My History in Gaming
I can't really remember my first game as a kid. I do remember always wanting to make a game out of everything, though. A toy was boring...it was the game you could make out of the toy that was fun. I do remember playing Monopoly
, The Game of Life
, and Careers
with the neighbors, a little Chess
with my family I suppose (I still have the 1960's version of Stratego I had as a kid). And then there were camp games like Capture the Flag and Klondike Day that captured my imagination.
But it really was one day at the Weberstown Mall in Stockton, California (where I grew up) as we were walking through Macy's that started it all. In a back section they had a few "Bookshelf Games" that looked kind of fun. My dad and I were always interested in geography and so we picked up Dr. Livingstone, I Presume? African Adventure!
, which had a map of Africa. I was about 11 years old (this was the same summer Star Wars came out) and loved this game so much I went out on my own with my allowance money and picked up another one that was there on the shelf, Diplomacy
. Of course, I never actually played that one with the family, which was probably a good thing. But I did have one friend, Jake Whitaker, who was sort of interested in these games...so we played it 2-player...and I am pretty sure we played it all wrong.
But now I was hooked...and this game came with a cool catalog from a company called Avalon Hill (irony intended) that had LOTS more of these kinds of games. So I immediately mail-ordered two more:Caesar's Legions
and Alexander the Great
But with only my one friend to play these with, they never got much play. I would sometimes force other friends to play, but they never really understood or enjoyed them. Still, I loved reading the rules and setting them all up, and even sometimes pretending to have an opponent with solitaire play. Sometimes I'd leave the games up for months on end. My game of Conquistador
was set up for so long that my thick paper board actually faded in the sun, so you can see where some of the pieces sat on the board. (Yes, I still have this one, too)
Of course, the natural thing for us to do was to start making our own games. Now in Junior High, Jake and I both made "Escape From School" games...I can't remember now whose was first. I made a Helm's Deep game using the Gondor
system from SPI's War of the Ring
games. I think he made an Agincourt game. I don't know if any of these games actually worked or were any fun...but we certainly enjoyed making them.
But our board game landscape was about to make a drastic change...Dungeons & Dragons Basic Game
(not this one, of course, but the original blue Basic book). Now I enjoyed D&D, but to me it was just another of the many, many games I was interested in. But to my group of friends (yes, my sister would enjoy calling us nerds), including Jake, this was the best thing that had ever happened. While it was nice having a broader group of people playing games, everyone was playing ONLY D&D. I certainly played my share and had some good times, but I was always pushing to go back to board games. It never happened, though, and so for many long years, it was all solitaire.
In high school, when we made visits to San Francisco, I discovered two game stores in tourist places we would visit. These are LONG gone, but one was probably one of the original stores on Pier 39 and the other was upstairs in Ghirardelli Square. I would save up my money for those trips and while my family went and did other things (I never really knew what), I would spend HOURS in those stores deciding what my next purchase would be. Staring at the shelves of historical and fictional SPI games, excited about the new Micro-Games from Steve Jackson, I was completely lost. I even pulled Jake away from D&D briefly with Melee
, and Death Test
But now home computers were starting to come out and I thought it would be fantastic to have a computer opponent to play against. No more solitaire, pretend friends! But it would be a while before computers and AI were sophisticated enough to do that. Still, it gave me hope. For our class projects in BASIC, Jake tried to program D&D on the Apple II.
My game was more of an Infocom text adventure based on Time Tripper
, which I actually completed...it was kind of fun. I was very humbled to learn years later that they used my game "Time Traveler" to show students what they could accomplish during the class.
Selecting Computer Science as a major at UCI was a natural for me then. I had become hooked on computers now and wanted to learn programming, mostly so I could make games. I continued making board games, too, although just prototypes mostly on flash cards and such. My roommate, Jeff Lee, told me about this guy in another suite (Alson Wong) who had an Apple II and some really cool games. One day we went down there and were going through various games he had when I discovered Wizardry. This was the coolest game I had ever seen on the computer and I had to get a home computer (just for that) at once. I convinced my parents that it was good for them to have (for business purposes of course) and for me and my major. But it was all about Wizardry! By now, most of my free time was playing these cool games on the computer and occasionally programming (in BASIC) simple games for myself that I liked or was inspired to make. Two of my better ones were based on "Elfstones of Shannara" by Terry Brooks and the board game Imperium
This led to a job at Interplay Productions for 14 years and another 2 at Troika Games in the computer games industry. Sadly, during much of this time my board gaming waned. There was a group of us who sometimes got together to play Wiz-War
, but that died away as we all got Atari Lynxes and started linking up games on that. I still kept a small pulse on board games and loved stores like Gamesmanship at South Coast Plaza or the Gamekeeper stores, but I rarely found games that I had to buy there. Someone introduced me to Cheapass games and Kill Doctor Lucky
and so I sort of followed those games for a while. But I had no idea that the whole Euro games revolution was happening...none at all.
I guess it was somewhere in the late 90's that someone finally introduced me to Catan
. I was in the stores the next day looking for my own copy. I still had no idea that this was just the tip of the iceberg. I would pick up a game now and then, but I had little guidance and the games in these mall stores were often not very good, such as: Edison & Co.
Then Wizards of the Coast opened up their stores for a short time and my board gaming started to grow again. It was then that I first discovered the great Dr. Reiner Knizia with Lord of the Rings
. We played that game over and over. These stores were great, but still there was little guidance. I saw Tigris & Euphrates
and had no idea that (at the time) it was the #2 all time rated game, and so I overlooked it for a long time. It was actually just at the same moment that Wizards decided to close down all their store (PLUS all the Gamekeeper stores that had been around forever that WotC had bought out...but I'm not bitter) that I finally was introduced to Boardgamegeek! Too late to take advantage of the Wizard's stores going out of business sales, I placed my first order with Fairplay Games of: El Grande
, Puerto Rico
, and Tigris & Euphrates
. I was hooked.
My passion for design returned as I discovered these new fantastic games that had revolutionized the board game world, and I built games such as Disaster on Everest, The Horsemen of Buzkashi
, and You Run The Zoo!
My collection grew from a handful of games to over 100 games within a year or so. I took up all the shelves in the closet that my wife had just put in to store the children's toys. Then it spilled into another set of bookshelves and finally into my car trunk. We're still working on finding space for them all.
Today, I am very fortunate to have a wife who is understanding and often even plays some games with me. I have two kids, 18 and 15, who my sister says I had just so that I would always have someone to game with. My daughter is off to college at UCF and I was very proud when she asked if she could take my copy of Kingsburg
with her. I am also fortunate to have found a group of gamers who share similar tastes and gaming styles to me, and so I get to play games a lot.
I have also recently found a publisher for some of my game designs with Victory Point Games
. Through them, I have been able to publish Circus Train (Second edition)
, Disaster on Everest
, Disaster on K2
, Assault on Galactus Prime
, A.D. 30
, and Skagway
Every time I find myself in a game store, though, I'm back to being that kid in the store in San Francisco, spending hours thinking about what I'm going to get next.