The Problem is Not the Games

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Recently, this comic strip popped up in one of my social media threads. The responses ranged from “so true!” to “this is nothing. Try playing Diplomacy.”*

This bothered me for a number of reasons, especially since the posting was in a group dedicated to board games! I pondered it for a while, and why none of this was true for me. You see, I’ve been playing board games my entire life. I have a large collection of games that I love to play. I’d rather play board games than just about any other leisure activity.

And I’ve never experienced the level of anger/problems depicted in this comic strip.

I can recall times that people got mad over the style a game was played. We adjusted the play style for them and kept going. I can recall one game of Diplomacy in which a friend couldn’t believe I betrayed him… and the only reason I recall it is because he brings it up every time the game is mentioned. But we’re still friends. I had a guy get really angry in a game of Terraforming Mars a few weeks ago, but he was a complete stranger I was playing with for the first time.

That’s the key right there. The friends I play games with? Some of them I’ve been playing against for decades. We’re still friends. No one’s ever kicked over the table. No one’s ever held a grudge (except, apparently, that one friend and the Diplomacy game…). I haven’t lost any friendships over any games, most of which are far more cutthroat than Uno or Monopoly (and Scrabble? Seriously, people?).

This leads to a very crucial but controversial conclusion: the problem is not the games; the problem is the people. 

If the people with which you’re playing games are going to take it personally when you play a “Draw 4” on them, perhaps you should be playing with other people. Seriously. Everyone involved needs to accept the nature of the game, how it’s played, and how it’s won. Otherwise, it’s an exercise some people should just avoid.

This principle applies to so much more than just board games. We live in a culture where people are offended by so many different things. Outrage is the new normal. Social media is full of it. Today’s equivalent to flipping the game board, quite often, is tweeting.

Surround yourself with the right people. If your friends, acquaintances, co-workers, etc., are always on the verge of exploding, it’s probably better for your own mental health to not spend a lot of time around them.

As I continue in my process of querying literary agents for my novel, I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I see some agents that fall into this category of perpetually outraged. I don’t think I’d want them working for my book, honestly. I’d be terrified of offending them at any given moment, if I slipped up and said anything whatsoever about politics, religion, or even pop culture (“No, THIS superhero is the greatest ever!”). Needless to say, that makes this process even harder. How do I find someone who loves my book and wants to see it published, but I’m also excited about working together? It’s a minefield out there.

The conclusion? Find people with whom you can enjoy life, even if the process takes a long time. Don’t compromise your beliefs (or your game-playing style).

 


* Diplomacy, for the uninformed, is a classic board game of negotiation and strategy in which players are forced to make alliances to get ahead… and probably break those alliances in order to win. Betrayal is practically guaranteed.

Board Games & Writing

My favorite hobby involves deep thinking and (usually) a number of dice. I love board games.

By board games, I mean real tabletop games, not the ones that are sold at Walmart and Toys R Us. Imagine if the major video game companies today were still trying to persuade people that Pac-Man and Donkey Kong (the originals) were the only video games worth buying and selling, and that’s all you could find in the major retailers. That’s basically what the major toy companies have done with board games, trying to convince everyone that Yahtzee, Sorry, and forty-seven thousand variations of Monopoly are the only board games. No wonder so many people have the wrong idea about board games! Any time my friends and I are playing games in a place where people can see us, we get the exact same questions: “So… is this like Monopoly?” “Oh, it’s like Risk?” (or if there’s anything fantasy-related) “So basically this is Dungeons & Dragons, right?”

Sigh.

If this is you, go visit boardgamegeek.com and educate yourself. If you’ve actually played something like Settlers of Catan, at the very least, then there are still hundreds more games you might enjoy.

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I own over a hundred board games, and my collection pales in comparison to others I know. My absolute favorite games include Twilight Imperium, War of the Ring, Heroscape, and Twilight Struggle. All of them are huge, sprawling epic games that engage my mind and imagination.

And that’s the key. While I enjoy mental exercises, I don’t want to spend my free time solving algebra problems and calling it entertainment. My imagination has to be engaged as well. I want to fall into the theme of the game. Most of all, I want to see the game tell a story, and to be a part of shaping that story.

For example, Twilight Imperium is a sci-fi themed board game where each player takes on the role of a major alien race struggling to gain dominance in a galaxy where the previous empire has collapsed. You have to balance military tactics with diplomacy, economics and exploration. It’s one of the longest games I own, so it doesn’t get played very often, but every time it does… there’s a huge story.

War of the Ring is the closest you can come to actually playing the storyline of The Lord of the Rings… but with changes. What if Boromir doesn’t fall to the Ring’s temptation and goes with Frodo to Mount Doom? What if Gimli leaves the Fellowship and rallies the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain to march forth? What if the Balrog leaves Moria and lays siege to Rivendell itself? All these things can happen, and it’s all awesome.

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All of my favorite activities involve stories and problem-solving. My board game hobby has definitely inspired my writing in numerous ways. A crazy round of Heroscape might be the source for a fantasy story. A tense session of Twilight Struggle might be the source of a Cold War spy story. Stories are everywhere.

As I write this, tomorrow is International Tabletop Day! Play some board games! I have some friends coming over and we’re introducing another friend to some new experiences, starting with the classic Axis & Allies. From there, we’ll try the X-Wing Miniatures game and the who knows? Like stories, the possibilities are endless.