My Geek History Part 1: Board Games

Stay a while and listen to this tale. This is a story of how a bright eyed young lad from Klang, who had so much potential and a head full of dreams, ended up writing a blog post about games and comics on a Saturday night. Listen to his story and take caution, for you will learn how poor self control and low moral fibre leads to a life of debauchery and cardboard.

Let’s start with how this poor soul got into the board gaming hobby, which is a relatively tame tale, before we move on to how he wasted his brain cells and corrupted his very being with the most vile sin of human society: comic books. Allow the wretch to tell his tale:

Part 1: Board Games

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“My memory is unreliable at the best of times, so forgive me if I mess up the details. Although, considering most who will read this will hardly know or even care about the truth of the details anyway, perhaps it doesn’t matter at all. In any case, let me start off by saying that my exposure to modern strategic board games is a relatively recent development. Sure, I’ve had exposure to board games in general from a very young age, but who hasn’t?

Here, I have a confession to make: I do not believe I have ever finished a game of Monopoly; neither do I know the full rules of that game. Which is why I will not take the stance of vehemently denouncing that game as I have seen so often in other gaming sites. My memories of Monopoly usually revolve around the things done and said surrounding the game, as with any activity done with friends. In that respect, the ubiquity of Monopoly (and Taboo, and Risk, and Ludo, and Chess etc.) and its role as a cultural touchstone for many people is perhaps more important than its merits as a game. When I think of Monopoly, my clearest memory is of my brother jokingly trying to bribe another player with tea and biscuits. I don’t even remember what he was bribing for, only that it was done in an amusing way for some tiny in-game gain and a good time was had by all.

I will admit another thing: I am not very good at board games. I like the mental exercise; I like thinking about games; I like thinking about the systems and mechanics; I enjoy figuring out strategies; I even enjoy the sweet taste of victory once in a while, but I would never consider myself someone who is “great” at any board game. I doubt I am able to put the level of commitment to excel at a particular game. I have a pretty bad attention span, and I crave novelty in my gaming experiences.

The first board game I enjoyed, which could be termed as a strategic board game, is Risk. I don’t even remember why I asked my parents to buy me Risk in the first place. I believe I may have played a copy belonging to someone else at some point and subsequently asked to have my own copy. I can still remember the little plastic boxes that housed the plastic miniatures and how I lost a black infantry piece pretty early in my ownership. My fondest memory of playing Risk was a game that started at 2am and ended at 7am at camp and we were chased out of the dining area and ended up playing in a cold corridor in the basement. I remember eating cup noodles and someone farting and all of us rushing to the end of the corridor to escape the stench. I remember a player executing the “turtle up in Australia” strategy after a failed bid for Asia. I remember another player retreating the last of his armies to Kamchatka and when he was about to be eliminated, declared “I retreat into the sea”. I remember the final battle when only two players were left and how the rest of us messed around with the pieces while they had their final roll off. I also remember another game when someone held off a huge invading army with only 2 infantry in South East Asia. I think the board we had still called it Siam, and we cracked many crude jokes about how the invading army were distracted by cheap Thai hookers and all died of STDs.

However much I liked Risk, it wasn’t actually what drove me to pursue other board games as a hobby. No, that privilege actually lies with the Pokemon TCG. Oh the Pokemon TCG. It all started with my younger brother and our neighbour, really. I think I only learned to play after they introduced me to it to have another person to play against. Then I got hooked. I don’t think my brother even got into it as much as I did. I remember my first ever foil Blastoise and the Rain Dance deck. I remember Mewtwos and the glorious Haymaker deck. Energy and Potions and Bills and Professor Oaks and glass beads and the shiny plastic Chansey coin. Those were some strange times at school, and then it kind of died down. Also, it was becoming increasingly expensive to keep up with all the new cards and decks. It was some time around this point that I decided I would design my own card game. The main draw was that I wouldn’t have to pay money (well…aside from printing costs) to have something to play. I wanted something that could provide the same thrill as a TCG, but without the collectible aspect (or even any monetary aspect, since I would be printing my own cards).

So, I wanted to design my own game but I also realised that I did not have a lot of experience with games. Thus started my research phase. I went online and downloaded and read rulebooks for various TCGs: Pokemon, Battletech, Legend of the Five Rings, Shadowrun, Warlord, Shadowfist (the late 90s and early 00s had a huge glut of TCGs, you may recall) and of course, the grand daddy: Magic: the Gathering. I read the rules, but I never played any of those games since I couldn’t afford to. In the end, I came up with a couple of designs and played them with my friends. The game I designed was a fusion between a tactical board game with cards and TCG sensibilities. It was played on a tactical grid, with cards representing units and attachments and a deck providing other cards with varied powers. Pretty much the Pokemon TCG on a battle grid. The first prototype had some strong Chess influences, with the cards being named after Chess pieces and having Chess flavoured powers. The second prototype, dubbed “Tactics”, used many of the same ideas but expanded to have 5 factions and different powers. It’s probably closest to something like Summoner Wars. I spent a fair bit of time on Tactics, trying different versions of it, but I always felt that I should play other games to gain inspiration on how to fix some of the bits of the game. I continued to research games online, and now broadened my reading to cover non-TCG games. From my forays online, I discovered non-collectible card games and the existence of some strange board games. The desire to learn more games to improve Tactics also lead me to eventually teach myself how to play Magic and that started a whole new chapter of my gaming life, which I won’t go into at this point.

