How Board Games Changed My Life - A Personal Journey Through the Cardboard Mountains
Take a ride with me in the wayback machine.
It was the year 2000 and I was spending most of my time (and money) at a local hangout in Memphis, TN called The Café Apocalypse. I hadn’t always spent my time there. Before my friend Paul convinced me to leave my house and try being social on for size, I spent most of my time sequestered in my bedroom playing Everquest into the wee hours of the morning. The only board gaming I did were the infrequent Scrabble sessions that Paul and I would occasionally play at his house. It was during these sessions that I would often bemoan how lonely I was and how it had been forever since I’d last spoken to a girl, much less dated one. One night, Paul came up with a brilliant idea.
His idea: do something anti-social in a social setting. His idea was for he and I to go to a local coffee shop, hang out, and just play Scrabble together and let whatever happened, well, happen. His logic was sound. I liked coffee. I liked Scrabble. And it wasn’t really forcing me to put myself out there to try and make people like me. So, I agreed. As it so happened, there was another person there that very first night who also enjoyed Scrabble and he walked up to our table and asked if he could join us. I was very nervous about this turn of events, but Paul welcomed the guy to the table and we began playing in earnest. His name is Kevin and I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d just met someone who would become one of my nearest and dearest friends. And it all happened because of a board game.
Fast forward a bit after many, many Scrabble sessions and meeting a lot of other new people and just generally becoming a more social person overall. On one nondescript evening, an old acquaintance from my high school days walked in with an awkward bundle of items under his arms. He stumbled through the door and made his way to the backroom and plopped his bundle on the table.
“Who wants to play a board game with me?"
That bundle, as it turns out, was The Settlers of Catan, The Cities and Knights expansion, as well as the 5-6 player expansions for both. There weren’t many takers that night as you can well imagine. A random person walking into a public space and plopping a bunch of board games on the table is going to get some mighty strange looks. Lucky for him, I already knew him and I had a couple of friends with me, so we were able to get a four person game going. Now, I say "lucky for him" but in hindsight it was lucky for me. That game session that night awakened something within me that I didn’t even know existed and I have been board gaming ever since.
It began as an obsession with Settlers. After playing that first game, I just wanted to play even more. Eventually that guy stopped coming to the Cafe Apocalypse and I was forced to purchase my own copy of the game if I wanted to continue playing. So, I did. Aside from the multiple versions of Scrabble that I owned, The Settlers of Catan was the first board game that I ever purchased. Before long, I was roping others into playing the game with me on an almost nightly basis. I couldn’t get enough of it!
Getting out and being social wasn’t a thing that came easy to me. Thankfully Paul was there to help me along the way. One of the side benefits of being friends with Paul was that he was very involved in the day to day workings of Midsouth Con (an annual gaming convention in Memphis, TN). I’d been interested in the Con after hearing friends gush about it while I was in high school. Paul agreed that if I’d help him man the anime room at the Con that he would let me borrow his Staff badge and take a look around.
One day, at Midsouth Con, I was walking past a doorway of a large conference room and caught a glimpse of a massive game of Settlers going on out of the corner of my eye which caused me to do a double take. Quickly assessing the table, I could see that the game hadn’t really gotten started yet and I saw that there was one spot left, so I walked into the room and asked if I could join. This would turn out to be the second time that a board game united me with people that would quickly become very good friends.
Hours later, as the game was winding down, one of the people mentioned to me that she and the other people at the table got together every Saturday at a local toy store to play Settlers and invited me to join them. So, that became a thing. Every Saturday after work I would rush over to the toy store to get in some Settlers time, but it was never enough. The store closed early on Saturdays and it was very rare that we ever finished a game. After lamenting this turn of events one Saturday night, the same girl and her boyfriend confessed that they, too, wished they could keep on playing and they invited me over to their place to play some more. So, I followed them to their house excited that I was going to get some more of my Settlers fix. Only, as it turns out, they didn’t actually own Settlers. And that was the day that I discovered that there was a world of modern board games beyond Settlers which was a concept that should have been obvious, but I had never considered before.
As time moved on, the trips to the toy store became less and less frequent. We just started skipping the toy store altogether. I was travelling to their house directly two or three times a week to game and have fun. I was spending less time on my computer and more time interacting with people on a more personal, face to face basis. It was something that my life had been missing and it took board gaming to make me aware of it.
Over all of these years as my interest in the hobby has grown, as my game library has grown, as my review writing career began, as I have introduced my wife into the hobby and watched her love of it grow, the one thing that has consistently impressed me about board games is their ability to bring people together. Even though my friends and I don’t always see eye to eye on things (which is putting it lightly), I feel truly blessed that I have friends with which to disagree. Were it not for board gaming, I doubt that my life would be as rich and rewarding as it is. For me, board gaming is more than just a hobby. It’s a passion. It’s a way of life. I love the games, but I love the kinship that goes along with them even more. And that’s what keeps ME coming back.
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