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Having fun with flat: the magic of board gaming

by Matthew Civico March 31, 2015
Having fun with flat: the magic of board gaming

Settlers of Catan is the gateway to exciting cardboard worlds

I have one rule. No puns about board games being boring.

Board games are not boring and neither are they dead. They’re actually in the midst of renaissance and, as a pusher of cardboard tokens, I’m here to persuade you to play more of them.

You may be wondering why anyone needs board games when most of us have easy or unrestricted access to movies, TV shows, videogames, and the wonders of the entire internet. And what’s wrong with kicking back for a Netflix binge anyway?

Nothing—except one insidious fault that is now laced through our entire media-crazed culture: it’s passive entertainment. In fact, all of our most loved forms of entertainment are mostly passive. Through no fault of our own, our friends, family, and loved ones are pushed to the periphery while we watch movies, T.V., and play videos games—even when we do these things together.

Graphic by Marie-Pier LaRose.

Enter board games. I’m not talking about Mr. Moneybags’ Monopoly—though, bless his greedy heart. I’m talking about the wide world of games that don’t encourage murder. Best of all, these games—even Monopoly, in its own twisted way—are active entertainment. I don’t mean that you’ll be active per se, rather that you’ll be actively engaged—socially.

I think this is a very good thing. Active, or social entertainment allows us to interact with the participants by design. Although talking during a movie can be fun, and can even improve a terrible film, it breaks the intended experience of viewing. You can do it, but you’re doing it “wrong” if you do. Active entertainment requires that you interact, collaborate, and even narrate your experience. Never has a night of board games passed in silence.

Because board games are active, they even help you get to know your friends better. It’s like the difference between grabbing burgers with friends at McDonald’s and having them over to stuff homemade beef patties with all manner of deliciousness. Sure, you’ll chat at McDo, but it will be an in-and-out experience. But an evening of tabletop goodness is just that: hours of fun at the table with your friends.

I will never give up passive entertainment. As an introvert, I often need it to recharge, but board game nights trump just about all other activities for me now. Play them with snacks and beer, order a pizza, or go fancy with baked brie and wine. If you get people in a room together where they can talk, compete, and even cooperate, then you have yourself an evening to remember.

Perhaps you’re unconvinced. Fine. This is where I tell you which games you should try. Give them a chance, and when one of them changes your life, send a letter to the editor about it.

Settlers of Catan is the Mumford & Sons of board games—its cool, has depth, and too many people like it. But it’s just too good to ignore; Settlers is a modern classic. It’s more balanced than Monopoly, meaning that you never disengage, because your next Victory Point is always just out of reach. Bonus: it plays in about 60 to 90 minutes, which is a lot faster than a game of Risk.

Once Upon a Time is a card game best played with creative types, but fun times do not discriminate. In OUAT, players use a hand of fairy tale tropes as prompts to reach a random “happily ever after” by telling a story. The catch: you’re all telling the same story, playing tug-of-war with the narrative by interrupting each other with special cards.

Tales of the Arabian Nights is magical. Explore the world as Aladdin, Scheherazade, and others on your quest for greatness. The choice is yours in this massive choose-your-own-adventure game. Will you free the genie, steal his treasure, or challenge him to a drinking game? Everything is possible this side of the Cave of Wonders. Note: best played with dramatic readings voices.

There you have it, my case for more board games.

If you enjoy the thrill of competition, laughing fits, and good conversation with friends, you owe it to yourself to throw a board game night. Oh, there’s just one more rule: always do your homework, read the instructions before hand!

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