Games and me: A 30-year odyssey
Remy Gibson
United States
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For my entire life, I have loved playing games. My interest began as early as the age of three, stayed strong throughout my childhood and adolescence (I was fortunate to have brothers that could be . . . convinced to play), ebbed in the first few years of marriage, and then has come on like gangbusters over the last five years. I remember being a preteen and being so impressed with the size of our game collection. We had more games than anybody else I knew, something like 33 at one point. Yes, I know that’s nothing compared to some collections; in fact, it’s only a quarter of what I have myself now.

This GeekList hits some of the highlights and lowlying areas of the games that stick out most in my mind.
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1. Board Game: Blackjack [Average Rating:4.57 Overall Rank:15437]
Remy Gibson
United States
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1979

I don’t have specific memories of when I started playing this game, but I’ve been assured by my mother that it was at the age of three. A stay-at-home mom, my mom encouraged the intense interest in numbers that I naturally have. A favorite story that she used to tell involved me learning to count to 100 when I was two-and-a-half.

Not long after that, my dad broke out a deck of cards and started showing me how to play Blackjack. Excuse me. I mean, “21”, the name by which I knew this game for many years. I guess Mom didn’t want to encourage a gambling habit. The game worked surprisingly well for introducing rudimentary arithmetic skills. As an involving game, though, there’s something curiously lacking when no money is involved. Much like Poker.
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2. Board Game: Rummy [Average Rating:5.74 Overall Rank:6005]
Remy Gibson
United States
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1983

I do have vague memories of playing standard kids’ games like Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and Hi-Ho! Cherry-O! But when my mom taught me how to play Rummy when I was 7, I was absolutely hooked on the game. It had that strong appeal to numbers that I liked; it gave me an opportunity to keep score, resulting in a competitiveness that Mom didn’t much care for, I think; and it was fun.

Other basic card-based games followed, notably including a couple of variations on Solitaire and one particular game that I invented which involved simply dealing out a dozen or more cards face-down, then turning them over and scoring points. Each card was worth face value times 100, with jacks being 1100, and so on, and the values being doubled and tripled in subsequent rounds. I acted like I was on a game show, playing the parts of the host and both contestants.

Actually, that almost sounds kind of fun right now . . .
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3. Board Game: Monopoly: Deluxe Anniversary Edition [Average Rating:5.55 Overall Rank:13771]
Remy Gibson
United States
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1985

We had an ancient set of Monopoly that belonged to an older half-brother, and then my mom invested in a 50th anniversary deluxe set in ... well, I guess it was in 1985, when the game had its fiftieth anniversary. So I was 9 when we got this. It had a nice tray for the money that also had spots for you to slide the properties in standing up so you didn’t have to sort through a deck. The tokens had a nice heft to them, and the houses and hotels were wooden, rather than the beat-up cheap plastic from the old set.

I loved it. I played it a lot. And the only house rule we used was the old Free Parking one (unprimed), whereas the only major rule missed was the auctioning of landed-on-but-unpurchased properties.

I know a lot of people hate this game. In fact, I won’t be caught dead playing it myself if I don’t have to. But I hooked my son on it a couple of years back when he was 5 or 6, and it really does do a good job of teaching kids to handle money, along with more advanced, multi-digit addition and subtraction.

Plus, I can still tell you the cost of every property, every basic rent, and every hotel rent. It’s seared into my brain.
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4. Board Game: Solarquest [Average Rating:5.85 Overall Rank:6799]
Remy Gibson
United States
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1986

I still remember the commercials for this game. Well, not word-for-word. But I do know that Oberon (a moon of Uranus) was specifically mentioned as something that could be bought. That was probably the highest profile mention of that name since Shakespeare. And the commercials were enough to make me want this game badly. And when I got it, I loved it. It’s like a space-themed Monopoly on steroids. So many facts! So many numbers! So much space-y goodness!

So I must have been 9 when this came out, too, since BGG says it was released in 1985, although I’ve always remembered it being 1986. Either way, it explains why my youngest brother (born in ‘81) wasn’t very good at the game.

