games n stories

Xmas with family was fun. Different– haven’t spent xmas with the in-laws for well over a decade– but fun. Really fun.

We’ve been doing this family game night thing with them about once or twice a month, when our husbands days off align. 

Honestly, I’d probably go down more often on my own during weekdays just to hang with my sil if writing time wasn’t so dear, because she’s peaceful and soothing to be around, but its hard to find the stretches of silence I need to write in peace. So when people (husband and kiddo) are gone, I’m writing, and when they’re home, I’m doing chores or cooking or errands or whatever. 

All told, with the way kiddos school schedule and husband’s work schedule overlap, I think I usually get an average of about 16 hours of time with the house to myself while husband is at work and kiddo us at school. Their hours overlap, but imperfectly. I used to spend that time doing chores and shit, or socializing with friends, so the remaining 152 hours in the week could be straight family and sleep time. Lately, though, I’ve gotten a little selfish and have shifted doing most chores to when they’re home so I can steal some time for myself. 

Socializing is, admittedly, tending to drop by the wayside altogether. It either cuts into writing time or family time, and either way creates misery and resentment (external or internal). 

Another reason I treasure family game nights: socializing.

So xmas was like family game night on steroids: We played Pandemic, Superfight, and Munchkin Apocalypse (Sheep Impact). 

Usually, we only get in one, maybe two games! Admittedly, we were kinda punch-drunk/ trash-talky aggressive by the end of Munchkin Apocalypse, and Kiddo had to be dealt out of the game because he literally fell asleep at the table, but still. We got three games in!

It was pretty fun. We’d actually opened our gifts at home on xmas eve, starting at midnight, and played Superfight around 3 am. Then husband and I played Pandemic twice that afternoon before coaxing Kiddo out for a round of Star Trek Catan (I won), so it was good because we were all familiar with the rules.

Its kinda funny. So, I used to hate board games growing up (probably for all the same reasons my son hates them now: repetitiveness, lack of plot, forced interaction, losing), but as an adult I find myself preferring them to video games. 

Mostly because my preferred video games are, like, fucking nonexistent– I want multiplayer couch co-op action adventure RPGs like the old Baldur’s Gate I & II,  Champions of Norrath, Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes, etc etc. I mean, the Dragon Age‘s were good and all, but they aren’t multiplayer couch co-op! Sacred was okay, but the world was too sprawling; too open. Not a tightly focused enough plot. Didn’t play Elder Scrolls because its not couch co-op, and there’s a specific reason I want couch co-op: to play games with my family. My son and husband. We did play Diablo 3 for a bit, but we finished it and now its just boooooring and repetitive. Same old scenery, same old fights, same old things. Nothing new. Nothing interesting. No plots. Sometimes we play Helldivers or Magika 2, but unfortunately friendly fire is not a menu option but a game default, which is annoying.

So, basically, we’ve played fewer and fewer video games in this house over the years as fewer and fewer couch co-op are available. But then we discovered (rediscovered?) board games, and in the past two years, have accrued: 

  • Cards Against Humanity
  • Clue
  • D&D 5 Starter Set
  • Exploding Kittens
  • Gloom
  • Munchkin
  • Munchkin Apocalypse
  • Munchkin Fu
  • Munchkin Game Changers
  • Munchkin Gloom
  • Munchkin card expansions (6)
  • Munchkin meeples
  • Munchkin Sheep Impact
  • Pandemic
  • Seafall
  • Settlers of Catan (3-4 players)
  • SoC Cities and Knights expansion
  • SoC expansion for 5-6 players
  • SoC Seafarers expansion
  • SoC Star Trek
  • Superfight

And I loooove playing board games. I even download apps when I can to play against the computer (totally guilty of this with Catan) and improve my technique.

I love sitting around the table with friends, drinking and bullshitting and trash talking while we play. I love the friendly conversation and friendly competition. I love that every board setup changes the game a little. I love the different game styles. 

But mostly, I love that we do them together–something I can no longer find with my preferred video game genre, where game developers have apparently decided gamers are all a bunch of lonely single friendless nerds who can only find people to game with online, so why bother including couch co-op?

What’s funny is, I’ve noticed a difference in my husband and my gaming style that was never evident when playing video games, since video games handle the worldbuilding and rules for you. I guess, in retrospect, there were signs, but barely noticeable–the way I always wanted to skip the tutorial, if possible, and plunge straight into the plot (I hated skipping dialogue or cut scenes, though), while my husband wanted to proceed through the tutorial. The way I didn’t care if I died a few times charging too enthusiastically into early battles, while my husband wanted to proceed with caution and a plan.

Now, as we play board games, the differences in our gaming approach are starker, more noticeable. 

Here’s me on unwrapping a board game: Tear off plastic, unpack board and packaged pieces, set things up according to instinct/ best guess. Skim rule book. Adjust board/ pieces according to setup instructions. Start playing, occasionally consulting rulebook as questions arise, or shrugging and creating “house rules” until we “figure it out”.

Here’s my husband: before opening game, he watches a YouTube review/ tutorial on game. Then, he carefully unpacks all packaged pieces, board, and the rule book. He begins to read rulebook in its entirety, but gets distracted by the section on setting up board. He starts setting up board and game pieces. 

At this point, thinking this is the signal to play, I drift over to table … and husband begins to explain the board, pieces, setup, and rules in detail to me. For what feels like an hour, I twitch with impatience and try to pretend I’m paying attention or remembering anything he’s saying, and then we finally, finally start to play the game … except he keeps checking the rules to make sure we’re doing it right, and if the rulebook is unclear, he will google and YouTube the question until its clarified. 

Also, any time a novice to the game joins us, my attitude is: throw em in, they’ll learn to swim. We will explain as we go. No point telling them a bunch of information without context.

My husband prefers to give novices a complete rundown of the rules, rule deviations, and point structure–complete with strategy tips.

So, like, when we play Catan with a newbie, my preference is to guide them to a good setup, with (depending on personality) a brief explanation: You can’t build shit without these resources. These numbers tend to roll more frequently. Build here. 

I figure as we play the game, the role of roads, settlements, etc will become self-evident.

But my husband prefers to go into detail, explaining the necessity of roads to settlements, and settlements to cities. Then he’ll go into detail about the roll probability, and what the dots by the numbers mean. Then he’ll discuss potential strategies taking this data into account.

And meanwhile, I’m twitching impatiently and eyeballing the board for my top six choices of potential starting placement (you only get two starting settlements, but I always choose six on the map I’ll settle for, because odds are one or more of the others is going to fuck you with their placement and you need a backup), and then everyone yells at me for winning again and I’m thinking well if I didn’t have so long to plot!

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