This post is to celebrate the fact that I have now been a gamer for 5 years.
TLDR, I became a gamer, and then I drivel on about how that happened and what has changed in my 5 years of being a gamer.
In this post I want to lay out a little bit of my background story, as well as share the story of how I became a hobby boardgamer. After that, I wish to muse a little bit on how I have changed in the last 5 years.
Growing up, from the age 11ish on, I played a lot of games. My family was part of a small church, and we had carry-ins twice a month, eventually that dropped to once a month. In my experience when churches have carry-ins, generally speaking, they clear out pretty quickly after lunch. Not so with the church I grew up in. When we had carry-in lunches we typically didn’t clear out until 5-8 p.m. This provided the children in the church a lot of opportunities to play together. My friends and I, we played games. We played most of the usual suspects: #The Game of Life, #Monopoly, #Risk, #Easy Money, #Sod Buster, #The Farming Game, #Clue, and other games of that ilk. This pattern continued for several years.
The pattern of games we played changed quite a bit in about 2006 to 2007. I went to a family reunion, and there I was introduced to #Catan. I loved it, and when I was with my friends back home, I told them about it. It happened to be right before one of my friend’s birthday, so he asked for it for a present, and he got it. Pretty quickly Catan grew to be a mainstay. The friend who had Catan got quite bitten by Catan. In the course of a pretty brief period of time, he had also acquired #Catan: Seafarers Expansion and #Catan: Cities & Knights. We were regularly playing with one or both of those expansions. But, Catan is not the only thing that bit him, he also got bit by the gaming bug. He found BGG and slowly his collection, and by extension the games we were playing, began to grow. I remember that #Carcassonne was the first non Catan game he brought around. Another friend of mine also bought a game or two. Pretty soon, in our regular rotation at church or on social visits, included #Puerto Rico, #Catan and Its variants, #Empire Builder, #7 Wonders, #Carcassonne, as well as a few others. In addition to these, visiting my cousins I would get to play random hobby games like #Pandemic or #Dominion. I even got to play a few really off-the-cuff games like #War on Terror.
During this whole period of time, I suppose I could be called a gamer, after all, I did spend a fair amount of time playing games, and I played a pretty decent variety. But I don’t think I was really a gamer. It wasn’t a hobby for me, hanging out with friends was a hobby. In hanging out with friends, sometimes we went coyote hunting, sometimes we played games, sometimes, just sat around and talked all night. That was the focus, gaming wasn’t. I played games, but playing games wasn’t a hobby of mine.
This all changed at a family reunion in mid-July of 2016. I have a cousin who I don’t think forms part of any sort of online or physical boardgame community. But, he buys a lot of games. I suppose that, at the time, he may have had in the neighborhood of 60ish hobby boardgames. We decided to play some games. I know we played multiple games at that reunion, but two stand out in my mind. There we played #Power Grid, I had played it once before, probably in 2006 or so, and really hadn’t liked it. But, for some reason, this time it just clicked, and I loved it. I was surprised by my enjoyment of it, because I remembered not enjoying it 10 years previously. The second game I remember was played the next day. This was the game #Fief: France 1429, and was actually a game that my cousin had kickstarted. This game had problems. It had unclear rules, it had components that didn’t match the rulebook, none of us had ever played that game before so it was a learning game, and we had a full player count…. Cue a lot of questions. But, this is the game that caught me. I sat down with this flawed beauty and I was blown away with the story the game told. I was enchanted with the negotiation, the betrayals and alliances, the way that the whole game worked together. Before the game was even over, I had set up an account on BGG. When the game was over, hours later, I had managed to scheme my way to the three victory points needed to win, and I knew that I was hooked.
This reunion happened to be right before my birthday, and my wife kept on hear my talking about how cool games were, and how much I want to start a collection….. She bought me #Dominion for my birthday. She didn’t know I had played it before, she just asked someone what game she should get me, and that is what she got me. I bought myself #The Castles of Burgundy, and these two were the start of my collection. Dominion was a huge hit with my wife and I. We have literally played it hundreds of times together. Castles of Burgundy was a huge bust for my wife and I.
That is the story of how I became a gamer. Clearly the ground was prepared beforehand, but, when gaming took root, it sort of took off.
The past five years of being a gamer have been interesting. There have been times when I have experienced a slacking of interest in gaming, and then it has always surged up again. They have also been years in which my style of gaming has undergone some change.
Fief is a big, grand, and wild game. It is a game that is played almost as much in the heads of the players as on the board. There are literally tokens you can use to take another player into another room for a specified amount of time to make secret deals with them. I loved that game from the beginning. But, in spite of that, the games I initially was drawn to were euro games. I loved all the information out in the open, I wanted it all to “make sense.” I wanted to be able to figure it all out logically. Nowadays, I tend to prefer wild swingy games with broken powers. I love the craziness that emerges from #Innovation. I am a proponent of the #High Frontier 4 All with all its die rolls that will kill you for no reason whatsoever. I love the Pax series and how it is just so unpredictable and you have to ride the waves or drown. I still own and enjoy some euro’s, but it is safe to say that my preferences have shifted.
For me, a big part of gaming use to be the social experience. Now, I am a solo gamer. I still love multiplayer experiences and play them whenever possible, but I love the games enough to play solo. I will sometimes even play multiple sides of a game that isn’t otherwise soloable. In fact, just yesterday, I played #Imperial Struggle in this way. There is a solo AI on BGG that I might try out sometime…. But I liked playing it two handed just fine.
I used to be scared of too complicated games. I was wary of buying #Scythe because it was like a 3.38 on the BGG weight scale. That was sort of at the top end of most of the games that I tended to enjoy. Now I gravitate towards more complex games. I love it when there is a lot of rules grit or chrome to work through.
