One of the oldest and clearest memories I have of anything to do with games or playing games comes from a Christmas during my childhood. I don’t remember how old I was, but if I asked my Mom she would probably know the year just because that is the kind of things Moms know. We received for Christmas a Nintendo 64 along with a game called NBA Hangtime.
Now, NBA Hang Time was like the munchkin of video games at the time. It was a 2v2 basketball game but had basically nothing to do with the real game of basketball other then the fact that it had a hoop and a ball. Players could jump 30 feet in the air, hurt each other, achieve “on fire” status which would cause them to always make their shots or always dunk or something equally ridiculous. I have thought about looking the game up on Wikipedia but decided not to ruin my hopelessly incorrect nostalgia.
I don’t know exactly why this memory stuck with me, but this is where I say my love of gaming started, if anywhere. I might have played Chinese checkers or tic tac toe before this moment but lets just say thats where it all began. I had played pokemon on Gameboy some time before this, I reckon, but I didn’t consider myself a gamer at that point. I had lots of other games for the system. NFL Blitz, for example, was a game we played the cartridge out of despite it being flawed.
In NFL Blitz there was a play that we found would work every single time. Or, at least, that is what we simple minded children came to believe and no amount of experimentation or research could shake that unwavering belief. The play was called, strangely, “Da Bomb”. It was a simple play where all 3 receivers would line up on the right or left together and each one would run a post route. The inside receiver’s route would be shorter and he would break early, the next one would go slightly farther, and so on.
We discovered that every time you ran this play one of the receivers would be open, no matter what. It would not be the same receiver every time, so you would still have to look and see who was open, but the point was that it worked every time. Now, if we were adults playing the game, it probably would have took us around 3 minutes to find a defensive play that countered it, but in our youthful ignorance, we rode on.
And it was a ton of fun, despite that major perceived flaw.
My first experience involving any physical games would probably be with the Warhammer Fantasy tabletop miniatures game from Games Workshop. My cousin, a few years older then myself, had bought and been playing with the system and its Sci-fi counter part for some time and he introduced me. I vaguely remember starting an army and playing with him on and off for awhile.
A few years ago I unearthed my initial attempts at painting as a young kid and found out my strategy was to take the color blue, stick it on a brush, and paint the entire model as fast and sloppily as I could. Oh sure I might put some silver paint on the entire gun, so gloopy that the gun detail disappeared and it just looked like the guy was holding a silver amorphous beach ball–but hey, I was a painter baby!
I played the Warhammer games on and off through late grade school and into high school. One of my bad habits was that I often switched game systems, armies, and interests pretty rapidly–much to the annoyance of my main gaming partner. We would start up new armies in one system, play for a few months, then Ebay them and move onto something else, only to get roped back in again by a new set of rules, new models, or a getting bored with whatever other game we were playing, be it video game or tabletop.
And then the part you all saw coming from 30,000 feet. In high school I got trapped into the deep, dark, time destroying maw that is World of Warcraft. I remember that I was there, on launch day(or close to launch day) in the undead starting village hopping around with no idea what to do with thousands of other people. And slowly I became more involved. I joined various guilds, with various characters on multiple servers.
The most serious I ever got was when I was the Druid class leader for a raiding guild. I had actual responsibilities for the first time–it was amazing. I was in charge of making sure all the druids showed up ready to go, on time, and choosing the ones to go on the raid should spots be limited. It was pretty cool, but also pretty intimidating for a high school kid. It was like your having your first job and realizing that the company trusts you with x amount of dollars to take to HR or whatever other semi-important task that you can’t screw up.
WOW also affected my friends. I didn’t lose any friends per say, or have to chop my wrists off to curb my addiction, but I can remember vividly the night that one of my friends called asking if I wanted to go out and instead I told him no and opted to stay in and play WOW. I soon found a different group of friends and everything was honky doory, but sometimes I wonder what would have been. Would my life have been any different?
WOW was also important in that I learned I have a somewhat addictive personality. Ever since, I have taken steps to ensure that this doesn’t get too out of hand, but every once in a while I will get really, really passionate about some new thing and go way overboard. I think board games have helped in that aspect, especially wargames, as they help me to learn patience and focus, while not sucking my soul into a crushing addiction.
