My seminal game experiences were learning RISK, with the old wooden blocks, at age 12, and not long thereafter stumbling upon a new phenomenon, the game shop, in the seaside tourist resort of Carmel, California. It was the summer of 1978.
What could I afford with my meager pocket money? My parents certainly weren't keen to plunk down money on my behalf in this questionable establishment. So, for $2.95 I snapped up a Microgame called Melee (hmmm, what does "Melee" mean, I wondered) and, for 90¢ each, Ral Partha lead figures of a Conan-like barbarian and a scimitar-wielding Gargoyle. Though I did not realize it at that moment, my lifelong gaming hobby had begun. Total outlay after sales tax: five dollars and change.
High school was a blur of Dungeons & Dragons, The Fantasy Trip, Runequest and sundry other RPG systems. Some light wargaming occurred as well. And then there was Avalon Hill's Kingmaker, a soft core experience blending the War of the Roses with heady teenage hormones and high school love triangles. You see, one of the more studly geeks in the grade ahead of me at school had the bright idea that geeks could meet babes, or at least geeky babes, by inviting them to spend an evening learning and playing Kingmaker. While everyone pretended to be fixated on the map of England before them, romantic alliances were formed under the game table as feet met awkward feet, hands met furtive hands, and couples started going steady ... even as their armies were scattered by rival factions of nobles outside the cathedral towns of East Anglia or Kent.
Fast forward to freshman year in the dorm of a small liberal arts college. It's a Friday evening and seven of us gather in the social room to be tutored in an abstract boardgame called Diplomacy. I play Austria-Hungary to a decisive lead, pushing my Russian and Ottoman dorm-mates out of the Balkans and menacing my Germanic cousins to the north.
Worse was yet to come, in the form of Play By Mail Diplomacy. There was no 12-step program that might have saved me, and soon I was embroiled in up to a dozen simultaneous European conflicts. Negotiating alliances by snail-mail was always more enticing than my graduate studies, yet somehow I managed to complete an advanced degree or two.
For years afterward, I remained a covert gamer. As I approached 40 though, I at last listened to my wife's years of urging that I admit to this hobby of mine. And so I belatedly entered the world of social gaming. My daughter refers to me and my posse as "the game guys." The game guys introduced me to Carcasonne and Settlers of Cataan, and other social games like Puerto Rico and Iliad, all favorites when we head out to a local pub. On the wargaming side there's the impressive War of the Ring, which perfectly fuses my twin attachments to strategy games and Tolkien's books. Oh, and a good 2-player one I like is Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation (deluxe edition), perfect for a beer garden setting...