And this is another game that my son likes a lot. Revisiting it as an adult – and with a better grasp of what a good game is – I can see that this one wasn’t sufficiently playtested. There’s too much money in the game and way too many properties (which is a disease that also afflicts Triopoly). But I was very impressed with the solidity of the little metal fuel stations; they make the box heavy. Maybe I can reappropriate those slippery little devils for something else.
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5. Board Game: James Bond Secret Agent 007 Game [Average Rating:5.05 Unranked]
Remy Gibson
United States
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Another mainstay of my childhood self from ages 8-15 was yard/garage/rummage sales. I grew up in a small town (population ~14,000) that didn’t have much in the way of a game store; even Wal-Mart didn't arrive until the mid-80s. I did always spend time searching through Toys ‘R’ Us for games whenever we went to a nearby larger city, but we rarely had the money actually to buy anything. Which is where the yard sales come in.

Every Friday night (when I thought of it) I would scan the classifieds looking for a sale that specifically listed “board games”, though I would settle for it if it just said “games.” When we had the opportunity to check some out, on several occasions there were even some left! And at twenty-five cents, you can hardly go wrong.

Well. Then again. Even at the age of 9 or 10, this game was a stinker.
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6. Board Game: Galaxy Command [Average Rating:3.37 Unranked]
Remy Gibson
United States
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1987

In seventh grade, a friend of mine bought this game. It was incredibly awesome! This game has combat – space combat! I was super-impressed with the little fighters that could actually dock on the mothership, which itself could move and present a moving target. Take that, Solarquest! I borrowed it right away, and my brothers and I had a blast playing it. Once or twice.

Then I discovered that there was a simple strategy that always worked. (No, I don’t remember what it was.) And just like that, all the fun was sapped out of a game that could have been and should have been incredible. I don’t think I managed to rekindle that intense thrill for another twenty years, when I first saw the pictures of a little game called Twilight Imperium.
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7. Board Game: Chess [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:420] [Average Rating:7.09 Unranked]
 
Remy Gibson
United States
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1988

Of course, I’d known about and played chess since I was quite young. My dad introduced the game to my older brother and I after we saw a set at my maternal grandparents’ house. (He referred to it as “chest”, which was a weakness that I needed some months to overcome.) My brother improved his skill more quickly than I did. Partly this was because he was older than I was to start with; partly I’ve never had the patience to think through the permutations necessary to be really good at the game. I did well on a tactical level (one or two moves at a time), but I never developed a strategic ability at the game. Also, I tended to be very offensive-minded, which is usually a way to get dead. Still, I remember feeling at the time that I was pretty good.

Fast forward to eighth grade. For some reason (and I still don’t know why) there was a big surge of interest in the game. Guys had little portable sets that they brought out during study halls and free class periods. I was introduced to things like the “Blitzkrieg”, a term (authentic?) used to describe one of the two- or three-move victory gambits. I was also introduced to the fact that I wasn’t as good at the game as I thought I was.

A few years later, when my youngest brother hit the sixth grade (andI was a senior in high school), there was another surge of interest in the game in my house. And that little bugger started to get better than me, despite the fact that he’s five years younger. I started to realize that it was just too much work to be good at the game. Then I realized that that was okay. Just because I’m only of average skill in chess doesn’t mean I’m unintelligent.

I still don’t like the game.
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8. Board Game: Trump: The Game [Average Rating:4.38 Overall Rank:15416]
Remy Gibson
United States
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1989

One of the simple incentives that we had to perform well in school was money for A’s on our report cards. When I was 13, I used a quarter’s worth of A’s to pick up this game. How could you not like a game whose smallest denomination was a ten-million-dollar bill? Like Monopoly before it a few years earlier, I found myself playing this one several times by myself, trying to get a high score. My record was ... hold on, I think I’ve still got my top five on a little square of paper inside the box.

brb

... Yes. Here we go. My record is $3.33 billion. I’m sure my “opponent” for that game made lots of stupid mistakes.

I don’t know. Even as I sit here now, I feel like there might be a good auction mechanic in this game. But I’ve never actually played against stiff competition, so it’s hard to say.