Anyways, at this point I knew about the existence of other card and board games but I had no access to them in Malaysia. The crucial turning point was a holiday trip to Australia and a visit to Mind Games in Melbourne. I was astounded by the variety of games for sale and it spurred me to research other games. I think that first time I only purchased Grass, which we ended up playing a fair bit on the trip and also back in Malaysia. Soon after, I would travel to Melbourne to study and make many trips to Mind Games. The first few years, I stuck to relatively simple and cheap card games and board games: Grass, Family Business, Milles Bornes, Chez Geek, Lord of the Fries and Kill Doctor Lucky (the Cheapass Games printing). At that time, I was spending a lot of time playing Magic and World of Warcraft (nooooooooo), and of course enjoying the college lifestyle; the other games were more peripheral to my main pursuits at the time.

Finally, the first real forays into board gaming started sometime around 2006/2007. At some point, I played a friend’s copy of The Settlers of Catan and that sparked my interest into buying my own board games. I always had the interest, but held back from purchasing board games since they were more expensive (truth be told, if I didn’t spend so much on Magic and WoW I probably would have bought more board games earlier). After playing Catan, it reignited my interest in board games and I also knew that I would be able to find people to play with.

2007 was the crucial year when I really started getting into the board game hobby. That year, my first “big” game purchases were Ticket to Ride and Axis & Allies. We played those, as well as Catan, Betrayal at House on the Hill, Sequence, Bohnanza, Illuminati, and Munchkin. It was a pretty good time for gaming, and my interest continued to grow until one fateful day: I discovered BoardGameGeek. Up till then, I would usually browse around Mind Games with no real purpose and read the description off the backs of the boxes but I would hesitate before buying since I didn’t want to plop down the money if the game ended up being bad (and I was still funding my Magic addiction, so game purchases were limited). Finally, with BoardGameGeek’s help I could do a fair amount of research before deciding on my purchases. Post-BGG, I purchased The Princes of Florence and Power Grid. I also remember playing Puerto Rico around this time, which began my appreciation of action drafting games. To be honest, the game purchases started growing in the 2007-2008 period that I sometimes forget when I first played what.

I remember having the great coffee table in 2007 with all my games at that point fitting in the compartment under the table. Then in 2008, the board games had to be stacked in the Geek Corner of DOOM. 2008-2009 saw the start of almost regular Game Nights. However, my apartment back then was pretty small so it was always pretty cramped when we were trying to play more than one board game there. We still managed to though. We played a lot of Agricola, Power Grid and Dominion. Oh Dominion. When a friend visited from Hong Kong, we introduced him to Dominion and he loved it. It sparked of a short period of Dominion fever, where we played almost nothing else for a couple of months. That period was also a great one for Magic, as that was when I designed my own Cube and we played almost every Friday. Good times. Another huge influence at that time was Agricola. Agricola impressed me so much when I first played it. The worker placement mechanic really appealed to me, and lead me have a greater appreciation for drafting mechanics in games. I became an Uwe Rosenberg fanboy, and eventually bought and enjoyed Le Havre and At the Gates of Loyang as well. Race for the Galaxy and Endeavour were other great games that I was really into then and further fuelled my love for drafting mechanics in games. Sometime in 2009, I also designed and tested a worker placement game, using cards as workers with varying values of effectiveness. I regret not refining that concept, and it languishes in limbo now along with the memory of the Tactics game. Someday.

In 2010-2011, I moved into a much bigger place and started setting up pretty regular Game Nights which could actually accomodate more people. I believe the first game ever played in the current apartment was Power Grid, and may have occurred before I had fully moved in. I remember a period when the leases overlapped, and I would stay at the old apartment due to it having an Internet connection and we would go to the new apartment to play games after dinner as it had more space. In board gaming, Through the Ages was a huge hit for me when I finally played it in 2010 and I still believe it is one of the best civilization style games out there. I still haven’t tried Civilization though. Glory to Rome, 7 Wonders and Ascension were also great hits for myself and the game group. 2010 also marked my first forays into Dungeons and Dragons which I have come to love, and 2011 saw me start my first ongoing campaign. It was also when I discovered Milsims (well, actually that was probably late 2009) which sparked even more board game buying activity. And here I am now, writing a blog post about my history of board gaming. As I look back on my brief years of board gaming, I find them filled with many great memories shared with great friends and I am really grateful for everything that I’ve gotten out of this amazing hobby. I have had a wonderful time writing this and reminiscing about all the good times I’ve had gaming, and I hope if you’ve read this far you can also appreciate this hobby as I do. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have some great gaming memories to share.”

3 responses to “My Geek History Part 1: Board Games

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