What Comes Around

I used to play a lot of board games.

This was back when I actually lived near my friends, and hung out with a critical mass of people who enjoyed the hobby as well. I have a small collection of games from back then that I don’t play much any more.

The most valuable accessory, if you like board games, is a friend who is obsessed with them, because then you get to try all the games without spending money or, more importantly, storage space. That board games are physical objects, which can be looked at, touched, manipulated, and put away, is both their great attraction and their great drawback. And it’s inevitable if you play that you eventually collect more than you want to own. Boardgame fans revel in the frivolous, the unnecessary. You can play Sid Sackson’s classic game Can’t Stop with 4 dice, a sheet of paper, and some pennies, yet most people would rather have the big piece of plastic with all the little colored tokens instead. It’s ingrained in human nature, I’m convinced. I had a friend with the Infinite Collection of Boardgames, but then he moved to California, which meant that I was still interested in the games but suddenly with no access to them. This meant that I foolishly bought a few before realizing that I was rapidly running out of space. I dealt with this by sealing the games up in the basement and forgetting about playing them for a few years. But recently, the urge to play has reared its ugly head again.

I have a few issues that make board games a debilitating hobby for me personally. The first, of course, is that in order to play games I have to interact with and speak to other actual human beings, which is always a bad thing. But more problematic is that board gaming, as a hobby, is deeply subject to the desire for the latent object. The board game you don’t own is always better than the game you do own. Even when the one you are obsessing about sucks.

The best recent example of my personal latent object fetishism is that I can’t get Advanced Squad Leader out of my mind. ASL, as it is known, is a horrendously complex tangle of rules that no reasonable person will ever bother to learn. I think of it as less of a game than as a medical condition. I got to thinking about ASL because I had been playing Combat Mission on Windows, which is a turn-based computer wargame based loosely (very loosely) on ASL. I knew the full game was too involved for me, but when I discovered there was a Starter Kit with slightly simplified rules, I started having second thoughts. If you want to know what I mean when I say “slightly simplified,” feel free to peek at this 135 page PDF tutorial that covers some of the basics of the game.

The thing is, even if you gave me the Special Ed version of ASL, I would never play it. First, I would never find anyone to play it with. Second, the level of detail in the rules is, if not beyond my capabilities, certainly beyond my level of interest. I would stop playing the game before I had finished a single turn. I know this. Yet I still find myself idly thinking of picking up the starter kit, instead of getting a game more well-suited to my internal one-hour-limit game clock, such as Memoir ‘44.

Apart from my small circle of friends, I’ve never really explored the wider boardgame geek culture. I don’t go to cons, hang out at game stores, or the like. Recently, however, I perused the forums at boardgamegeek.com, and discovered that the same sorts of geek one-upmanship that happens in computer game circles (“This new version of the game has been dumbed down because it’s not hard enough!“) happens there as well. The best example of this I’ve seen so far is this article, entitled “Why Memoir 44’ is not really a war game despite claims to the contrary”, written by the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. It really is a masterful exemplar of the fandom rant genre, and is not to be missed.

This shouldn’t surprise me, of course. As psu has observed, we live in a Dork Nation, and if you’re playing wargames you’re already a pretty serious outlier.

Anyway, I’ve tried to get my boardgame-collecting friend fired so he’ll move back to Pittsburgh, thus sparing me from acquiring any more games, but apparently his bosses trust him too much, so that plan has fallen through.

Maybe I can get psu addicted to boardgames, and then if I want to play them I’ll just go over to his house. It worked with the Xbox.