Anyway, one of the reasons this game is stuck in my mind is because it’s the first time I really felt Buyer’s Remorse. Within a week after buying it (with my own money!), I wanted to take it back. But I didn’t. And I still haven’t.
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9. Board Game: Risk [Average Rating:5.58 Overall Rank:14685]
Remy Gibson
United States
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1992

I’m not sure exactly when we first started playing Risk, but I think it was around 1992. By that time, I was 16 and my younger brothers were 13 and 11. I borrowed this one from the same friend that had bought Galaxy Command (which was probably just sitting collecting dust at this point), and it saw a lot of play. My next-younger brother quickly discovered the Australia strategy, which I tried to counter (semi-successfully) with a South America strategy. (Because I hate when one strategy is so dominant that you have to play that way. At that point, what’s the point?) It had what I considered at the time to be a high level of complexity for a board game while also offering multiple hours of gameplay. If it’s long it has to be good, right?
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10. Board Game: Axis & Allies [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:1189]
Remy Gibson
United States
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1994

After graduating high school, I really began wishing for a more complex game. Chess is obviously quite difficult to master, but its rules are simple and clear. Trivial Pursuit and its ilk are only as hard as one is ignorant, so they hardly count. Risk is about as complex a game as I’d come across to this point in my life, and it did have a lot going on, especially compared with a game like Monopoly. But I wanted more.

One day, an older friend brought over Axis and Allies. I remember thinking at the time that this was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for: more complexity than Risk and more involved strategy. I still don’t remember many of the details about the game, and I only ever played it that one time – it wasn’t long after this that I began dating my future wife. At that point, not just games but all of my geeky interests of youth (such as making top ten lists of favorite songs, books, TV shows, videogames played, and so on) took a backseat to a more interesting pursuit. But Axis and Allies stuck in my mind. It set the bar for complexity that wouldn’t be broken for some time.
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11. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:2206]
Remy Gibson
United States
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Of course, these weren’t all of the games that I played in childhood; these are just the ones that stick out in my mind. As I said earlier, though, we had quite a large game collection (33!). In addition, I wasn’t above asking to borrow games from friends and family.

Other games that stick out in my mind are: Yahtzee, Boggle, Scrabble, Uno(favorite conversation about Uno: I asked my older half-brother, “Do you want to play Uno?” and he said, “Oh, no” and I laughed and he laughed and then I said, “So, do you want to play?” and he said, “No”), Probe, Stop Thief!, Can’t Stop, The Farming Game, The Omega Virus, HeroQuest(for which I created my own set of dungeons), and other assorted mass-market games.
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12. Board Game: Cribbage [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:560]
 
Remy Gibson
United States
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1995

My wife would definitely not be classified as a game player. Growing up, her family had even less materially than mine did, and her mother was even less interested in games than mine was. But my interest in games, though it had waned, had certainly not disappeared. Whenever we walked through a store, I would always take some time to walk down the game aisle.

One game that had always caught my eye, even when I was younger, was cribbage. You can’t deny how interesting a cribbage board is, especially to a child who’s interested in numbers. Well, one of the faults that my wife and I discovered in our first few years of marriage was that neither of us had a solid grasp of the importance of maintaining a low debt-to-income ratio. So for some time when one of us would see something in a store that we liked but didn’t want to spend the money on, the other one of us would just grab the item off the shelf and display a little piece of plastic.

That’s how I came to be in possession of a cheap little Wal-Mart cribbage board. We learned the game and had some fun playing it, both before and after we were married. Even though she wasn’t a game player and I had become more interested in videogames than board games, when you don’t have cable or a videogame system or a computer, board and card games become much more viable options.

In recent years, I have relearned the game and introduced it to my son. We’ve played some three-player games and enjoyed them. After being introduced to hobby games (Euro/German/designer, et cetera), most of the pre-hobby games I enjoyed I have found to be lacking. Cribbage holds up nicely, though, as a medium-light card game.
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13. Board Game: Bridge [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:494]
Remy Gibson
United States
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1996

Still not sure what prompted me to try to learn Bridge. Maybe it was the success and interest I had in Cribbage which made me re-evaluate the possibilites of playing games that didn’t come in a box; possibly it was the short-lived Pinochlephase that went through our group of friends. But I bought a pack of Bridge supplies (cards, scorepad, etc.) and checked out a book from the library to try to teach it to myself. Having done that, I tried to teach it to my wife and her two sisters.

