I had a friend named John.
John had a great side-job, as a board game reviewer; and he had a great wife, a brilliant, affable woman named Robin.
But when he lost one, he no longer wanted the other.
Yes, I speak about John in the past tense even though he's still alive. That's because his passion for board games died when his wife died. It's now a thing of the past, something I can no longer share with him.
Some two decades ago, John met Robin through a Correspondence Chess group. A deep and abiding relationship blossomed and he moved from London to be with her in New York City.
John settled in with a full-time job, then got a gig working for Games magazine, writing for & editing the Review section. Both he and Robin contributed articles for Games, especially about the abstract games they so loved.
Over a span of 15 years,as they shared their lives and their hobby, their game collection grew swiftly. Dozens of games a month came to their co-op in Queens, New York.
John invested a lot of time and money in his review work, because not all games he covered were freely forwarded to him, not nearly. So, over the years, he had to purchase many hundreds of games out of his own pocket, to supplement the review copies he was sent.
It was a financial burden John was happy to bear, for he had an enthusiastic life partner to help carry the load. Their co-op soon filled up with games, books about games, and magazines about games. He had to rent a storage facility to hold them, which eventually grew to 12'x17'.
They had a close-knit group of playtesters, with whom they shared a celebratory dinner every time the end-of-year Games 100 was sent to the publisher. To them, John and Robin were the patron saints of tabletop gaming: St. Robin the Beatific, and St. John the Gruff.
During Robin's lingering illness, brought on by worsening pulmonary hypertension, John wanted so much to be by her side at every doctor's visit, every hospitalization. But his obligations to the magazine weighed heavy on him.
And Robin would never let John shirk his responsibility. Her love of gaming, and the social interactions it created, was so great that she continually pressed John to meet his deadlines, even if it pulled him away from her side.
Robin King died in November, 2013, following a lung transplant operation necessitated by her life-threatening condition. They had waited so long for a suitable pair of lungs, her weakened body couldn't stand the shock of such a procedure.
Overwhelmed with grief at losing his companion, John resigned from Games, and stepped away from boardgaming entirely. After playing games for nearly his entire adult life, John turned his back on them, on the very thing that kept him apart from Robin when he wanted most to be with her.
The mere sight of the dozens of boardgames littering the co-op he used to share with Robin, the mere thought of the thousands of games that sat, boxed up, in his storage unit, the mere idea of sitting down to a table, never to have Robin by his side again... it was too much for John.
How could someone just walk away, you must wonder. But playing a game is not a solitary recreation. Nowadays, we can play dozens of games via email, apps, websites, and think nothing of the person we're playing with.
But back in the day, when Correspondence gaming meant really corresponding, connecting with our opponents, you could forge a strong bond with someone thousands of miles away. So it was that gaming brought John and Robin together, and glued them together so powerfully that John could not think of one without the other.
Having lost the only family he ever had in America, John's now focused on returning to his family back in Ireland. His heart aches to be with them, but legal ties - which he's attempting to unravel one by one - hold him here for the time being. But his back has already turned, he's facing East and waiting for the day that he's free to go.
His long-treasured collection of games will not be going with him.
Part Two: John & Robin's Mentor, Sid Sackson