Kitchen Table Games

Games I've played on my kitchen table
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My Top 20 Countdown. #1

Max Jamelli
United States
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And the #1 game on my countdown - Air Baron

If you've followed the entire countdown (without looking over my profile page) you're probably very surprised by this entry. Air Baron isn't a game that gets a lot of BGG love, as it's ranked 1,315 with a 6.44 rating (as of this writing). But, if you think about it - if at this time there are 7,153 "rated" games here on BGG. If Air Baron is at 1,315, that's still the top 20% of all rated games. That's not awful.

If you look over my game rankings, I give one solid ten. I have a couple 9.99's, a 9.98, a 9.75 - but only one 10. The main reason for that is that, for me, Air Baron marks the game that brought me into the hobby. I played games with my dad growing up a lot. We played the usual suspects: Clue, Sorry!, even that game with the New Jersey based properties. I remember my dad trying to branch me out early with games like Gold! and Le Mans as well. I've played many a game growing up (and like many here, that's a major reason I'm still playing). So the top spot in my rankings, as well as my only 10, are homages to a game that will always remind me of playing "real" games with my dad.

When I was growing up, my father had two gaming friends (Art and Greg) who would come over to our house and play wargames. I never really got into Wargaming though. But in my Junior year of High School, my dad invited me over to the game room one Monday evening to try a new game. I balked at first. Monday night was WWF night. But I eventually gave in and tried this "new game that was easy to learn" as my dad put it. He explained it was like "Monopoly with airplanes". Looking back, there are properties involved. There is money involved. That's really where the comparison ends - and that's a good thing.

I remember during my first game I wanted to own New York. I'm a Yankee fan, I want New York -- plus it was valuable . It took me some time, but eventually I got it all. I don't remember who won, but I remember enjoying it. I liked it enough that I started inviting some of my friends to come up and play on Monday nights. We had as many as 6 people playing - my dad and Art, along with me and 3 of my friends. I think my dad and Art were pleasantly surprised that so many "video gamers" enjoyed board games too. This became our ritual. Every Monday we'd play Air Baron ... sometimes twice if we had time. Some people look forward to Monday Night Football - I looked forward to Monday night Air Baron.

We played so much, I thought I got pretty good at it - all things considered. The game had a lot of luck to it with chit pulls and dice rolling, but there were strategies that I picked up on through weekly game play. Every week I'd try something a little new - compared to Art whose first two moves were always scripted. He'd buy West Palm Beach for 2 during round 1 and go into San Antonio during round 2. There was a Monday night he was running late and we played through 2 rounds for him. When he sat down, he was thrilled to see what "he" had bought.

Since I'd been playing for a few years, my dad thought the next logical step in building the hobby up for me was to take me to a gaming convention. I could never go to Avaloncon during High School because I played football and had practice every evening. By this time though, I was out of High School. During college summers though, I worked every day and needed to save up some money for school. But in 2000, I was doing an internship unpaid, so I took some time to go with my dad to AvalonCon - but by this time is was known by it's current moniker of the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC). I'd been to an Origins convention years before (and I won a match of Dungeons and Dragons there too) so I wasn't totally against going. I was nervous though. I only knew my dad and I knew he'd be playing a lot of different war games. I only knew 2 games (we also played Gangsters and I sorta remembered how to play it). I decided to go though.

I remember a few things from that initial trip. First - sitting at a bar with my dad. I ordered a Budweiser. He ordered a Guinness. I looked at him and asked "Are you sure about that?" He said he saw the tap and it sounded good. He took a sip of it and asked the bartender if he could trade for a lighter beer. I remember meeting a few younger gamers (about my age) who taught me Catan. They said it was the most awesome game ever. At the time, I was not impressed. I don't learn games quickly though, and they taught me pretty quick. I also remember my heats of Air Baron.

