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An Ode To The Board

December 8, 2011
Jeremy Kins - Gamer Critic (jkins@heraldstaronline.com) , The Herald-Star

While I'm usually resolved to my PC or console of choice, and I am video gamer by nature, I also share a dual passion for boardgaming.

It's a recent passion, I admit, only burgeoning about a year back through a new circle of friends I happened upon through a different job at the time, but it's become an important hobby.

A hobby that tests my imagination rather than forcing images upon it. One that provides multiple ways to win rather than a linear path through a scripted world. One that forces socialization, and sometimes cooperation, with other people that I can actually see. People that are sitting at a table with me, face to face, rather than an anonymous 12 year old boy's voice screaming profanity that he probably learned from his parents as I head-shot him for the fifth time in a row.

I can interact with a boardgame in ways that I can't with a video game. I can feel the pieces, the craftsmanship and design that someone put their love into. It's tangible evidence of the realization of a competitive idea, something that a video game can't always provide. Sure, I have a controller to hold onto, but with the exception of some game-specific peripherals it isn't unique to the experience in the way pieces are to their board game.

Even more so, it's about the interaction that comes with playing. It's sitting in my best friends basement at 2:30 a.m. yelling, screaming and laughing because I just closed an improbable postal route in Thurn and Taxis. Board games can bond those that play together, or decide the demise of a close friend because they backstabbed you in a game of Diplomacy. They had it coming, you argue, but it doesn't matter.

While I must admit it probably sounds like I'm standing on the highest of horses right now, or like a schoolboy during the infancy of his first love, I only speak this way because I believe it.

Yes, board games like Monopoly, Sorry! and The Game of Life have been bringing families and friends together for a long time, but those aren't the offerings I'm talking about. If that is your cup of tea, by all means go for it and enjoy yourself, but it isn't mine.

I prefer competition. Strategic, fun competition. Euro-games.

Euro-games, or German-style board games, generally have fairly simple rules, short to medium playing times - a half-hour to an hour and a half -and the games tend to emphasize strategy, play down luck and conflict, lean towards economic rather than military themes and usually keep all the players in the game until it ends.

Some popular examples would be Ticket to Ride, The Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne.

In early November, my friends and I drove down to Pikesville, MD for Euroquest, an offshoot tournament of the World Boardgaming Championships. It was much smaller, but more intimate, and the community was friendlier and welcoming.

This event set my love for board gaming in the proverbial stone. I lost every event I played in, but I had an incredible time doing so. The interaction with random strangers that shared the same passion as me and the comradery I felt with my friends was unrivaled.

There is a feeling that seeps through your pores when you enter the main hall of a board gaming convention: geekdom. Pure, unadulterated geekdom, the likes of which your cool factor is likely to never return. Embrace it, however, and you're likely to experience a side of life you weren't ever aware you were into.

I spent my weekend bidding on power plants, buying resources and connecting electrical lines through France in Power Grid. I constructed mythical structures and built guild halls in 7 Wonders and I helped my train successfully travel from coast to coast in Ticket to Ride.

I haven't turned my back on video games, though. Quite the contrary. My love for my PS3 is stronger than ever, and now with Skyrim inside of it our relationship is most likely bordering on creepy, but I thought for this week I'd offer a different take on an oft-overlooked subject. Something I think more people should give a chance.

I understand the stigma that comes with delving into such territory, but at my age, I'm past caring about social norms and I'm over the crushing pressure of conformity our formative years bring.

Break out, be different, and give it a chance.

 
 

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