OK. So either I’m a hobby trendsetter, or I’m just getting homogenized - absorbed into common culture like some rock and roll sell-out or obscure cartoon from the 80s.
Either way, my hobby of choice - boardgaming - has made it to the shelves of Barnes & Nobles across our country, as evidenced by the photo you see above.
It’s my somewhat educated opinion that everybody needs a hobby. EVERYBODY, although I have observed that women can subsist a little while longer without one. Us guys, however - we NEED to be under a car, in a deer stand, in a stadium, in front of a video game, or rolling some dice at some point every week or so. Otherwise we turn to booze and drugs and wanton sexual partners (although admittedly, THOSE count as hobbies for some of us).
I’ve tried my hand at several hobbies over the years: I liked combustion engines… until I took apart my Dad’s lawnmower when I was a teenager - and forgot to put the new gaskets on it when I put it back together. Dad’s reaction to the sound of the lawnmower grinding to an explosive halt discouraged further mechanical pursuits.
I tried hunting. Fuck that. More power to you guys who park your asses in below-freezing weather for hours, waiting on the POSSIBILITY of a deer happening by, but it’s not for me. I like sleeping in. I like being warm. And I’m not awfully fond of venison anyway….
Ultimately, I settled on gaming - games of chance, games of strategy, games of negotiation, games of skill. I love all of it to some degree - everything from Chess to Blackjack, from Advanced Civilization to fucking Jenga.
Many of you who knew me way back when may remember how me and some of the other guys in school used to get together and hang out every weekend. There was Thomas, Greg, Jimmy, Ray, Eric, Brian, Robbie, Jason, Robert, Michael, Allen, Curtis, and Jim Tom. Occasionally we did stupid teenage things like convincing one kid (not a kid on that list, I’m pretty sure) to participate in a masturbation marathon - only he started and we didn’t…. And then there was the time Greg more or less set his ass on fire by farting into a space heater. But mostly, we sat around my Mom and Dad’s dining room table for hours and played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
What you probably DON’T know is that I kept playing role-playing games through college (with Jay, Kevin, Bugsy, Ray, Thomas, and a few others) and on into graduate school (with Joe, Scott, Jennifer, Kym, Dang, Z, and Mark). Then, sometime in grad school, I discovered collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and Vampire. I played THOSE for a few years, and then I switched almost exclusively to board games. I’d played board games here and there before - and not just stuff like Monopoly and Risk. I’d played Talisman, Magic Realm, Axis and Allies, Diplomacy, Civilization. Still, when I started AVIDLY playing board games about 10 years ago, I was a relative babe in the woods -and my new-found hobby was relatively small.
I don’t know exactly WHY board games are becoming more and more popular and “mainstream”, although I think it may have something to do with the huge success of Settlers of Catan. I CAN hazard a guess at why they’re catching on more solidly than role-playing games and collectible card games.
One - they’re finite in time and scope, even the long ones. You don’t need to prepare a strategy ahead of time; you don’t need to collect a bunch of cards; you don’t need to play act or read volumes of rule books and monster compendiums.
Two - there are themes that match almost every interest. Do you like sci fi or fantasy? Yes, there are games on those themes. (Duh.) Do you like history? There are historical games. Do you like fast cars and loose women? Indeed - there are games along those themes as well.
Three - the sheer number of mechanics, levels of difficulty, and session lengths means that there’s a game for just about everybody - from the complete idiot that lives down the street in his mom’s basement to the wizened old genius with the whispy head of hair and the liver spots to my eight-year-old daughter. No matter who you are, there’s very likely a game YOU WILL LIKE.
Whatever the case, this thing that I’ve been doing for several years is catching on. In cities across the world, there are gaming conventions and get-togethers every week. The attendance at such game-centric events as GenCon, Origins, Essen, and the World Boardgaming Championships is on the rise. In Atlanta itself, where I live, I’ve watched as the number of people I COULD game with on a DAILY basis has risen from maybe five to upwards of several hundred.
Yes. Several hundred. The diversity and enthusiasm of boardgamers in Atlanta is staggering.
And now, there’s this shelf in Barnes & Noble.
There’s been board game shelves there for years, but only on occasion would you see a game like those pictured above. Mostly, the shelves were dominated by the old stand-bys - Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, Chess, and Trivial Pursuit - and by party games like Pictionary and Scattergories. You can imagine my excitement to see these games available for purchase by the masses - the uninitiated, the “common man.”
These games, by the way, are what I’m referencing by this post’s title (that and the fact that I MIGHT be a trend-setting pioneer - a leader of the pack, as it were). The games you see pictured there are YOUR best bet for finding something enticing in this hobby of mine that might make you get together with friends on some weekend night, sit around the table with some beer or tequila or weed, throw some dice, flip some cards, shoot the shit, and have a grand old time.
My personal favorites from among those pictured:
In the top right, you will see a bunch of Munchkin variants. Munchkin is a silly, whimsical card game with very low strategy and funny art. It’s good to play with kids, although sometimes the games get a little long and tedious.
Dominating the shelves to the left are a bunch of Settlers of Catan variants and expansions. This is THE game to try if you just want to dabble. In case you missed the link above, here it is again - the popularity of Catan is quite possibly why shelves like this are popping up.
Next to Settlers is Dominion. Another card game, but one PACKED with strategy and variety of game play. This one hits our table so much there’s Dominion-shaped grooves in it.
At the bottom left is Cosmic Encounter, an old game that’s being reprinted and finding a brand new audience in the 21st century. The reason why is because the game is amazing in its variety and replayability. Just don’t take games of Cosmic seriously.
Finally, next to Cosmic Encounter is Arkham Horror, a cooperative strategy game designed by my friend “Tricky” Richard Launius, an Atlanta-based game designer with a couple of hits under his belt - including Arkham. The story-telling aspect of Arkham Horror is absolutely fascinating.
So. As of this writing, it’s Tuesday. The weekend’s coming. May I make a suggestion regarding what to do?