Welcome to Tabletop Confessions. If you’re reading this, there is a decent chance you have logged more hours around a table than I. There, my first confession. Each installment I intend to document my immersion into a new way to play, for me anyway. My background is that of a comic-book-reading, video-game-playing, wordy-word-writing fan of all things creative. We’ll get to the games, but I figure if you’re going to come along for the ride it may be best to introduce myself.
For too long I avoided tabletop gaming. Like a hydrophobic fool afraid to dive into the deep, I was intimidated by the thought of drowning in a pool of dice and figurines. I had only ever wetted my feet, timidly clinging to the shallow waters of Milton Bradley and the Parker Brothers. All the while I was apprehensive about letting go of the familiar glow that glued me to rectangular screens for countless hours.
Board games can come across as a series of laborious commitments, a long swim when all one wants is to float. Each variation mandates a unique combination of strategy and patience in order to brave its enigmatic mechanics. Just recently have I realized this was a boon instead of a burden; all it took was a nine-hour road trip with a few fortuitous stops along the way.
Last month I drove from Tampa, Florida to New Orleans with my partner in crime, Jessie, to attend our first Wizard World convention. It would make sense that my newfound enthusiasm for all games analog stemmed from the con itself, but lo and behold she and I managed to escape that pop-culture flea market with our wallets (mostly) intact.
Our journey down the proverbial rabbit hole began as Lewis Carroll intended, thanks to a mismanagement of time. The vast majority of pavement between Tampa Bay and New Orleans is dedicated to a seemingly endless stretch of Floridian countryside. We happened to be passing Gainesville, my collegiate stomping grounds, right around lunchtime and I knew exactly where we should stop to eat. After many miles spent hyping our meal-to-be, we arrived an hour before the restaurant opened. We were early, early for our very important lunch date.
With time to kill we searched for familiar haunts. Our hunt took us to the university comic shop where I used to grab my books back when I should’ve been studying. It had gone out of business, as comic-book stores tend to, though a retro gaming shop sprung up in the same strip mall, as they too tend to do as of late. Despite never being a collector of old cartridges, I am always game to take a stroll down memory lane. Jessie is ever the good sport, which will only become more evident as I ramble on, and she started chatting up the shopkeeper about the logistics of making a business out of fun and games.
More than anything he emphasized how his store was home to a community as much as it was a purveyor of interactive entertainment. We had stumbled upon Gainesville’s hub for unplugged players of all creeds: dungeon runners, magic gatherers, pokemaniacs, and, to the point, board gamers. While I grew up mashing ‘a’ and ‘b’ during 8-bit adventures, Jessie was raised on cutthroat rounds of Monopoly and Michigan Rummy. My favorite part of our vacation was watching her discover the diversity of what was playable on a tabletop. Our influences rarely overlap, outside of ToeJam and Earl somehow, though I like to think that is why we get on so well. Board games seemed like a middle ground we could share despite approaching it from opposite angles.
We left Gainesville with a short list of suggestions that the guy behind the counter was all kinds of enthusiastic about, ranging from X-Wing to King of Tokyo. Over the next three days Wizard World New Orleans marched in like a lion and out like a lamb. Our last night in Louisiana was spent hanging out with an old friend who has forever changed our life with four little words, “Ever play Catan before?”
No. No we had not. Three hours later we were struggling to decide whether we should step away from the table, in the name of getting precious hours of sleep for tomorrow’s 700-mile drive home, or if we could maybe play another game. After two more matches we finally had to call it quits, chatting most of the way back to Florida about investing in what has quickly become a burgeoning tabletop collection.
And here we are. I’ve got a pile of games to pick from and every intention of journaling each minute of it. There’s just one problem: we have no idea what we are doing! I’d love for Tabletop Confessions to be a ‘choose your own adventure’ of sorts, rather I’d like for y’all to help direct our course. So far we’ve picked up Rivals and Settlers of Catan, Android: Netrunner, CO2 and Firefly: The Game. Jessie also wanted Monty Python Fluxx, a nostalgic nod to her BBC-fueled childhood, and of course I complied. This column shall forever be guided by one motto: “Don’t say no to games.” Please join me as I try to make up for lost time. The deep end isn’t so bad after all!