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A look back...

Simon Gingras
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One of the reasons board games have reeled me back in so completely is that they were such a big part of my playtime during my childhood. I owned and played tons of them over the years, and had a special storage cabinet for them in my room. (That shot of the games closet in The Royal Tenenbaums [] fills me with a very familiar sense of wonder and playfulness every time I see it.)

I was born in the 70s, but having a slightly-older uncle live with me and my family for a while means I had access to the earlier decade's toys and games as well. (Sadly, most of it is now gone... things like his Six Million Dollar Man and spaceship []... but I've managed to keep one of his Planet of the Apes action figures [], and his old beat up Topps Batman trading cards. [])

Through this uncle, I got to play with Chutes Away, a great physical board game, which did an amazing job of conjuring up the setting for me every time I looked through the lens at the map below.

From him, I inherited a little pouch of plastic Winnie-the-Pooh figures, along with some small multicoloured plastic discs. I never knew what to do with it, but I kept that pouch for a long time... somehow, it seemed to take me back to the stark purity of my very early childhood. (I have since learned that they were parts of an old board game. I no longer have that pouch and its contents, but looking at the pictures sure does weird things to my head.)

He also had another game, which I haven't been able to identify since my memory is very hazy about that one, but I seem to remember that it involved metal marbles, and some plastic targets tied down with rubber bands which you had to strike so as to make them fly off. Great fun for a young kid, even if I needed help to set it all up again.

He also had an old Don't Break the Ice with taped-back-together plastic hammers.

Another one which I've also been unable to identify, consisted of a small plastic bridge in three or four sections. You had to push plastic cars and trucks on it, every so slowly so as not to make the whole bridge collapse.

Those last two, especially, I spent many a rainy day with, playing by myself or with friends.

With my uncle, I learned to play Mastermind, with the classy grown-upness of the cover...

... which led me to eventually get the Disney-fied version. Although I could play the original just fine, it was much simpler to play the kid version with my friends.

Stratego was another one I played a lot with my uncle, and although I liked it, I never had much success in playing with kids my age. My guess: the pace of the game is slow, much like chess, but the tension of the hidden pieces (where is that bomb?!?) is just a little too much. I haven't played it in years...

Then there's the inevitables... Battleship, Monopoly, Clue, Operation, Mille Bornes... I've played them all, enough to be firmly connected to the Collective Gaming Experience of second-half 20th Century North America.

Chinese checkers is one which I mostly played with my grandmother, along with Scrabble and a small variety of card games. I don't expect I'll ever play those games again... she's been dead for more than ten years now, and it feels like there just wouldn't be any point to it without her.

Another early game was Pick Up Sticks, which is another one that I played both alone and with friends, but which somehow I always enjoyed more in the rainy-day-alone-in-my-room atmosphere.

From there, I move to a period of games that were not handed down to me, but that I somehow had a hand in choosing.

The earliest one I remember choosing is Destroy Death Star, stemming from my love of all things Star Wars. I played that one so many times, with so many people. I remember trying to convince people to play it with me every chance I got. I still have it, and although a few of the little X-Wings are missing, it is still playable. I tried it with my two oldest once, but I don't think they really felt the attraction I once did...

Another one which stemmed from my own interests is The Smurf Game, of which I had the French version. The 3D aspect of it meant it looked great when it was all set up (also good for playing with my little Smurf figurines), a little enclosed area of play. Great fun with friends. Since it was all cardboard, though, eventually it got bent out of shape, and so I no longer have it.

I got into video games pretty early on, and fell into that with the same energy as everything else. As soon as I laid my eyes on Zaxxon I knew I wanted it. Like the previous game, it also had a very nice 3D element to it, and although the gameplay itself was pretty bland, it was immersive enough for me to go back to it many times.

Same with Q*Bert, the video game served as a commercial of sorts, and when I saw the board game I wanted it. A very straightforward and basic game, almost abstract in its simplicity, just like the game that inspired it.

After I saw E.T., I went through a period of slight obsession, like many kids, and the E.T. board game got a lot of mileage with me. Again, it had 3D elements, which either means I was mainly attracted to those kinds of games, or maybe it simply means that game designers saw this as a very good marketing ploy and used it a lot.

Survive. I don't remember when I got it, or how. Was there commercials for it? Did I just simply see it in a store, and latch on to the shark element (which would have been an absolute selling point for me)? However it ended up in my game collection, it would turn out to be one of my favourites. The theme was great, the different varieties of menace in the ocean, the building up of the suspense towards the rock tiles which can blow up the whole island any minute... I just loved it, and it's one of the few board games which my kids seem to enjoy.

With Battle at Sarlacc's Pit, you have two things which combined together to reel me in: Star Wars, and a 3D board game. I played that one a lot too, and even though it's a clear case of Shiny Theme applied over a mostly boring game, I still enjoyed it, and my kids like it too, once in a while.

Stay Alive, I must have gotten as a gift, as it's not the kind of game I would have chosen, but nonetheless I had a lot of fun with it, and it was easy to convince friends to play it with me. I don't know what happened to it, but I wish I still had it.

One which was sold to me entirely by the Saturday morning commercials which I must have imbibed for weeks, is Crossbows & Catapults. What's not to like? Rules to oversee and contain a game where some kids propel pieces of plastic at each other's castles and warriors.

In the same category was the G.I. Joe Cobra Battlegame, where again the game's main attraction is the ability to shoot at your opponent.

Then, there's that goliath of a game, Fireball Island. The beautifully rendered 3D mountain, the Indiana Jones vibe, the rolling marbles... even my 21st Century kids are attracted to it.

It seems that commercials had a very concrete influence on my tastes, because I cannot explain the fact that I bought Advance to Boardwalk otherwise. I haven't played it in decades, but what little I remember is dry, boring, and soulless. Okay, maybe that's a little harsh, as I played it often with friends, but I really can't say I have fond memories of it.

(Another game which I now view in a similar way is Go for It. I didn't own that one, but I played it a lot with friends, and I might even have borrowed it a few times. It was great fun to "buy things" and become a rich guy, but looking at it now it seems very derivative of Life and Monopoly, and even the All-Powerful Nostalgia wouldn't make me play it again.)

The last board game I bought for myself before "growing up" was HeroQuest. What a glorious end to a childhood. Combining my love of fantasy and 3D boardgames, I unfortunately didn't play it that much, simply because I couldn't find anybody to play it with. I sold it during my college years, something which I've often regretted. Thankfully, I found another copy a few years ago.

While that covers most of the board games which shaped and refined my tastes, there are a few more which I must mention. They are the games which I did not play out of choice, but which I played with my younger sister (we have an 8 year difference).

Aside from the staples (Battleship, Monopoly, Clue, Operation, Mille Bornes, Game of Life), she drew me into countless mind-numbing games of Guess Who?, the Hamburger Game (a glorified memory game which I still have, and which unfortunately my younger kids want to play sometimes). Good times, nevertheless, because there was lots of goofing around, and plain-and-simple time together.

We also played lots of Atmosfear, a cheesy game which nevertheless we found very funny, and from which we sometimes still recite some passages when we get together.

The Jurassic Park game, which she got after we saw the movie, was impressive with its large board and nice looking dinosaur miniatures. (Again, the 3D aspect...) I still have it and the kids like it.

The last one I remember us playing together before she too grew up is 13 Dead End Drive, which I bought her for Christmas. It had very intricate traps and the theme was nicely done, but gameplay was pretty limited.

I think that sums up my past experiences with board games, but of course with my recent return to board games there are now plenty of future fun times to be had.

Thanks for reading.
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