It was the summer of 2004. My friends and I had played Settlers of Catan for a few years but hadn't yet branched out to other games. I still preferred to lug my computer tower to someone’s house or another venue for a LAN party. But that summer, one of my good friends started to go
through a contentious divorce. Hoping to take his mind off the situation he was going through, and to relieve his stress, my wife and I, along with another couple in our friend group, started having a weekly Settlers of Catan night.
Over the next several months, we played dozens of games of Settlers. We had most of the expansions, and those we didn't have, we purchased. We combined sets, looked up scenarios online, and even made up some of our own. Sometimes my friend would talk to us about the latest in his divorce, using us as a sounding board to process what he was going through. But mostly it was just a time for him to have a normal evening.
Eventually, we started to add more games. I think Puerto Rico was the next game. One of us (Ok, it was me) brought a copy of Settlers to work and we started playing once a week at lunch. We started email threads to find out if we could get enough players together on different days. As our personal game libraries grew, we brought more and more games into work. We expanded our little work game group to about 7 or 8 regular players. By this time, we were playing 4 out of 5 work days each week. When the email threads became an unreliable way to figure out if we had enough players on a given day, one of my friends made a web form we could jump onto and make our interest known. We would check in before noon each day and put our name on the site. If we didn't have enough players on a given day, I would usually eat my lunch at my desk. I have to admit, there were days that playing board games with this group of people is what kept me coming into work.
So, if you were to ask me a few years ago when I started to get into board games as a hobby, I would probably point to that summer in 2004. And who would blame me? It has all the classic board game stereotypes. Settlers as a gateway into other games, playing a bunch of different scenarios and expansions of the game, eventually looking for something new and branching to other games. Occasionally, I'd talk to people about board games, and if they brought up that they played things like Monopoly or Life or something similar that you might find in the toy section of Walmart, I'd mentally roll my eyes (at least I hope it was only mentally) and maybe make some remark that my games were more complicated and nerdy than that, as if that somehow made them superior.
Recently, I've been thinking about what it is that I enjoy about board games. What has led me to spend countless hours at a table looking through rule books and rolling dice? What has prompted me to spend hundreds of dollars building out a game library (thousands is also technically hundreds, right?)? It's not just the game mechanics, though I do love a good well-crafted game. Not every mechanic is created equal, and gaming being a subjective thing, not everyone likes the same mechanics equally. Just important as the gameplay, if not more so, are the people and the experiences. It wasn't the games I came to work to play, it was the games with those particular people. The chance to make a human connection, sometimes good, sometimes not so good. As I've reflected on this, it's prompted me to revise my opinion on games like Monopoly and Sorry, and the people who enjoy them.
This has led me to reconsider my own gaming origin story. You see, I grew up playing Hasbro and Milton Bradley games. Monopoly with my cousins where no blood was spilt or tables flipped (though the table we played on was pretty heavy, so that may be why we never flipped it). The house rules we made for Life so that we could load up our cars with kids (I came from a family of 7 so we were probably just trying to mimic real life). Chess and Stratego with my aunt. Turns out, I've always been into board games, it just took 20 or so years to really get going.