It went okay, but not great. The mechanics of the game, of course, are quite simple. It’s the bidding, and the communication that can be achieved while bidding, that is hard to learn. This is especially true if – like my wife and her sisters – you haven’t really played a lot of games, and – like me – you’ve tried to teach yourself rather than learn it from somebody else. We played it once or twice, but even fifteen years on, I find myself still wishing I knew how to play, or had the right group to play with. I've run into similar problems trying to play Tichu.
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14. Board Game: Triopoly [Average Rating:5.37 Overall Rank:14606]
Remy Gibson
United States
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1999

Shortly before Christmas, my wife and I were at the mall when we came across one of those booths in the middle of the corridor that had different games. Triopoly caught my eye, as I still hadn’t completely moved on, mentally, from the thrill of Monopoly. It carried a hefty $30 pricetag, but I eventually convinced myself that this was a game I could actually get to the table, building on other people’s familiarity with Monopoly.

It wasn’t much after this that we were invited over to play Monopoly with a group of friends, on New Year’s Eve of 1999. I persuaded our host to play Triopoly instead.

I still feel bad about that.

The guy had been really excited to play his brand-new Monopoly set, so I stomped all over that, which was bad enough. But even though Triopoly promised to be three times as good as Monopoly, I think they actually just multiplied the bad parts of Monopoly times three. There is too much money in the game and too many properties; it’s too hard to acquire a set of properties (which they tried to address by allowing you to improve properties even if you only had one of a set); it’s more chaotic than the game it’s based on; the components are cheap, at least compared to the deluxe edition of Monopoly that I was used to; and the board was just too big.

On that last point: the Triopoly board is actually three boards, one stacked on top of the other, with each higher board being smaller than the one below it. This actually allows you to play a shorter game by just using one or two levels instead of three; but what’s the point of that, eh? A Monopoly board has 40 spaces; a Triopoly board has 92. It’s huge, but due to the way it’s laid out, it doesn’t look it.

This game didn’t get played again until I showed it to my son around the age of 5 or 6. It then proceeded to join Solarquest and Monopoly (along with the abominable Monopoly: Here and Now and the execrable Monopoly: Electronic Banking) as games that he loved and I loathed. Though of the bunch, Triopoly is the worst. Well, maybe that electronic edition of Monopoly is, as it takes all the value of the basic game’s math-skills building and throws it out the window.

By the way, I have Triopoly for trade if anybody’s interested.
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15. Board Game: Risk 2210 A.D. [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:1031]
Remy Gibson
United States
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2002

I don’t really have a lot to say about this game, as I never played it. It’s in this list as an example of the games that caught my eye but I never picked up. Triopoly proved to be a lesson for me. I felt like I’d wasted money on a game that I was never going to play again. (I actually didn’t want to play it again, but that’s not the point of this entry.)

After all, people just don’t like playing games, or at least, adults don’t.

Years later, I’m able to look back on my attitude toward games and realize that this was the underlying, subconscious problem of my game-playing. When I was growing up, people visiting was an invitation for me to break out some games to play. But I have clear memories of my mom telling me that people didn’t come over to play games, they came over to visit, i.e. talk. In retrospect, what she was actually telling me was, “Son, these adults came over to bring some sanity and adult companionship and conversation into my life.” But the message I got was that adults just don’t want to play games. This was then reinforced by the fact that my wife was not a game-player, and the fact that after marriage, my wife and I preferred to keep to ourselves rather than socialize very much.

Again, this was not something I consciously thought about. It was only after I had discovered that people do, in fact, like playing games, if only you ask, that I revisited the conclusions I had drawn in childhood. This has to be one of my biggest regrets about the first ten years of my adult life: that (most) people would have been willing to play games, if only I’d asked.

In the case of Risk 2210, I seriously considered buying it. But I knew that I probably wouldn’t have the time to play with my brothers, and who else would? It stayed on the shelf.
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16. Board Game: Blokus [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:524]
Remy Gibson
United States
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2005

I’ve been working for the Postal Service since 1999 as a letter carrier. Of course, we carry more than just letters; a large portion of the mail has always been magazines and catalogs, too. When you’re flipping through pieces of mail as you walk from one door to the next, collecting it together and organizing it, or when you’re sorting the mail in the morning into walking sequence, you don’t really have time to (and aren't really supposed to) look very closely at the mail you’re handling. I mean, sure, I’ll notice who’s on the cover of People or Rolling Stone from one week to the next, and I’ll be amused by the fact that Bergner’s mailings are either a week early or a week late (but never exactly on time), but I’m not sitting there reading magazines or anything.