Another big switch for me is that I started being actively interested in the sorts of games that I had no experience with. I started exploring the field of wargames. As a person who considered themselves a euro gamer, this was a stretch. And, while I still don’t consider myself a wargamer, I do own, and very much enjoy, several wargames. In fact, I would say that this is the field of gaming that I probably have the most interest in exploring further. I had no interest in 18xx, but after playing #1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties solo multiple times, and multiplayer once, I am very much interested in exploring that further if I get a few other people to play 18xx with. I had zero interest in scientific games. But then I loved High Frontier, and am actively interested in the Bios series as well as #Leaving Earth. I thought Pax games looked weird and convoluted, now I own all of them, except for #Pax Transhumanity….
I would now like to share a few of the high points of my gaming journey. These are experiences that I had that are, for some reason or other, significant in making me the gamer I am today. These high points are not necessarily organized in order, either chronologically or in order of importance. This is going to be very much a “stream of consciousness” sort of deal.
I bought #Scythe. This was in the fall of 2018, and a big reason I bought it is because I was planning on moving to El Salvador and I knew that Scythe had a solo bot, so that I could play it solo. I still wasn’t a solo player, but, I thought I might have to play some solo while in El Salvador. I took the time to learn it, then I taught it to two of my brothers-in-law. We played that first three player game at a church retreat. And, I was blown away with so much of this game. Most obviously, perhaps, I was stunned with the production values and the art in this box. It was by far the game with the highest production values I had seen, much less played, or owned. Even today, I own very very few games with production values higher than Scythe, and for the price it generally goes for, I don’t know how they can do what they do in that box. The second thing was the gameplay. I loved the way the upgrade action worked, how one can make a top action better while making a bottom action cheaper. I loved the “cold-war” aspect of the game, and I thought it was much more thematic that way than if it were a more violent game. I loved the way that the factions were asymmetrical. The AI was a little tough to pick up, initially, but, I was also very impressed with the AI, and it did start me off on the right foot with solo gaming. This game rocketed to my number 1 of all time spot. Nowadays, it isn’t my number 1 anymore. In fact, there is a distinct possibility it might not even be in my next top 10 list. Part of that is because I am not quite as intrigued by it, maybe I have seen a few specks, not flaws, but specks. But, the bigger reason is because I have changed as a gamer. I still own it. I still love it. And I still owe it for getting me started on the right foot with solo gaming and for showing me that even euro(ish) games don’t have to be ugly.
I found Board Game Atlas. I had had an account on BGG since 2016, but I was never part of the community. I did, and sometimes still do, post a question or answer one. But, mostly I use BGG for research. I look in their files for solo variants. I check out reviews on BGG. I have even used their marketplace once or twice. But, in the summer or fall of 2019 I found BGA. I don’t remember how I found it. But, I did find it. And this has been my community. Here is where this solo gamer finds his social side of gaming. Here is where I come to shoot the breeze and air my opinions. Thanks to all of you, especially @philryuh and @Trent Ellingsen for enabling that.
#Navajo Wars was not the first “solo only” game that I played. But, it was the first game I played by GMT. And it was the first game that I played that was that heavily procedural. This was the game that put GMT on the map for me. But, it was also the game that convinced me that wargames are games that I need to look into. This was THE game that managed to dethrone Scythe as my number one of all time.
My start on kickstarter was #Pax Pamir (Second Edition). I couldn’t have had a better experience to start with on kickstarter. Cole and Drew are super communicative. The project arrived on time. And the project was perfect in every way when it did arrive. It got a 10/10 for me. My second experience was on the #Pax Viking/#Pax Renaissance: 2nd edition kickstarter. I got both those games plus #High Frontier 4 All and the first 3 modules for HF4a. I was generally happy with what I received. But, my experience with the KS run by the ION Game Design team was very very different. If that would have been my first experience, I likely wouldn’t have looked at kickstarter again.
Around the end of 2019 I played #Star Trek: Frontiers for the first time. This is a retheming and reworking of the classic #Mage Knight. This was an intoxicating experience for me. I think I played it like 12 times in the course of 2 months. One of the reasons I bought this one over the classic MK is because it was still supposed to be a great solo experience, but it was also supposed to be superior for multiplayer play. I got it, I played it, and I loved it. After my second or third play of it, I all at once realized that I never ever want to play this game multiplayer. This was the game that taught me that it is ok to buy big box games, strictly for solo play. This was the game that taught me that it wasn’t a waste of money to buy a big box game and never play it with anybody else. This is what led me to buying GMT games that I probably won’t get to play with anybody else. This is what led to me buying games like HF4a. ST:F changed the whole course of my gaming life.
The last formative experience I will share is playing #Forbidden Island with my 4-year-old son. I am not the biggest fan of coops in general. And my 4-year-old son needs some coaching. But, seeing the spark in his eye and his excitement is a hugely rewarding experience for me. I grew up in a family that didn’t really play games together. But seeing my son get excited about boardgames has helped me to see that I can raise gamers. I didn’t play games with my family growing up, but, I can raise my family to play games together.
Today I consider myself sort of an omni-gamer. I enjoy many different types of games, and am interested most types of games. But, I do tend to have more of an interest in heavier games with a historical theme. I maintain a fairly small collection, around 40 games. And I plan to keep on adding to it, that being said, I do idealize keeping my collection at 100 games or fewer. Now, it is only fair to say, that these 40ish games are “my” collection, this is the collection I have on BGA. The collection I have on BGG includes all that as well as the games that my wife and I owned before I was a gamer, so it is bigger and includes a lot more non-hobby games.
So, this post marks 5 years of being a gamer. If my next 5 years are anywhere nearly as rewarding as my first 5 years, than I am in for a wonderful time.