arkham

These are all the pieces of a “game.” No really, these are a lot of fun

We live in a wonderful time to be a geek. Summer blockbusters are predominantly sci-fi oriented and comic books are being adapted into movies and TV shows at an alarming rate. Even lesser known (or formerly lesser known) creator owned comics like Kick Ass and Walking Dead are getting mainstream, major releases. Video games were once the pastime of nerds and geeks and there was a slim chance that jocks or your mom would be playing them. Now, thanks to Call of Duty, mobile games, the Wii and a million other reasons, video games is a huge growth industry rivaling Hollywood. Those pushes into the mainstream mean that being a “geek” has a lot less stigma than it used to. Which is good for us (the geeks). Hell, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are developing a Preacher pilot for AMC. Indeed, we live in a golden age of geekiness.

One of the amazing side effects of this geek boom is the creation of amazing (and often very inspired by geek intellectual properties) board games. Once upon a time a movie themed board game would either be a) terrible or b) Monopoly reskinned with references to said movie. No longer. Battlestar Galactica,  Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and a whole host of other IPs have great board games. As a result of these popular franchises board games in general have gotten a whole lot better.

I remember going into hobby shops and there being a pile of Warhammer miniature figurines, a rack of RPG rule books and a little section of board games (Twilight Imperium, Settlers of Catan and a host of Steve Jackson mini-games spring to mind). Now, the situation is almost completely reversed. Head into a game shop and you’ll have a wide variety of awesome board games that are well designed, complex and sometimes tied to source material you’re already well aware of.

I find it a little weird (unless you’re an avid listener of 9ES) that we don’t have more stuff devoted to some of these board games on the site. My own board game collection has expanded past the point of being able to be housed on a shelf in the closet and I now have copies of a few stray games stashed around the house (under the coffee table, on the TV stand, under the lizard’s aquarium… the lizard’s name is Lizardo) since I’m out of room. That doesn’t even account for the mega box of Arkham Horror that Jono and I co-own that is a massive storage solution for a big game and all 8 expansions. He keeps that at his house because he lives alone in an apartment that is a whole room bigger than mine.

In fact, when Jon’s Dungeons and Dragons game got put on hiatus, Arkham Horror more or less replaced D&D as the geeky thing the crew gets together for to kill a couple of hours, drink beer and shoot the shit. I think sometimes it’s easier to justify getting five or six of us together for a board game during the week than it is to just get together to hang out for no reason. Board games keep friendships alive kids, never forget that. Well, board games and hockey. But the Habs are an up and down team a lot of the time there’s always that dull period in the middle of the year where there’s no hockey, what’s it called? You know, we’re right at the end of it right now? Hockey-drought? Puckless months? Oh right, summer.

Where am I going with this? Oh yes. Board games are a gateway drug. Or at least a gateway to way geekier shit. I’ve been with my lovely girlfriend for over 6 years. When we met she had next to no geeky interests. Now, six years later, I’m not saying she’s a full on geek but she definitely indulges in some of the geekier stuff. If six years ago you told her “Hey, once in a while you’re going to pretend to be an investigator in the 1920s investigating strange monsters taken from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos,” she would have probably laughed in your face. However, if you said it was a board game, she might have been at least slightly interested. She’s played enough Arkham Horror at this point that she’s actually considering a session of a tabletop RPG. Something that would have been completely out of the question a few years back.

As people who play tabletop RPGs, most of us are pretty used to very complex overlapping and sometimes contradictory rules (and the backup rules that allow us to overcome those contradictions). Most casual games (the Scrabbles, Monopolies and Scattergories of the world) don’t have that complexity. So how do you bridge that gap? You learn the shit out of the rules so that you can answer questions of the novice. A game like Arkham Horror or Battlestar Galactica has a thick rulebook and it can be intimidating for a new player. As long as one (or preferably a few) players know that rulebook inside out (or at least know where information is) you should be able to entice new players to play the game. Assuming they like games, and if they don’t, ask them if they hate having fun.

When I read through a rulebook for the first time, I make a point of trying to think about how I would relay the information I’m absorbing to a new player. As a result, when introducing someone to the game the process is relatively painless.

So yeah, if you want your friends to get more into some of the geeky shit you’re into, try board games. I’m sure in future editions of this column I’ll talk about some of my favorites. My first recommendation is obviously (as I’ve referred to it a million times in this article alone) Arkham Horror. No lie, you probably shouldn’t pick up Arkham Horror if you yourself are not into an incredibly complex game with a million variations that make no two games the same. If that sounds awesome to you then you should probably pick it up right away. I’ll have an article (or more) about it coming eventually. Arkham Horror is a little tricky to get nowadays though since Fantasy Flight is moving away from Arkham towards the similar but more accessible (from a rules standpoint) game “Eldritch Horror”. Either way, both games are great since they’re cooperative (rare in board games) and extremely challenging.

Pick up a few games that are outside of the Milton Bradley set and get a game night going. Start with something simple (Settlers of Catan is a great starting point, it’s more interesting than a game for kids but most people will have already played it or at least heard of it), then move up to more complex, interesting games. Soon you’ll have a group of people totally willing to devote hours to Battlestar Galactica, Arkham Horror or Game of Thrones (or whatever other game you want to play). Then, who knows, you might be able to rope those same players into a tabletop RPG (if that’s your thing, if it isn’t, just keep playing board games, who cares?).

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