A survival guide for millennial thirty-somethings.
My investigation into the popularity of board games begins here.
We’ll start from the very beginning (a very good place to start) and as close to home as I can get – my own relationship with games over the past 28 years.
I learned to read super early – I was reading independently by the age of three. I mention this not to brag, but to shed some light on exactly how long stories and the written word have been a part of my worldview.
I was the kid reading by himself on the playground. And, to a degree, I liked it that way. Sure, I would have liked the other kids to talk to me (without making fun), but there was just something so amazing and magical about the other worlds where books transported me.
My social development took a little coaxing. Even early on, games were the key to my brain’s engagement with the world. Unlike books, games had a give-and-take to them, often with other real-life people involved!
At four or five I was regularly playing games with my family – the simple luck-based affairs of Life, Sorry!, and Mousetrap. The critical choices, though few and far between in these games, engaged my young impressionable mind and led me to seek more.
I had early exposure to computer gaming as well. My dad was (and still is) an engineer, so we had a 286 with a dial-up modem he used to download freeware like Gertrude’s Secrets and The Manhole. These games only inflamed my desire to solve puzzles, and my dad, seeing this, taught me some classic strategy games to play with him – Chess and Go.
These games fundamentally shaped who I was to become, as well as my taste in games. Even when I received a Sega Genesis for Christmas, my favorite games were strategic – Dune: The Battle for Arrakis, Sid Meier’s Pirates! Gold, and Phantasy Star IV.
My urge to strategize led me to dig deeper into my father’s board game collection. By the time I was 8 or 9, my friends and I would break out Risk or Stratego and engage in a battle of wits (and luck). I loved every bit of it: the plastic pieces, the other worlds of the boards, being able to share the journey to another world with my friends and family.
Honorable mention before I move on from this section is Omega Virus, the first co-operative game I can remember playing back in 1992. Super fun pick-up-and-deliver race against the clock game with a computer voice that taunted you the whole way through like he was GLaDOS’s older brother. Trust me, it was badass.
Three elements came together serendipitously to start my full-fledged journey into the world of card games: Star Wars, comic books, and Odyssey of the Mind.
I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw the Star Wars movies, but I was young. I walked into my parent’s room to find C-3PO and R2-D2 walking through the Tatooine desert towards the imposing doors of Jabba’s Palace. I was hooked. Still am. It’s a shame that George Lucas died in 1989 after making The Last Crusade and never made any more movies.
My dad had collected comics, and I loved them too. I read X-Men, X-Force, Silver Surfer, Spiderman, as well as his old Iron Man and Superman comics. Part of the fun in reading comics is the thrill of collecting: completing story arcs (X-cutioner’s Song is still one of my favorites) and building a library of stories to visit and share. To facilitate this habit, I began to make weekly visits to my local comic store Galactic Quest. There, I started collecting and trading Marvel Masterpieces, comic hero cards with fantastic art that I will talk about elsewhere.
Then, in 1995, a few things happened. My team was attending the regional meeting of Odyssey of the Mind: a program that pits teams of schoolchildren against each other in creative problem-solving competitions. During some down time, my teammate Adam brought out some Magic cards. And they were truly magical to me; they had bizarre painted artwork and cryptic symbols that could be used to play an ever-changing game. It was amazing. Months later at his birthday party, I insisted that we stop playing Twisted Metal 2 so he could teach me how to be a ‘summoner’.
Everything came together, one fall day. I was browsing through Galactic Quest’s shelves, as I often did. I had bought a few Magic boosters, but I didn’t really have enough disposable income or motivation to put together a collection. That’s when the man behind the counter, Mr. Kyle Puttkammer, told me that there was a STAR WARS CARD GAME.
Oh, man. I was in trouble.
I bought as many cards as I could afford that day and went home to construct decks and play games with my friends. I put them on my Christmas list that year and managed to get my hands on one of the Toys-R-Us starter sets.
When tournament season came around, I went back to Galactic Quest and joined thirty or forty other people in a day-long celebration of our nerdery. (My deck, by the way, was based around having ten copies of “It Could Be Worse”, a card that let you absorb damage if you had enough Force. I annoyed the hell out of a lot of people, but I don’t think I won any games.)
The tournament scene – that energetic, passionate, intense nerd camaraderie – was something I would seek to recreate for a long time.
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