Which doesn’t mean that sometimes things don’t catch my eye. Like, for example, in early 2005 when I noticed a catalog of educational toys and games that had a very colorful game displayed: Blokus. I was entranced by it (I remember saying to a fellow carrier, “Look at this game. It’s so pretty!”), so much so that I wrote down the name, noted the obscene price tag ($25!), and vowed to check it out when I got home. It was that pricetag (plus shipping) that decided me against a game that I would never find anybody to play with.

Jump forward to the summer of that year. We were visiting one of my wife’s sisters and her husband in St. Louis. We went to the mall to provide some diversion for our 3½-year-old son. We found some diversion in the form of a two- or three-story Ferris wheel in the middle of the mall. After riding that, I noticed a game store right next to center court. We walked over to it. Can you guess what game they had set up on display at the entrance?

I pointed it out to my wife (“It’s pretty!”), picked up a nearby box, noted the $30+ pricetag, and didn’t care. I had resisted the impulse to order this game, but now that it was right here, I didn’t care to resist the impulse. We looked around the store some more. I know now that it was a hobby game store; who else would stock The Settlers of Catan? I almost bought that game, too, but applied my Risk 2210 reflex and remembered that nobody would play it with me; Blokus I could get at least my son to play. But I could see that there was something special about Settlers, even if I didn’t know exactly what it was. (I still haven’t played it.)

I was so excited about playing Blokus that I brought it to my weekly Bible study group. After our meeting, I brought the game out and showed it off. “It’s pretty!” I proclaimed. All agreed. And then a crazy thing happened.

People actually wanted to play. Almost everybody wanted to play. It became a regular feature for weeks.

My eyes were starting to be opened.
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17. Board Game: Fluxx [Average Rating:5.69 Overall Rank:6678]
Remy Gibson
United States
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2006

My postmaster retired in the summer of 2005. One direct consequence of this was the fact that I felt emboldened to buy an MP3 player and begin listening to music. On the way to work one day in late summer, I was listening to NPR, and they were talking about podcasts, this new form of audio that was becoming popular on the Internet. I investigated and soon found something other than music to occupy my attention as I wandered aimlessly around my mail route.

In the summer of 2006, I was in the process of working my way through books that had caught my attention on the website Podiobooks, which is a site that has free audiobooks available in podcast form. (As an aside, some of these books are quite, quite good; some of them are quite not.) One book I downloaded was Confessions of a Geek Fu Master by Mur Lafferty. In one chapter, she talked about games. And she specifically said, “I’m not talking about the kind of games you find at Toys ‘r’ Us.” Of the games she mentioned, one in particular caught my ear: Fluxx.

On a trip to the nearest large city, my wife managed to procure a copy of said game from a store that had, and I quote, “a lot of weird games.” It was a hobby game store. The games were “weird” because she didn’t recognize any of them. And I thought she was talking about something like Spencer’s.

So what I’m saying is that Blokus and Fluxx were my gateway games to the hobby market. Odd choices, huh?
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18. Board Game: Twilight Imperium (Third Edition) [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:49]
 
Remy Gibson
United States
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2006

After having my interest whetted, I went looking for board game podcasts. Of the ones that were listed in iTunes, one in particular caught my eye: The Dice Tower. The reason? Each week, there’s a top ten list. Perfect! I love lists!

I downloaded the first episode and listened as Tom Vasel and Joe Steadman discussed their personal top ten games. I kept expecting Monopoly to show up on the list, and I was appropriately surprised when it didn’t. But as they went through those twenty games, I took note of their descriptions in order to research them better and find ones that I wanted. I utilized the recommended resource, BoardGameGeek, as I did so. Apparently I created my user account here on August 19th, 2006.

