Exploring the Golden Age of Board Games in our Golden Years
A little bit of Boomer backstory...
I grew up in, what I thought was, the golden age of board games. Our family entertainment was not centered around TV. We played games. Monopoly, Parcheesi, Yahtzee, and so many more games were staples of both our game shelves and our weekly lives.
Playing board games was not just how we passed the time, but a reward for finishing homework, chores, or dinner. Once supper was over, we frequently cleared the dining room table and got out the Scrabble game (as well as the large red Webster's Dictionary) and played until bedtime. On long summer days when there was, "nothing to do," we would grab a stack of games from the shelves including Mousetrap, Battleship, and the ever popular Mystery Date, and game all day. We didn't mind inclement weather, because when all is said and done, is there anything better than a good game of Clue on a rainy Saturday afternoon?
My present day game closet, (pictured above) though much smaller, contains some of the same games I've loved over the years, played by my children and now, by my grandchildren. Recently the grands were coming to stay for a few days, so did an internet search for some new games that they might like to play; games that aren't 'classics.' I was immediately filled with angst.
I remembered my sons growing up playing Pokemon and Magic the Gathering, and how those games didn't seem the same as the games I loved as a child. I remembered the glazed feeling that came over me when my oldest son Joe would try to teach me the rules; as soon as he used the words lands, spells, or planeswalkers, I got a cloudy numb sensation right behind my eyes. About 30 seconds later, Joe, then around 12 years old, would say, without even a hint of sarcasm, "It's not that hard, Mom!" But his encouragement went in one ear and out the other. I never learned.
Hence my angst about the new games for the grandchildren. My internet search had revealed a plethora of new board games, but with so many to choose from, how would I know which games we might enjoy? Further, they had names like Terra Mystica, and Blood on the Snow: The Battle of Suomussalmi! A far cry from Don't Spill the Beans! On top of that, I feared that maybe I had missed a window sometime in the last 20 years when all of these games were being developed. I had to check, so I decided to text Joe.*
Joe shot me a short list of games that his 5 year old Athena loves to play, and a link to an article entitled
"Stop Playing Monopoly with Your Kids (And Play These Games Instead)" Armed with the list, a screen shot of the article (yes, I know how to take a screen shot- I'm not that bad), and my oldest granddaughter, Alana (the one who showed me how to take a screen shot), I promptly drove to Toys R Us.
As soon as we stepped through the giant sliding glass doors I felt transported back in time. I had not been in a Toys R Us for some 20-odd years, and experienced an idyllic mix of Christmas-shopping-frenzy-feeling, and a large amount retail therapy adrenaline surging through me. The board game department is now in the front of the store. 'How appropriate," I thought. "This will be easy."
But once we started up and down the aisles (there are only 2, by the way), we quickly realized that none of the games on the list were on the shelves. I spotted a sales associate by the power water squirt guns I refused to get my kids when they were little, and called him over. I showed him the list. I showed him the screen shot. "Sorry, we don't carry these games," he said. "We have more classic games and new mainstream games. To get these you have to go to a game store." "Toys R Us is not a game store?" I chortled. "Not a gaming store," he replied. (I felt like the little boy in that scene from The Never Ending Story, "Your books are safe...")
We picked up a few classics that we didn't have in my game closet that were age appropriate for the kids; Hi Ho Cherry O and Let's go Fishin', for the toddlers, and new versions of Clue, and Parcheesi for Alana (and me). I was both disappointed and relieved.
The Game Store
A few days later, the disappointment part of not being able to find both new and complex games in a toy store got the better of me. I texted Joe. "You can find those games at a local game shop if you have one nearby. Remember, like TOGIT , in Somerville," he explained. TOGIT, stands for The Only Game In Town, the only building my son spent more time in than the public library when he was growing up. (Yes, he is a geek... sorry Joe). Not being familiar with any game shops in our immediate area, I queried, "Amazon?" "Yep, you could probably get them on Amazon, but Mom, if you have a local game store they could use your support. Amazon and online companies make it tough for brick and mortar businesses to stay in business," he said.
Of course I am a huge supporter of small business shopping, so after another quick internet search and a few clicks to the GPS, I found myself standing with my husband John, who I just call, 'Pep' in the middle of a nearby game store called, Top Deck Games. The store was small, reminding me of the very first video shops when VHS tapes were just coming out, before the days of blockbuster and supermarket sized video rental/purchase stores. The shelves were stocked from floor to ceiling, and the aisles were tight for two people, much less the three or four 30 somethings who were walking around the store. I stood for a moment, not knowing what to expect- hoping someone would notice my dis-ease and ask if I needed help. But I took a breath and started looking at some of the titles, searching (from memory) for two specific games Joe had said would be good for Pep and I to play.
