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Five years: the joys and frustrations of the hobby

Martin G
United Kingdom
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Don't fall in love with me yet, we've only recently met
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It was Friday March 23rd, 2007 when a good friend I was staying with suggested he teach me some game called Carcassonne. I've always been a games player, but until this point I had no idea that the hobby I've come to love existed. The very next day, he pointed me to a games shop in central London (now defunct) to buy my own copy.

Scarcely did I imagine then that five years later I'd have played nearly 400 different games, own 100 (still pretty meagre by some standards!), run the biggest board games group in the country (with over 1200 members) and have appeared in national print and radio extolling the virtues of modern board games.

As a hobby, modern board gaming has turned out to be perfect for me. Playing games provides both a mental challenge and a wonderful social experience. As well as getting family and longstanding friends involved with my obsession, I've also made a bunch of great friends at London on Board and around the world through BGG, in particular the guys and girl of the GCL Meatball Division.

And it's not just playing games that I enjoy, it's reading, writing, thinking and talking about them. We're lucky to have BoardGameGeek as a central organising forum, for all its failings.

So that's the joys, what about the frustrations? Some are about games, some are about gamers.

Having played 300-odd games, my biggest disappointment is the lack of originality in modern designs, both in mechanics and theme. Although I'm primarily a Eurogamer, I'm utterly uninterested in the latest minor twist on worker placement and resource conversion. I want games to give me new ways of challenging myself and interacting with other players. Recently the marvellous Hanabi has restored my faith that this can still be done, by presenting a co-operative game that isn't just team solitaire.

I suspect that some elements of Ameritrash may appeal to my taste for high levels of interaction and my tolerance of randomness. But why oh why does AT have to be synonymous with orcs and spaceships? These hold as little excitement for me as do the Euro tropes of Ancient Egypt and the Renaissance. Give me more political games like Tammany Hall, more eccentric explorations of science like Phil Eklund's creations, more games that are inspired by strange little corners of history that we don't all already know about.

As for gamers, the biggest blight on my gaming life is nothing to do with stereotypes of smelly, antisocial gamers that I have found to be entirely unfounded. It's the Cult of the New that has people desperately seeking out the shiny rather than appreciating the old and tested. Together with the fact that there are just Too Damn Many games coming out, it makes it a delightful rarity to sit down at a table with a group who already knows the rules and the strategy of the game they're about to play.

I've made an analogy between learning a game and learning a language before. For me, the learning isn't the fun part. It's being able to converse. I'd stop learning new games right now if I was guaranteed opponents for the ones I already love.

Related to this is the phenomenon that Jesse Dean examined incisively the other day: the lack of what he calls a 'critical infrastructure' for the boardgame hobby. Although the volume of content on BGG is impressive, it's hard to find the types of articles I really want to read, if they even exist. I know plenty of people just want to play games and have fun, but some of us are interested in examing board games at a critical, maybe even academic, level, and there doesn't seem to be a platform for that right now.

Maybe there just aren't enough of us for a critical mass (no pun intended!), although there are interesting hints of what I'm looking for in blogs, some of the GCL lists and other sites (Fortress Ameritrash, Opinionated Gamers). But it really bugs me when I encounter the anti-intellectual attitude that even trying to examine games in these terms is contrary to the goal of 'fun'. I'm very much looking forward to Jesse's next blog post with his thoughts on ways forward for the field of board game criticism.

I appear to have written more about the negatives than the positive now, so I should probably stop. You wouldn't be reading this if you didn't share my opinion that this is a marvellous hobby, and one which I don't see myself ever growing tired of. Here's to the next 5 years, and hopefully not quite so many new games!
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