Whenever people ask me what I did as a child (and I must be sufficiently odd as an adult and as a parent to warrant this as a semi-regular question), my standard answer is, “Reading books and playing the piano.” That’s pretty much true. But there’s a sizeable chunk of my childhood time missed out of that description. It should really be: “Reading books, playing the piano and playing board games.”
I played board games with my brother. We occasionally played board games as a family of four. And, when no one else wanted to play with me, I would play board games alone. Against myself. I’m not just talking about the standard old classics either. Yes, we played Monopoly. We played Scrabble and Risk. But I was never particularly interested in those. I was always drawn to the games with an air of the unusual about them. We had the bizarre, oh-so-Eighties oddity Eye. We played Rubik’s Illusion and Journey Through Europe. My brother and I even had an introduction to proper wargames with The Hunt for Red October board game.
There was so much I loved about board gaming as a child. The tactile experience of the pieces and the board; the way each game worked in a different way from every other game; the different stories created by each new play of a game – it was an escape into a different world each time, and it was a shared experience.
As we got older, we got interested in other things and stopped playing games as much. I missed that experience at first, but it eventually drifted out of my consciousness. School took over, with extra-curricular music, then university, work, parenthood… and then came the iPad.
My wife and I bought an iPad in early 2012. It was very impressive – in that bland, anodyne way that Apple products tend to impress – but I hadn’t really found a use for it in my life beyond reading the paper on it every morning. Then, one day in May, I looked at the App Store and there it was as Featured App at the top of the screen: Ravensburger’s Scotland Yard. And so it was that my gaming childhood came flooding back to me. It wasn’t a game that we’d had at home, but my cousins in Cardiff had owned it and we’d played it a few times there. I had memories of a fantastic game (albeit a game far too hard for the brain of an eight-year-old), and it was a game that I’d coveted for many years after playing it. Now, in 2012, I had to see if it was as good as I remembered.
It was. It was better. It was glorious. Naturally, there wasn’t the tactile experience of cardboard and wood (or, more accurately, plastic in Scotland Yard), but I thought the game itself was simple and beautiful. I wanted more.
Crusading through the App Store’s “Customers Also Bought” section, I found board game after board game, many adapted from physical games published in the last decade or so. Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Catan, Puerto Rico… I bought the apps and I played them again and again. It was wonderful to discover this new realm of modern games, but it wasn’t quite enough for me. It still lacked that certain something you can only get from sitting around a table with real people, moving bits of cardboard and wood around a board.
I picked up physical copies of some games I’d played on the iPad, but I struggled to find people to play with. Our 5-year-old can just about play Carcassonne, but there’s no challenge in playing against him (apart from the challenge of trying to let him win, which is easier said than done), and my wife much prefers cooperative games, which limits the field somewhat drastically. That meant I had to look further afield.
A quick web search led me to Newcastle Gamers, who meet twice a month for a long evening of board and card games. At the time of writing this post, I’ve been a regular for about four months, and I’ve had a wonderful evening every time. It’s great to meet people who share that enthusiasm for board gaming, and the variety of games that members bring along is staggering.
“This is all very well, Owain,” you say, “but why the blog?” Well, really, I just felt like doing a bit of writing and this seemed like the ideal way to structure that desire. It’ll mainly be session reports and initial views on various games, but I’ll throw in anything that takes my fancy. As the subtitle at the top suggests, I feel like a beginner in board gaming again, so maybe it’ll be a bit of a document of my journey back into this exciting world of cardboard and wood.