During the initial heats, I played in all 4. I won my first heat (and was REALLY excited about it, but held it in). I showed up for the second heat, and won my table there as well. I had nothing else to do except play in heat #3 - and when I took the results sheet to Ben the GM - he looked at me and said "You know, you're in the semi-finals already, you don't have to keep winning". I laughed and told him that Air Baron was really the only game I knew.

Ever since I've played Air Baron at WBC, I've made the Semis every year, and every year I have a bad semi round. The closest I came to a final was that first year. I remember taking control of Chicago early and getting enough money to fortify it with Jumbo jets on 3 spokes. I tacked on a foreign spoke as well as took over Detroit. I was just hoping to get a few paydays and go out. I had a few other random spokes out there with Jets on them as well. I had all 6 of my planes deployed on the board and late in the game I was $21 from going out. During that round, some jabrone pulled the recession chit. ugh. Had to last into the next round then to try to win on cash. As it turns out, my chit pull that round was Jumbo profits / Jumbo Profits. I had a $60 payday reduced to $2. It was the last payout I would see for the game. Three rounds later, a fella named John took over LAX and had market share to win. I later learned John ended up winning the whole tournament, so I felt pretty good about losing to him (if I had to lose). It's been over 10 years and that double jumbo recession still sticks. In subsequent tournaments I've had so much fun in the heats. In the 2010 event, 3 of my opponents and I formed a table "boy band". We were playing against a girl and we serenaded her with a very poor rendition of something. It's really the people that play Air Baron at WBC that make it a fun event.

Playing at WBC:

During the 2000 WBC I got to meet the designer of Air Baron. To be honest, I never looked at game designers as real people. To me, they were like rock stars - people that may exist, but people I'll never get to talk to. Obviously that's not the case, but to me back then I was almost awestruck. I talked to him about how he came up with the design and got to ask my most pressing question "what is San Juan doing up in New York as opposed to something like Newark?" Turns out his plan had Newark as a part of the entire New York hub and the San Juan spoke was a connection that is often made from New York.

the blue jay pin was a superstar baseball game pin -- not a fan pin

In 2004 I got married and moved 2 hours away from my hometown. In 2003 though, I made sure I secured a copy of Air Baron for myself. I picked up a copy on Ebay, new in shrink. I didn't open it until I moved away. In the move, I moved away from my primary gaming buddies Art, Greg, and my Dad. There were many Monday nights I missed playing Air Baron. But I was lucky enough to marry someone who also liked games. We just never played Air Baron very often since the 2P version wasn't as good as 4 or 5. Jen rated it a 7 though, and said she enjoyed going for Fare Wars. It ranks 14th on our combined ratings geeklist.

I did introduce Air Baron to my in laws and I think my sister in law liked it enough to buy her own copy. We only played a couple times, but I thought it was cool to have Air Baron be the game that springboarded us into a new gaming group.

As it is, WBC is now the usual place for me to play Air Baron. I play it there as often as I can. In 2010, my dad made the final table which was pretty cool. I figured if I couldn't make it, I can live vicariously through him for one year. He finished 4th I think. Yet again, the player who won my semi-final table, Ken this time, went on to win the whole thing. I think I've lost to the eventual Champion 2 of 3 years and the odd year out the winner of my semi finished 2nd.

There are so many other stories I can think of with this game that I won't bore you with. A 3+ hour event at WBC where I needed only to win 1 die roll to win, with a +5 drm - and I rolled snakeeyes on 4 straight rolls! I did eventually win. There was a kid at the table who really wanted to go play something else near the end, so he started kingmaking for another guy -- and then since I was so close he started kingmaking for me. I apologized to the other players when he left. That win felt worse than many losses I took because of the players in the event. Losing a fun game was always better than winning that one.

Final Thoughts
When I started buying microbadges, I saw many games had a fan badge. Air Baron never did, so I designed a Microbadge for Air Baron

This wraps up the countdown. I've had so much fun doing this, that I'm going to start counting UP now. Starting at #21, I'm going to try to get to my top 50. I know Tom Vasel puts out a top 100 every year ... I'm gonna try to get to half of that. 20 in the books, 30 to go.
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