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A brief history of how I got into hobby games

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When non-gamers see my collection for the first time, I frequently get the responses "Where do you get all these games?" and "I didn't know this many games existed." Well kids, one day your old grampa gamer was like that too. It's time to take a trip, to 2000, back in the days when one war seemed like more than enough for the US, the Dreamcast was a pretty cool system, and Justin Timberlake was just another member of N'Sync.

Christmas of 2000, I'm a senior in high school. Three friends and I spend pretty much every waking moment we can together, kind of like if the title of the show was Beavis and Butthead and Butthead-er and Beavis-er. We've played some games in the past, notably a ton of Risk, as well as all the scenarios in HeroQuest and the Kellar's Keep expansion. For a while in grade school, I hung around with a kid whose parents owned Dark Tower and the Dragonlance board game, but we never played those games enough to get really enthralled with them. And like every good group of nerds, we flirted with Magic: The Gathering for awhile. The gamer gene is latent within us.

Christmas eve comes, and I unwrap a gift from my Mom, and it is a game. Settlers of Catan. Never heard of it. Sounds interesting, though. My interest is piqued, and after we're done opening gifts, I break the shrinkwrap. This looks.... pretty cool. The board is something that can be different every time. There's dice, but they aren't used for movement or combat. There's resources, and trading. After what seems like an interminable wait (looking back, I'm sure it was like 2 days, tops), my friends get back from their respective Christmases, and we pull out the game. It's amazing. This is unlike anything I've played before. This is like those rare video games that are strategy-based, which are few and far between, but which I really like. And, even better, it allows me to play with my friends, rather than being the rather solitary experience. And my friends like it two. Ricky and Robbie, the brothers, instantly use this as an excuse to deepen their familial rivalry, and love denying each other the resources that they need. Ben likes it too. Mom, where did you get this game? A store called Games by James? And they have an expansion for this game? Where is it? Man, Minneapolis is two hours away. But it's Christmas vacation, we have time on our hands, and a car as well.

One four-hour round trip later, we have Cities and Knights of Catan in our dirty grubbies as well. And it's just as awesome, only more so. The game is more complex, but still dynamic and quick-moving, and adds a whole extra layer onto the game. This becomes our game of choice for a while. But now we know that there are game stores out there, and that there is a whole world we haven't explored...

We do some research on this fancy thing called the internet. There's more out there, games on all kinds of topics. We decide to place an order on this site we find, We're going to pool our order to get cheap shipping. I'm in for Seafarers of Catan, the others opt for stuff off the most popular sellers list. Seafarers gets a few plays, as does Rob's copy of Guillotine. Ben strikes out with the gawdawful Pirateer, but his games of Citadels and Bohnanza are real hits. Bohnanza is the afterthought game that put us over the shipping limit, and it's the one that gets the most play. More trading, more screwage, and with some ingenious hand management that means that sometimes, no matter how much that little fucker Rob is busting my balls over that red bean, I just have to suck it up and give him a wax bean for free anyway. But don't think he won't pay!

The others don't like Citadels as much as I do because it has a bit too much doublethink, a trend which will continue for the rest of my life. But I get really into it. Not only does the theme appeal heavily, but the structured guessing game appeals to me as well. "He might have taken the Assassin, and he wants to murder me. My best play is the King, but he knows I have lots of gold buildings, so I could go for the Architect. He'll never expect me to take the Bishop though. Augh! How did he know to kill the Bishop?" This is my favorite game of the order.

Alas, all good things come to an end, and eventually we all go our separate ways off to college. My gaming goes into a slow burn, with a game every month or two. College is simultaneously a great time to find new games, but also an introduction to how hard it can be to get other people to play games. People enjoy Settlers, but don't want to play it that often. I play my first game of Apples to Apples with the Macalester Gaming Society at the first meeting, but don't really feel like I fit in, so never go back to a meeting. Ryan, a friend from college, decides to come to my place for Thanksgiving break first year, rather than spring for a plane ticket home. I end up going to the Mall of America with a bit of work-study income to buy myself a game, something to play during the break with the old pals. Ryan says he's heard good things about The Lord of the Rings cooperative game.

Lord of the Rings is a great success. This becomes the first thing to be a real challenge to Settlers with Cities and Knights for our gaming attention. We play it a bunch over Thanksgiving, dying several times and winning several times. And we play it all the time when we are all home on breaks. During the summer after first year, we play a lot of games. Thanksgivings and Christmases after that also often see us pull out a game.

Meanwhile, at college, a few of my other friends have other games that we play. Over the years of college, I get introduced to more games that other people have played in the past, including Diplomacy and Advanced Civilization, games that will remain in my mind enough that I will eventually buy my own copies, and become all-time favorites for me. Risk 2210 makes an appearance, as does Republic of Rome, although the one time it gets pulled out is so abortive that I have no clue what's going on, and we give it up after a brief rules explanation and part of a sample turn.

As college passes, the friends from home and I pool resources and do an order again, and then I do an order on my own. I've heard good things about Axis and Allies, so I convince Ben to get that, though it flops miserably. History of the World also fails, and I realize that long, conflict-driven affairs are not for this group. Union Pacific turns out to be a lot of fun. Carcassonne is boring as hell, and cutesy and doesn't appeal at all to us. It feels like we're playing Rivers, Roads, and Rails, a game I had outgrown by the time I was eight years old. It's also at this time that I discover, and promptly try Puerto Rico. I hate it, as does pretty much everybody I play it with. What is this slavery imperialist bullshit?

I've also started regularly visiting game stores. I pick up my own copy of Diplomacy when a Wizards of the Coast store is going out of business, and also pick up Fist of Dragonstones and Kingmaker, although I really don't care for the last two. A Game of Thrones board game is a big hit with my friends from college who have all read the books. I try some Cheapass games, and am mostly unenthused.  My opinon of wargames drops precipitously when I try Scotland the Brave, and it is terrible.  I later learn that this has more to do with the fact that it is an Avalanche Press game than the fact that wargames are boring.

I eventually graduate from college, and I start dating Tara. She is actually interested in games. We play a bunch. I buy copies of Bohnanza and Citadels for myself, as well as a copy of Twilight Imperium: 3rd Edition, a game which I am not sure I will ever play. I also pick up a game of Elfenland, which mostly goes unappreciated, but also pick up Memoir '44, the first time I have played a two-player game that I really liked. From there, Tara supports me in buying a bunch of new titles, something which accelerates when I get a lucrative job as a programmer with a lot of disposable income. Eventually, I realize that I am having a really difficult time juggling all the different people who want to play games, and so I get a crazy idea. I start a game group, and I name it WAGN, for Weekly Area Game Night.  And the rest is history.

That's all for tonight, kids. The history of WAGN can be its own post. Now shaddap and let grampa gamer get to the bar!