My long-standing wish to find a game more complex than Risk or Axis and Allies was the prime motivating force here. From the lists presented by Tom and Joe, I narrowed it down to three contenders: Duel of Ages, Memoir ‘44, and Twilight Imperium. I saw the pricetags on each of these games, but I pressed on anyway. I knew any of these games would have a hard time hitting the table, but I pressed on anyway. I enlisted my brothers help in deciding which one to get.

Duel of Ages went by the wayside due to possible fantasy elements in the theme. (I am not a fan of fantasy.) My next younger brother (he of the Australian strategy in Risk) vetoed Memoir for theme; turns out he has an issue taking on the role of Nazis. “But you played Axis and Allies, didn’t you?” (I knew he had; they played it several times after I married.) He agreed. “But that’s why I stopped playing it.”

Which left just Twilight Imperium. We all agreed that this was the one to go for, even though it was the most expensive of the bunch.

I set about finding the cheapest place to order it online, settling on Fair Play Games. They had a deal where you could get free shipping on orders over $125. Well, TI put me up to $60, so I figured I might as well go for it. So I added to that initial order: Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Lost Cities (all on Tom’s recommendations), Travel Blokus (for a friend), and Mancala (because it was cheap).

But Twilight Imperium became a force in my life for the next two years. I got a group together within a couple of weeks to play; we didn’t get through the whole game, but five out of six of us loved it. Looking back, I’m not sure how I managed to squeeze in some 20 plays over the course of the next year. And on top of that, I got involved in the community over at the Fantasy Flight forums (which has since migrated to ti3wiki.org) and started playing and GMing PBeMs (or PBFs, I suppose); I ended up playing in 7 and GMing 7, all under the username of GMO. Yes, you could say that I got my money’s worth out of TI.
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19. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:126] [Average Rating:7.46 Unranked]
Remy Gibson
United States
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2006

But Ticket to Ride is still my preferred gateway game, and Lost Cities looks to have a bright future with my now 8-year-old son; he appears to have a firm grasp of the mechanics and strategy necessary to play the game. With Blokus having kickstarted me, and with Ticket to Ride as a solid foundation, the restrictions came off. No longer did I keep myself from picking up games because I didn’t think anybody would want to play. I knew of several that would play, and I felt confident that I could find others in my congregation of 60-odd members.

The Dice Tower continued to exert a tremendous influence, introducing me to different titles and guiding me toward decisions on games I might be interested in. Sometime in 2007, Stephen and Dave from The Spiel did a guest top-ten list on The Dice Tower, which prompted me to start listening to their show, too. For as many games as Tom and Joe (and Sam and Eric) have prompted me to buy, I’ve picked up even more thanks to the comprehensive explanations offered by Stephen and Dave.

So now my collection stands at well over 100 games, and I have successfully introduced games with as much depth as Puerto Rico and Power Grid to friends and family alike. (I know my games are heavily weighted toward those that are rated highly here on BGG. But they’re all so good!) I have become known to my friends and family as the one who plays games. When they’re invited over, they know I’ll want to play something (and they come anyway!); when I’m invited somewhere else, they know (and expect!) that I’ll bring some games.

Ahhh. Games are good.

Except . . .
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20. Board Game: Sequence [Average Rating:5.95 Overall Rank:3078]
Remy Gibson
United States
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2007

Except for the one downside to being the Games Guy. People assume you like the games that they think are the best. In my area, this comes down to two games in particular: Monopoly and Sequence. Monopoly has been discussed plenty in this list already, and I’ll save you from an in-depth analysis of the horror show of house rules on this game that I witnessed once. (One particularly juicy tidbit, though: If you didn’t collect your rent before the next person rolled the dice, too bad! No rent for you!)

But Sequence holds a special place of dishonor in my heart. This is a heavily luck-based social game with almost no strategy at all which seems to be exceptionally popular among my friends. I sat down to play it for the first time as one member of a twelve-player game. It seemed to be decent, if mindless, fun. Then I had the opportunity to play it a few more times. And I was left shaking my head in amazement and near-disgust at the almost total lack of anything resembling a “game” here. I mean, why not just play LCR or Tic-Tac-Toe?

shake

Oh well. If I have to play a game of Sequence in order to convince others to play something better, it’s worth it in the end.

So the odyssey continues.
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