Last week the folks over at Shut Up and Sit Down posted this heartfelt video that I think really gets at the heart of why we play board games. I’m sure you’ve all been in a situation where you’re meeting a new person and they ask you what you do for fun, and telling them ‘board games’ usually generates odd looks, and you can tell the person thinks you’re probably technologically challenged and stuck in a previous era. I’ll leave the discussion of the invariable “Oh, like Monopoly?” that follows to another post, but I think it’s obvious to many gamers there’s still a stigma attached to the hobby- a general outlook of board games being restricted to party games and some time-killing on nights with the family, or that people who play hobby games are stereotypically socially awkward or maladjusted.
For those of us who play, we know that’s ridiculous. Apart from the inaccurate labeling, I don’t think people outside of the hobby really understand the appeal of gaming. That’s unfortunate, because board games have so much more meaning past the game itself, and regardless of how much we enjoy the mechanics or theme I think the meaning of games, for most people at least, comes from the memories we make with others while playing them. The Shut Up and Sit Down movie posted above really get to the heart of that, and in the spirit of the video I’d like to share one of my own favorite gaming stories:
I had recently started my weekly game group, and we were on our third play-through of Shadow Over Camelot, a cooperative game that places you in the role of knights in Arthur’s court trying to defend Camelot against all sorts of baddies by helping each other complete poker hands on various areas of the board. The game is difficult to begin with, but to make things even more nerve-wracking there’s a possibility -a possibility, not a certainty- of one player being a traitor. The deduction mechanic is great, and really keeps everyone on their toes the entire game as each person tries to determine whether or not one knight amongst them is just waiting for an opportune moment to go all Benedict Arnold and show their true colors.
The resulting banter throughout the game is expectedly priceless as people throw accusations back and forth, whether they’re unfounded or not, and generally give each other a hard time as they try and work through the game. Our games invariably end up with people jokingly accusing each other of being traitors throughout the game based simply on the luck they’re displaying in dice rolls, or whatever else. This round of Shadows Over Camelot was no different, and we hadn’t had a traitor in our first two games. In a phrase, we were lulled into a false sense of security as this third game progressed. By the midway point in the game we weren’t doing terribly, but we could see the momentum shifting to evil’s favor as the various quest-points slowly filled up with bad cards, and the area directly outside of the city tipped well over the halfway point of filling with catapults. Everyone had been so cooperative and helpful so far that we had all pretty much determined that no one could possibly be the traitor.
We were wrong. As we sacrificed more catapult spots to stem the flow of bad cards to other areas, it became apparent that we were going to need to deal with that threat during the next turn. We discussed amongst the group who was going to go back to defend Camelot against the siege engines, and had a pretty solid chance of a few people being able to bring them back down to a manageable level. Unfortunately, halfway around the table we had taken a couple of extra catapults and were down to one remaining space, and that’s when our ‘pal’, the ‘friend’ who had fought with us side-by-side the entire game, decided to donkey-punch the entire group in our metaphorical nuts. With a regrettable sounding ” Sorry, guys,” said player added the last catapult to the siege area and flipped his character card over to reveal his true allegiance.
Game Over. We were all blown away. We hadn’t seen it coming. It was awesome.
I have many fond boardgame memories, especially over the last year, and I look forward to many more to come. Stay tuned for an article later this week that will extend this discussion to solo variants, looking at how solitaire games fit in the hobby given what you just read about games being meaningful because of their social interaction.
I hope you all will take a few minutes to watch the Shut Up and Sit Down video, and to post your experiences here for others to enjoy!