Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Birth of a Gamer

I began playing games at a young age. I don't remember exactly when -- but it was early. Memories of early games of Old Maid, Uno, and Go Fish flood my head. My parents gamed with me a lot, and I even remember gaming with my grandparents frequently. As I matured my tastes shifted to board games. Early board games included Candy Land and Uncle Wiggily -- simple stuff for young kids.

I remember being fascinated by a copy of King of the Hill that my grand parents owned. The 3-D board was unique enough to me. But the game also featured a randomizer that was terribly exciting to a 6 year-old boy! It was a teeter-totter-like "plinko" device (pictured on the upper right of this image) with a small metal ball inside. You tipped the teeter-totter to one side. The ball bounced through the series of pegs eventually landing in one of the numbered slots determining how many spaces your marble could move. I think my fascination with King of the Hill led to my later desire to receive other 3-D type games for birthday and Christmas presents. Some of my favorites included: Fireball Island, Torpedo Run, and Crossbows & Catapults. I was certainly into having fantastic playing "bits" at a young age. And I still think beautiful, tactile components are are great way to get children hooked on gaming. Sure, a well designed and well tested game can certainly come in a plain box with ordinary bits. But the power of beautifully detailed and sculpted components can grab a child's attention like little else. And if the game components can double as toys for those not old enough to appreciate the game's mechanics then all the better! My early game collection certainly opened up my imagination to the possibilities that games provide. I hope I am passing on the same passion to my children.

Around age 10 I started to desire to play more "real" games -- those that focused less on purely having nice bits. I wanted to play games where you had to think a little to win. In hindsight, I realize the games I longed for when I was 10 are not exactly what would be considered "meaty" games by today's standards. Games like: Monopoly (which I don't think I ever actually finished a game of), Scotland Yard, Survive!, Balderdash, Cathedral, and my favorite, Pay Day, brought many hours of joy to my family. I would take games with me on sleep-overs at friends' houses. I would take them with me to summer camp. Many of the early games I still own bare the scars of such trips: my name written in permanent marker on every important game piece and the outside of the box, rubber band marks from trying to hold all of the pieces and the box top together, missing small components (a few of the castaways from Survive! come to mind).

My fondness for board gaming was replaced by computer gaming in my late teen years as our family purchased our first "multimedia" PC when I was 17. I'd been playing PC games of the 16- and 256-color variety for years, but CD-ROMs raised things to a whole new level! Throughout my college years and early adult life PC (and to a lesser extent console) games dominated my gaming, and much of my social, time. It was only in the past 2 years that my passion for board games resurfaced.

Next time I will talk about my move back into strategy board games and away from PC and console gaming.

Monday, December 11, 2006

A little about our gaming tastes

We are a family of four ranging in ages from 3 to 30 (3, 6, 28, 30). It is understandably difficult to find games that appeal to all of our tastes and ability levels. We try and compromise as much as possible. Compromising can consist of playing a wide range of games on a certain night. It can also consist of changing rules or making special exceptions to be as inclusive as possible. There is almost always some role our three year-old can play if we are playing any game -- from rolling the dice, to drawing cards, to simply playing with the fun pieces (the Sauron figure in Lord of the Rings springs to mind).

Thus, a family game night in our house may move immediately from Blue Moon City to Fish Eat Fish to Vinci. It is all about balance. I hope to talk in later posts about some of the modifications we make to "meatier" games to allow all-inclusive play with the entire family. But today I want to talk about what we look for in a good family game:

  1. RICH THEME -- Above all else, we are suckers for theme. A good rich theme makes for an engrossing experience and makes the rules easier to grasp and remember. Well-themed games also tend to have the kinds of bits that make our children (and us) drool with delight.

  2. PLAYING TIME -- Unless it is an exceptionally engrossing game (Railroad Tycoon) we prefer our games last no more than 1 hour. If we expect the 3 year-old to play and last the entire game, it had better last no more than 30 minutes. There are obviously exceptions to our preferred playing time, but ideally a good game will last between 20 and 60 minutes.

  3. EASY TO LEARN RULES -- Asking the entire family to sit down for 20 minutes and listen to me read the rules is asking a lot! If the rules feature more than about 4 to 5 pages, I will play the game by myself first to get a feel for the basic rules before approaching the family with it. This saves headaches for us all. It is always best, however, if we can crack open the box and learn together. That way we all get to share the excitement.

  4. FUN! -- A game has to be fun. After several plays we need to be able to all share the fun and excitement of playing. If it falls flat in the fun department we are less likely to take it off the shelf and play very often. Life is too short to waste time playing games that are not fun.

  5. EVERYONE CAN GET INVOLVED -- I already mentioned this, but we prefer games where everyone can get involved in some aspect of the game. Whether there are dice to roll, tiles to draw, or pieces to move, we want everyone to get involved in every game if possible. Games that engage the entire family get much more playing time in our house.

I hope this serves as a good introduction to what we look for in buying and playing games with our family. Next time I will discuss my gaming background and a bit on how we got to where we are today.