has such a satisfying flow. I joined Daniel Sousa’s tournament with mediocre results, but I cannot play this game enough. I cannot wait to play it in person again.
Age of Steam
The Pick-Up-And-Deliver classic from John Bohrer/Martin Wallace. The economy in this game feels tight. It reminds me a lot of how I felt when I first played Brass: Lancashire. It is also a great stepping stone between cube rails games and 18xx games for people curious about 18xx but not sure where to start. I have tons of fun maps from designer Alban Viard, which should keep me busy for a while.
Cowboys build the frontier town of Carson City. Are you not making money? Rob someone. I love the shifting value of worker placement spots in Carson City and how players work together to build the map. The duels over actions offer just enough spice where no player feels genuinely out of the game. I also can’t wait to play with all the fun expansions in the big box!
Ryan Courtney managed to deliver another fantastic tile-laying game after last year’s Pipeline. However, Curious Cargo is a head-to-head duel of shipping some questionable freight. The three-dimensional tile-laying puzzle that arises from placing tiles on top of one another is dense, and I cannot wait to explore it.
I just recently had this game introduced to me recently and I immediately fell in love. Similar to Galaxy Trucker, this real-time route-building game offers a teasing amount of trickery. It is also quick enough to be done within an hour for new players, which is a huge bonus!
The Great Zimbabwe
The Splotter Spellen classic hasn’t seen enough love from me recently. Players play as African tribes building monuments to the gods. The unique production chain allows for some exciting ramifications of where you locate your tradesmen. I want to explore the different gods and how they all interact.
Roll for the Galaxy
It is no secret that I have played Race for the Galaxy to death. Roll for the Galaxy can mimic the same beautiful dance between two players in Race. Roll can extend the ideal player count to 3-4 players, whereas Race is only good at two players. The menagerie of dice also is enticing to new players.
Tigris & Euphrates
This Reiner Knizia tile-laying classic offers some fantastic civilization building and destruction. I want to get my friends around this game and see what we can make of it. I certainly know that my friends and family can be sharks when they want to. Tigris and Euphrates give them enough tools to accomplish this.
Alban Viard’s Tramways has an intelligent card draft system for moving people in Small City around trams. The solo game is addicting, but I would love to see this game at higher player counts. There are a lot of opportunities for tricky play.
Given to me as a gift, I enjoy the feeling of Troyes Dice. It doesn’t overstay its welcome but offers a generous amount of replayability within the 16 choices you make over the game. I also enjoy how the game can “fight back” by closing down individual sections of your city. I imagine most plays of this will be solo, but I am looking forward to them!