So for most of my life I have been a video and tabletop gamer, how in the world did I get into board games? Well the first two years or college were spent doing what you might expect, partying, occasionally going to class, and still playing lots of video games. Along the way I met a beautiful women who is now my Fiance.
My junior year, we became more interested in staying in at night and hanging out with each other then partying. So slowly I started to look for things for us to do together. Naturally, I tried video games. League of Legends, Xbox games, etc.
The problem was twofold. One, for PC games, her Dell from Bestbuy wasn’t nearly powerful enough to play much of anything. I had a decent computer that could run some games, but it wasn’t anything to write home about either. Not being Financially able to buy a new computer(aka lazy and unemployed), I thought XBOX might work. No new hardware to buy, right? I already had the system and everything.
Well it turns out that if you haven’t been playing video games with dual joysticks and loads of buttons your whole life, it isn’t that easy to pick up. At least for her, it wasn’t. The whole one stick moves the camera and the other moves your guy just didn’t click. So on to plan C.
We tried tabletop games like Warhammer and Warmachine that I had experience with. Those worked OK and she would humor me and give them a shot, just like she does now with boardgames, but the problem was she was NOT going to invest the time into learning a 100 page rulebook, researching paint schemes and designs, strategies, etc. The out of the game preparation and hobby aspect just wasn’t something she enjoyed. And that is quite alright.
Enter board games.
One night, I discovered the now ubiquitous Tom Vasel. Your board game journey story might have started a similar way. My idea of board games at the time, as yours might have been, were Risk, Monopoly, Stratego, etc.
Which is funny considering the place I would buy my miniatures from had a whole slew of board games just a few feet away. But somehow I never noticed them. Strange how that works.
So the night I discovered Tom Vasel and his video reviews I must have been up till 4 or 5 am watching every video on his channel. I sorted by oldest first and just started hammering them out. I discovered BGG soon after. The first game I picked up was–yes–Talisman.
I played it with my Fiance and we had fun. A lot of fun. And we played it a few more times.
Do you know what comes next? More games of course!
And so I picked up a few more games. Before you new it there were 30 or 40 games scattered all over the desk and floor.
I learned some games like Rune Wars did not work. Too long, too much setup, too many rules. Other games did work. Ticket to Ride. Sentinels of the Multiverse.
I still play video games, but much much less than I used to. I have seen the light, as they say. I now understand that board games allow us to play together without having to invest money into headsets, video cards, gaming rigs, learning new controllers, learning huge rulebooks, figuring out whether to take the banner of smiting or the banner of smoldering on my Orc General…
Board games are so accessible they allow almost anyone of any background, age, gaming experience, to get together and have fun. Sure, you shouldn’t play Case Blue with a 4 year old, but those are edge cases.
I plan to write a more detailed post about how the accessibility of board games is greater then sports or video games, but for now lets just say that is one of the things I like the most about them.
Buy box, crack open box, set up stuff, skim rulebook, and then start playing and look up the rules or invent your own as you go.
And so now you solitaire and solo gamers out there might wonder if that was just a natural evolution of playing with my Fiance, and it was. She is often busy,not in the mood, or not home. Enter solo board games. Really it started when I discovered the wargame sub-domain on BGG.
I had been seeing their posts on the front page for awhile but confused and afraid I dared not enter as I didn’t understand all the lingo and jargon. I assumed wargames were something old bearded dudes played in their basements back in the ’70s and they weren’t something I would enjoy. I had always had a penchant for military history though, at least before college, and eventually I dipped my toe in.
Boy was I wrong. Wargames are now just as awesome, modern, and sophisticated as the rest of the board game hobby. There are introductory ones and massive behemoths that take years to play. Most popular battles and campaigns have many, many games about them.
The wonderful wargamers taught me that playing both sides of a wargame is something completely normal, something people had been doing for years, and had entertainment value other then just learning the rules. This lead me to try it, enjoy it, and the train kept rolling and now I own all sorts of solo only games, games I play both sides in, games I use variants to play solo, and so on.
Gaming did not save my life or anything that dramatic, but as you can clearly tell it is, has been, and will be a huge part of my life. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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How did you get into board gaming? What is your earliest gaming memory? Let me know if the comments below!