For the Love of the (Board) Game

Geek Culture

Image: Jonathan LiuImage: Jonathan Liu

Image: Jonathan Liu

Whenever I see posts on GeekDad (or elsewhere) about “gamers,” it typically refers to either videogames or RPGs. But I’m a different sort of gamer, one who might use 6-sided dice, or none at all. That’s right, I’m a board game geek.

Some prefer the term “tabletop games” now, partly because for a lot of people the term “board games” conjures up images of Monopoly and Life. Switching to “strategy games” isn’t much better; then people just assume you like Risk. (The webcomic Daisy Owl has an amusing perspective on this.) I usually end up saying “European strategy games, like Settlers of Catan“—if you haven’t heard of Settlers then chances are you probably won’t recognize most of the other games in my collection—but that’s still not entirely accurate, because a lot of my games aren’t European, or strategy games, or either. The best thing is just to sit down with me and play a few, and then you’ll see how broad the term “board games” can really be.

I wasn’t always this way. Sure, I played board games as a kid, but mostly ones that everyone’s familiar with: Life, Scrabble, Clue. I did have a few more obscure ones like Legend of Camelot and I was really intrigued by Scotland Yard but never got to play much. In college, I got hooked on the card game SET but other than that I played a lot more computer games (Star Control 2, anyone?) and was discovering the wonders of the (still fairly new, and totally new to me) World Wide Web.

Fast-forward a few years. My wife and I found ourselves in Portland, Oregon, and some new friends introduced us to Settlers of Catan, recently featured in Wired as “the Monopoly-killer.” I was hooked. From there I discovered Carcassonne, a game I liked so much I made my own hand-drawn set of tiles. And then at some point I stumbled across BoardGameGeek, the ultimate online resource for everything games-related (and itself a result of Settlers of Catan), and things snowballed. I used to find game nights, in addition to our regular monthly game nights with friends. I scoured Goodwill and eBay for hard-to-get games, and haunted my Friendly Local Game Stores.

In less than four years I’d accumulated somewhere around a hundred games, most of which you’d never see if you only shop at Wal-mart, and I’d even taken up designing games. (Nothing really big has come of this yet, but hope springs eternal!) I seek out games that have very different mechanics (like Icehouse, Wings of War, Bolide, Warchon, and Tongiaki). I love games with interesting themes (Last Night on Earth or Bang!), games that are serious (Power Grid) and games that are anything but (Fluxx).

And then we picked up our family and moved to a tiny town in western Kansas, where I’ve started up my own game nights. It’s been a little tougher getting folks interested (my regulars are predominantly high-school guys), but we’re gradually seeing a few adults here, a few females there. Sure, we’ve got an Xbox and a Wii, and most of the kids here spend lots of time playing videogames of one sort or another, but I’ll take a face-to-face board games session over Halo 3 anyday. I just spent a few hours teaching games to some new faces, in fact.

In the future, watch for more in-depth reviews of games and suggestions for starting your own collection of tabletop games!

Related posts:

Something to Play With the Geekling Besides Monopoly

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