Board games have been a big part of my life for the last four or five years, and having reached a sort of a crossroads in the hobby, I wanted to put down “how far” I’ve come in gaming and describe what gaming means to me. I’m in no way prolific as an F:AT member, so I’m not sure how much interest this will hold for others; on the other hand I’ve always been curious about how people have gotten into the hobby, especially users of this site. It seems to me here that a lot of posters at F:AT have a history in gaming that goes back further than the German and euro game explosion of the ‘90s (before the existence also of BGG). Theirs is a different experience from mine, and I’d be curious to hear more stories about it.
For me, if it hadn’t been for BGG, I’d never have become a gamer and I would have never realised I had “always been one”. As a kid I channelled creativity into different things: drawing, a lot of reading, writing. But not board games. There wasn’t much time for those and we didn’t even own Monopoly. Trivial Pursuit, yeah, we had that, along with an aunt who was an academic. She crushed me at trivia when she visited. Fun!
In my early and mid-teens, there was only one exception: D&D, a game which captivated my imagination for years, which I played quite regularly. My most exciting in-game experiences were Tomb of Horrors (which had that evil mask in the wall with a hole for a mouth, which if you were foolish/rash enough to jump into… you were obliterated instantly). Somebody here has that as an avatar, I think. The others were Ravenloft, and the Egyptian-themed module the title of which I can’t remember. We spent hours on that, though gradually that too shifted - eventually drowned out by an interest in girls, new wave and punk music, art, and general growing up.
By the time I was in college, D&D was long forgotten and I never expected to look back at games, although I still loved competition. So, I didn’t rediscover gaming as such until I was in my early thirties, with a full-time profession on track.
What changed was that sometime around my birthday, on a whim, my future wife bought Carcassone and unknowingly for us paved the way for gaming. We absolutely loved Carc. Though it has long since worn-out its welcome - that was the one title we played back-to-back for weeks and then months on end. Bruno Faidutti’s Citadels was second – also bought on a whim (the cover reminded me of the ‘old’ fantasy days, I guess) and that too was thrilling. Those were our two entry-level titles. We learned the rules and weren’t ushered by anyone into the hobby. Gradually, we got more into games and I became curious about Zombies!!! which I saw in a local store – wondering if it was any good. That was how I found out about BGG.
The clerk suggested the game was “kinda crap” and told me where to look up the reviews and ratings. My first reaction to BGG was one of curiosity – coupled with – oh man, these guys are taking all this stuff far too seriously – mechanics, what?! The layout seemed extremely nerdy until I got used to it. After that I fell in love with the site for a couple years. Through BGG, I read a lot about gaming and game design that I had not suspected exitsed and my wife and I started a collection that grew in slow increments – stuff like Memoir ’44, Wallenstein, Cash ‘n’ Guns – to eventually today owning too many games today! I’m sure you know – or I hope you know - what I mean! Ones we bought which we didn’t regret over the years include (most recently) Chaos in the Old World, Space Hulk, and BSG.
There were, of course, detours along the way, influenced by BGG’s euro-centric bias, which was far stronger back in 2005 and 2006. In short, it took me a little while to realise that games like Goa, Pfeffer-what?, Princes of Florence, Ticket to Nowhere and Factory Fun were not for us (although some euros have been FUN and some are truly great (Through the Ages, if it qualifies as a euro).
The Ameritrash list and the BGG/Ameritrash split also helped me and my wife to realise what we wanted: genres like horror, fantasy, Sci-Fi, pulp fiction, with negotiation, backstabbing, trash talk). Good writers and great session reports, though in the minority, there were also key. Then, even with the euro bias, BGG proved useful and still does in providing information when it comes to buying a title untested. There is no question about that, and I know that BGG, and later this site, have helped me avoid poor decisions when it came to most purchases.
But gradually, having been involved in board gaming for five years, I no longer visit BGG with the original intentions, and I visit a lot less. One, is a natural progression: the site is no longer “new” for me and there are fewer discoveries, if any, to be made, Geekdo notwithstanding.
Two, it seems to me that a lot of the discussion there these days is more subject to hype and/or flame wars or both (see flamewar over Thaadd recognition, GW letter); maybe it was always that way – now, though, pretty dedicated to the hobby, I no longer have time for it. Nor do I feel the need to bark my opinion down someone else’s throat. Yeah, I still visit out of curiosity, but as far as I’m concerned it’s not ‘what it used to be’. ‘Course, that might just be me.
Three, F:AT exists as a place where I can more closely get discussion on topics that are closer to the kind of gaming I enjoy.
And four, and this is probably the most important, my wife and I have kind of reached a kind of ceiling, somewhere around the purchase of Space Hulk. It’s not like we’ve put a cap on new games, but I no longer have much interest in new titles. We own enough to fill a cabinet or so already and to hide under the bed. Now, I know collections often pass a hundred and a good deal more than that and have nothing against it. But for us, we’ve reached a kind of saturation point where there is little motivation to getting new stuff - unless it is a re-print of an unavailable classic, or something really, really new which works phenomenally and becomes a must-have (Runewars, maybe? Oh, damn,.and now DungeonQuest...).
After 40, 50 or maybe a 100 games - basically a lot of titles - it seems to me no matter how excellent, the game experience, mechanics and theme tend to overlap and offer ‘similar’ (I’m not saying the same) forms of entertainment. (I know Michael Barnes also covered this, so I guess I’m on the same page). It seems there isn’t all that much reason to look into more unless it’s for really original theme and one or two twists that really shake up the paradigm. And there aren’t too many titles that do that.
I guess all of this is an ‘obvious’ conclusion, but I wonder if anyone else has come to the same one? The Essen-buy lists on BGG each year seem to suggest consumers getting 50 titles in one day. I don’t want to be judgemental – I don’t care who buys what – but when it comes to buying, I at least am out of the race. Yes, I’d be interested in Thrilling Tales if it gets published… I'd be interested in Greed, Inc. (review, Michale, please!) but not Twilight Imperium the Dice Game or Dungeon Lords or Stronghold, etc.
I guess I’m just no longer as likely a consumer or target audience that I used to be and I am more careful what I shell out on. Things have come full circle. Of course, I still totally understand the excitement of cool new stuff and there’s nothing quite like ripping the shrink off some highly-anticipated title. It just happens less often than it did when we first got into gaming.
Scissors is a member of Fortress Ameritrash.