Saturday, 12 February 2011

The Reluctant Geek - Bored? Games!

Over Christmas I spent an unfeasibly large amount of time in the pub. In those four or five days before the big event itself I was barely away from the Railway. If I’d taken a toothbrush and a sleeping bag I could happily have stayed overnight. I say this not to boast, nor to announce my alcoholism to the world (My name is Kate Townshend and I’m *not* an alcoholic) but as a prelude to this week’s subject. Because you see, aside from the sparkling conversation of friends and the more or less constant availability of sausage, one of the things that enabled us to hole up there with such persistence was a variety of board and card games, ranging from the silly to the serious.

I’m not sure how geeky board games are really considered to be these days, perhaps they have garnered some currency in the recent mainstreaming of geek culture in general. Certainly there is a sliding scale to be observed. From the almost chavvy at one end with games like Family Fortunes and Mr and Mrs catering to the masses (No intellectual snobbery here, honest!), to the traditional long haul contenders like Scrabble and Monopoly, to the quirky and cool end of things. Which I’m sure, dear readers, is the place that we can agree we all belong. There is also of course, the realm of the super-geeky sci-fi board game and we might well belong there too, but you take my point...

So without further ado, here are a few of my personal favourites. I’m not claiming them as particular zeitgeists of the gaming world, nor is their appeal necessarily confined to some kind of geek elite, but they *are* the ones that taught me it’s ok to be a gamer!

Apples to Apples
Apples to Apples hits all the right buttons as far as board games go. Matching adjectives to nouns perhaps doesn’t sound like a riotously good time, but actually, it’s sociable, culturally adaptable and enables players to mould playability to their own particular style. Thus if you want to keep things simple you can just go with the most sensible option. If you want to play the intellectual game then you can peer suspiciously over your cards, sizing up the psychology of your opponents. And if, forgive the expression, you’re in it for the ‘lolz’, then there is almost always an innuendo to be forced into proceedings.

Ticket to Ride
Some board games manage to evoke a sense of atmosphere that becomes a massive contributory factor to their appeal. Ticket to Ride is one such game - with versions set in both the US and Europe - in which players seeks to collect trains and fulfil tickets by creating journeys across the board. There is something wonderfully elegant about traversing European cities at the turn of the century and the game design very much nods towards a sense of nostalgia. Aside from this though, the game play lends itself to a certain competitive edge with multiple opportunities to screw over your opponents should that be your particular penchant.

Tales of the Arabian Nights
It’s possible that I’m about to get all literary again, but Arabian Nights is a wonderful combination of choose-your-own-adventure style narrative and board game. You become a hero or heroine seeking your fortune in the mystical East, and coming into contact with all manner of princesses, efreets and sorcerers as you do so. A nice touch is that your fellow players read out your encounters which rather creates the impression that your fate is in their hands, and leads to a reasonable amount of evil cackling as they savour the moment before they reveal you are about to be turned into a giant hairless ape. You have multiple opportunities for choosing the best reactions in the circumstances you are exposed to as well, allowing players to play to their strengths and either beat, cheat or seduce their way out of trouble. I’ll leave it to you to figure out my preferred option. What the games lacks in strategic relevance it more than makes up for in immersion and style, so it really is a bit of a diamond in the rough.

This is of course a tiny if eclectic foray into the gaming world. But board and card games occupy an interesting position at the intersection of ‘geeky’ and ‘normal.’ I urge you to embrace this duality further and play them in the pub! The Railway serves great sausages...

Kate Townshend recommends the dijon mustard at the Railway...

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