Is the best part of board gaming, not gaming?
There’s no denying the satisfaction of a village-market combo to buy the last province, shipping your last tobacco despite everyone else’s best efforts, or playing the last set of 5 city cards to finally prevent the earth from being ravaged by disease. Games are, after all, for gaming. But at what point does the hobby become less about playing the game and more about the experience of being a board gamer?
For some this doesn’t happen at all. They’re satisfied with their five to ten gateway games, maybe have that one box of Power Grid tucked away for when their guests are looking for a greater challenge. I write from the perspective of a collector; someone who’s collection has far outgrown the ability to play in any reasonable quantity. Everything from Candyland to Twilight Imperium grace our shelves, stacked in a particular order to pay homage to difficulty, or number of players, or playtime.
Sitting in my unfinished man cave, said collection on rickety wooden shelves in the corner, the latest Eclipse expansion sprawled out on the table (it has to be sorted and compartmentalized of course), I pause to reflect on my acquisitions. What is it that drives me to back the next kickstarter, to troll BGG’s hotness list, to check into comic readers or tramps weekly in anticipation of filling that one gap in my assortment of game mechanics and themes that I didn’t realize I had?
Having not-so-recently become a father of two, my gaming habits had turned from a bi-weekly affair to appreciating the art of solo board game design. Mage Knight and Robinson Crusoe could have (and have) kept me entertained for months as I became accustom to my new responsibilities and lack of spare time, and yet my collection refused to slow down.
Here, among my sprawling collection, I propose to myself that board gaming is as much about the game as it is the experience. It must be the same feeling that keeps a car collector or antique hunter going; the experience.
The hours spent on Board Game Geek trying to identify that next game; is it a mechanic that is under-represented in my collection? Perhaps there is room for another zombie theme? What does Rahdo say about it? This thread of gamers on /r/boardgames played it at GenCon; what were their thoughts? All the while my mind trying to decide if it’s worth adding to wishlist; even then, where on the list does it go?
Once the decision has been made, the hunt begins. Thank Lovecraft that we have two decent stores that are up with the times; checking locally around release date is usually a fruitful endeavor. If we miss the boat there are more than enough online retailers both here and abroad that would be OK with taking our money and they often do. Beyond that we’re at the mercy of those who had the foresight to purchase the game before us… I’ve both overpaid for Tobago and overtraded for Xia (and countless others) to get those coveted games, more than happy to extend the offer in order to get that rare gem.
Then perhaps the best part; the unboxing. The first time you see the components in person, get to admire the artwork of the cards and the board, read the rulebook and soak yourself in theme and imagined interaction. The strategies playing through your head; why science seems more valuable than military, imagining your friend plotting to take family growth and how you’d need to get there first. The quality of the components; separating the power tokens and faux marble into their own player piles and bagging them individually for ease of setup of House Greyjoy in those future games that may never come.
And the chits! Those wonderful sheets of cardboard tokens just dying for you to punch them out. I swear it’s more satisfying than bubble wrap! I almost died of bliss punching those hundreds of tokens of ancient wonders and civil buildings in Sid Meyer’s Civilization. Not to mention the perverse, OCD-like satisfaction of organizing everything into their own logical groupings (obviously not lost on Upper Deck when they packaged Legendary Encounters).
I think the other unspoken part is the secret joy of being “the boardgame person”. If anyone needs to know anything about a game, they can ask me. Every “muggle” I’ve got into the hobby I count as a personal victory (much to my wife’s chagrin) and I enjoy sitting at the top of my own little board game empire, checking in every so often to make a suggestion or arrange a game night. Despite my penchant for always forgetting “one little (major) rule” I’m heralded as a rules guru among my boardgaming peers, and never turn down the opportunity to teach a new game to a new group. Each chewsday challenge seems to fit nicely between “love” and “belonging” in Maslow’s hierarchy.
All of this before even sitting down to play! If we refer to the oft-quoted “$10/hr” ROI of entertainment it’s not hard to justify most of the items in my collection even before they get to see the dull light of a board game table. The best part of board gaming is the shared, in-person experience with your group, but a close second is the hours that are poured into making that experience a reality for your friends.