It all started long ago, when I was just a wee young lad. The board games that we had were truly awful. I mean, really, really terrible. Sorry, Life, Monopoly; that sort of horrible. The board games were all so bad that even though they were all that there was to choose from, you rarely wanted to play them. There was no strategy. Everything was entirely driven by chance. You might as well not have even been there playing the game, since you had no choices to make. A computer could have played for you easily. And Monopoly- that game was the worst. Within 20 minutes of starting a game of it you knew who had won, but it took you hours and hours of slogging slowly and painfully through the motions to prove that the person which you already knew had won had, in fact, won. Painfully dull. Although, to be fair to its creator, it was meant to show the evils of monopolies, and was not meant to be a fun family game. Anyhow, board games were the worst. The absolute worst.
In my town we had a library- a delightful little library. I spent many enjoyable hours there, reading about animals and fantasy and science fiction and science and whatever else struck my fancy at the moment. One wonderful day I noticed that they had board games. Not a lot of games, but what games they were! Unlike anything I had ever seen before, they promised great adventures inside the box, and they actually looked like they could be fun. They all came from a single game publisher: Avalon Hill. They opened my eyes to what games could be. I started with one which had a beautiful painting of a dragon flying over a castle on the cover, and the tantalising title “Wizard’s Quest.” Upon opening it up and reading through the rulebook, I was terribly excited. There was actual decision-making involved here! There were choices to be made- no more spinners telling you how many spaces to go on a single track. You could have a real strategy in this game! What an awakening for me that game was. Next I tried another Avalon Hill game called Magic Realm. This game had an even more exciting cover than Wizard’s Quest: not only was there a dragon, but this one also had a wizard, a knight, an archer, and what looked suspiciously like a dwarf in combat with the aforementioned dragon. The mind boggled at the possibilities! I spent countless hours reading through the rules and playing that game. After that, I was hooked. Civilization came not long after this, and it broke me, in the best possible way. I had not imagined that a board game could hold so much raw potential within it. This game was the exact opposite of all of those crummy board games that I had hated for so long. It was their nemesis. Instead of giving you no choices, it was laden with choice, so many that the mind boggled. I had never particularly enjoyed playing board games before this, but now that I had discovered Avalon Hill games, I was hooked.
It wasn’t just the Avalon Hill games which were at the library which enthralled me. There were also the catalogs inside the game boxes which those cunning librarians had left in there to seduce budding board gamers like myself. There were so many games in those catalogs which the library didn’t have- games about ancient Rome, about great battles from wars long past or only recently concluded. Games about politics and intrigue. Games about daring pilots in aerial battles. So many alluring board games about so many intriguing themes. I desperately wanted to play them all, but sadly I was young and largely penniless so I had to make do with the games which the library was kind enough to share with me. But it didn’t matter, as my love for board games- the really good board games- had been forged by those games at that little library. Sadly, Avalon Hill games as they were at the time no longer exists. They got bought out long ago by Hasbro, but I will always remember them fondly, and still play their games happily whenever I get the chance. And now as a result I own hundreds of board games, including several Avalon Hill games. I also own quite a few board games from GMT Games, which feels to me more than any other game company like the company which has taken the baton which Avalon Hill passed down. I will be eternally grateful to both that little library as well as to Avalon Hill for initially stoking my passion for board games.
But it wasn’t just board games… Dungeons & Dragons happened as well
Around the time while that was happening, I was also busy discovering another game, but this one was not a board game. This game instead was an entirely new animal: Dungeons and Dragons. A friend of mine had gotten his hands on the rulebooks for the 1st edition rules for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and several of us would meet with him regularly to play. What another watershed moment for me that was, when I first began playing D&D. It was so new to me. I had never heard of anything like it before. There were rules, and plenty of them, but you could do literally anything. Or at least you could try to do anything, and then you would roll some dice to see if you succeeded or failed. And what dice they were! Not just your bog standard 6 sided cubes; there were all sorts of satisfying Platonic solids which you could roll. I had never imagined such dice before. And then the tables- so many tables of numbers to consult to determine how well you did. As a young boy, I found the tables to be extremely satisfying. With tables that scientific, there was no way that they could possibly not be correct. We spent many, many afternoons fighting our way through the landscape of a fantasy world populated with elves and dwarves, magic users and thieves (my character was a cleric, back then as today revered for their ability to heal the rest of the party when things went wrong, as they invariably did.)
The same friend later introduced me to other games like Car Wars, which we also enjoyed a great deal, but nothing compared to Dungeons and Dragons for us. We played it as often as we were able. I bought some other role-playing games to try; Lords of Creation was fine, but it couldn’t replace Dungeons and Dragons for us (sorry Avalon Hill- they beat you out on that one). Later I bought the Doctor Who role playing game. I had great hopes for that one, since I was totally addicted to Doctor Who at the time. Again, I quite liked it (much more than Lords of Creation, actually), but it just couldn’t replace Dungeons and Dragons for me.
Now, more than four decades later, I am still playing Dungeons & Dragons, and now we have reached 5th edition. This edition is much more streamlined. There are no tables, and the math is limited to addition and subtraction. Although that is less satisfying in some ways, it certainly makes the flow of the game much smoother. I approve, even though I still look back fondly upon my youth spent playing 1st edition. Besides, whenever I want to look at huge tables of numbers to make myself feel better, I can crack open one of my statistics books- the tables in those put even the old D&D tables to shame. The lack of higher level maths in the game has also increased the number of people who want to play the game by orders of magnitude, and that is an excellent thing in my opinion. Dungeons and Dragons is a brilliant game for exercising your imagination, building social skills, forging friendships, and fostering cooperation, and there are far too few outlets for those things in these days of coronavirus and internet addictions.