Time to pass the reins over to Campfire Burning for a bit. Here’s the first in a new series from him – Tales from the Fireside. I won’t say anything more… just enjoy.
Sometimes Michael likes to throw chalk at me. I think it’s a holdover from his school teacher days. I’ll be working or cooking or something equally innocuous when ‘Ping!’ – a piece of chalk ricochets off the back of my skull and a stern voice says “Hey, weirdo – why haven’t you written anything for me yet?”
The thing is, unlike Chris and Michael I’m not a board game geek – I’m a wannabe. I don’t have the gaming experience necessary to write a column from the ground up. In Patsy Kensit terms, I’m an absolute beginner.
You might have heard my tale on an old episode of LMDS. Among the enthusiasts, the designers, the historians and statisticians I was the sole voice of dissent. I hated board games. I‘ve flipped more boards than chessboards have checks. I have the dishonourable distinction of being both a bad loser and a bad winner. I’m the last person who should be let near a professional gaming site like this.
And yet . . .
Like many of you, the new generation of board games has drawn me inexorably into the fold. The Settlers of Catan! Carcassonne! Dominon! Games that require a little more thought and a little less dice-tossing and piece-moving. Games that don’t end in squabbles and board-flips, but in high-fives and good cheer.
I was in the United States over Christmas, and while I was there I picked up a copy of Forbidden Island. I’d heard Michael’s interview with designer Matt Leacock and I was intrigued. A co-operative board game? How does that work? How can you proclaim yourself god-king of the games room and rub your opponent’s face in her defeat when you have to work together in order to win? The very idea of a co-operative game was baffling to me.
Setting up the game was just as baffling. Where were the dice? How could I be expected to flip the board when there was no board? I suppose I could flip every one of those little island tiles, and send them hurtling to their oblivion like so many beer-sodden coasters in a pub drinking game. At least the player pieces looked familiar. Little coloured cones with bulbous knobs on the end. They reminded me of the pieces in Ludo – now there was a game worth flipping.
My wife and I took our first tentative steps onto the island. We moved, shored up sunken tiles, collected and traded treasure cards, and with each passing turn we referred to the rulebook less and our moves grew more confident.
And the waters rose. Forbidden Island is a place that’s sinking, and taking its treasures with it. Every time one of the treasure tiles sunk beneath the waves we panicked and hurried to shore it up, lest it be forever lost. A single lost treasure meant the game would be over and we would lose and we, intrepid adventurers that we were, were determined not to let that happen.
We finished the game with only a small section of the island remaining, and as we escaped with our treasures intact we were smiling. This was something new! No tears, no tantrums, no gloating, no board flipping. We’d beaten Forbidden Island and we’d beaten it together. In your face, Leacock!
“That was fun,” said my wife, grinning. And then, shyly. “Can we play it again?”
We played again. And although my game collection is still modest, in the weeks that followed a few more games joined Forbidden Island. I have a gaming nook of my own, now. Not bad for a former board-flipper.
As I said, I’m no expert – but then, not all of us are. Some of us have come from the world of video games in search of multiplayer experiences where we won’t be ‘pwned’ by a foul-mouthed six-year-old. Some of us have seen Ticket To Ride nestled between Trivial Pursuit and Operation at our local Barnes & Noble and, our interest piqued, have decided to take a risk and try something new. Some of us played RPGs as teens and want to rekindle those glory days of dungeons, dragons and dice-rolls.
If you’re looking for facts, figures and the detailed history of this noble pursuit, I’m afraid I can’t help you. But if you’re a newbie in search of thrills and adventure, hunker down my friend. Grab your dice, draw your cards, pick up your meeples and get ready, because together we have a story to tell.