Thankfully, after ten minutes or so of tilting my head to the left, as the games are tightly shelved and sideways, like books, (only 1 in 10 faces forward) I walked to the sales desk. The playful associate (no pun intended), smiled broadly and seemed eager to help. I let him know what games we were looking for. One was "out of print," and the other, Splendor, was in stock. I relayed the story about Joe trying to teach me Magic all those years ago, and how I was ready to try again to learn. "My son said board games are seeing a real resurgence," I bragged. He looked me in the eye, "This is the golden age of board games," he stated.
I'll admit, I was inwardly chuckling. After all, I had grown up in the golden age of board games. He and his whole generation had missed it, hadn't they?
"Let me show you this game," he suggested, as he opened a multi-colored box on the table in front of me. He began setting up a small castle, and several rectangular cards that had pictures on them. "This is a matching game, Kingdomino." He began explaining the rules and moving and placing cards in various positions and started using terms like 5 by 5 grid, and prestige points and then the magic word, "lands!" UGH! I began to get foggy. I looked at Pep, to see if he was getting any of this, but he had the same look on his face as the big white fish in the tank at the diner we like so much. No help there.
"OK, so I can't go more than 5 by 5, right?" I recovered, trying to sound like I was at least retaining part of what he said. "That's right" he smiled!
"Now this game is really fun because in this one everyone gets to place lanterns," he continued, picking up another box. "What's the name of that one?" I asked. "Lanterns," he replied. He went on to explain that Lanterns was also a 'simpler' game also based on matching, and that it was good for 2-4 players.
Then he grabbed another smaller box from the shelf, with pictures of martial arts fighters on the sides, and told me is was kind of like chess, only where in chess, each piece has specific moves and is limited, in this game the pieces rotate moves (or something like that) and can change their roles. The fog was thick by then, so I began looking on the shelves for something familiar while trying to seem like I was still engaged. I looked up and there, staring back at me from the top shelf was the face of Marlon Brando as The Godfather! "What's that game?" I asked hopefully. At this point, one of the other shoppers, a 30 something who looked amazingly like my son, and who had been apparently listening to this whole thing, leaned in and said, "Great game! I play it every night." His friend, Joe 3, nodded approvingly. "I love that game!"
My heart soared!
"Hold on, hold on," said the clerk, "Look at this game." He took it from the shelf and turn it around so I could view it's back which contained a picture of the game, pieces and components all spread out. "That's a lot of pieces." And then he continued without even a little condescension in his tone, "This game is something that, well... we can work up to it." Work up to it? I thought. I can read, can't I? It's the Godfather, for crying out loud. I saw it at least 6 times in the theater, and as a family, we've watched those movies 100's of times! We recite the lines at family dinners! And besides, if we played that game, it would give me an excuse to make Pasta!
"Are you sure?" I asked. He nodded. "You're just starting out- work up to other games in time." At this point Joe 2 and Joe 3 came to the clerk's defense. "He's right, it's not something you can just jump into." Joe 3 added, "I play that game but I have been hanging around gaming a long time." A long time? I have a chin hair older than you, I thought. But I looked my husband, still swimming, and decided to let it go.
I left the store with Kingdomino and Lanterns, and an encouraging, "Have Fun!" from the clerk, Joe 2 and Joe 3. "What a great job that guy has," said my husband, no longer looking at all fishy. "He gets to tell everyone he meets, "Have Fun!"
I was filled with a new sense of purpose. I got into the car and immediately texted Joe. (My Joe... Joe 1) I wanted to tell him about the games I got, but I also wanted to tell him about not getting the two games he had suggested, and why....
Joe said, "Well Mom, in truth you have never played any 'entry level' games. You might have trouble with Catan at this point."
"What is Catan?" I ask.
He said "Settlers of Catan really broadened people's horizons for what board games can be- it ushered in the golden age of board games."
I said "the guy in the store called it the golden age of board games, too!"
Joe said "Oh, you have a good game store!"
*A word about Joe: Since the days of Pokemon & Magic, Joe has kept up and has been active in all types of play. Board games, LARP, and his favorite, playing games with his life partner Karen, and their 5 year old daughter Athena. He hosts regular board game gatherings at his home, tests and designs games and even helped found a non-profit called, "EPPPI," created for gamers to give back to the community in a variety of ways. He is my most trusted resource for all things play.