When we were first married and it was just the two of us, one of our first joint decisions was to ditch cable TV. I think this worked out great. While we were dating we wasted hours just sitting on the couch, not interacting with one another, watching the most inane TV shows with commercials! (This was before DVR became a thing).
By ditching cable TV, we saved a ton of money, but more importantly, we saved a ton of time. We still watch TV shows and movies, but we make sure it’s something we’re going to enjoy before we add it to the queue, and we are no longer slaves to the scheduled broadcasting dates and times. We’ll get to it when we feel like it! TV schedules do not control us anymore.
But without the glow of our TV screen luring us in like moths to a flame, we have a lot more hours in the day. (Seriously, TV sucks up a lot of time. Do the math!) One of the ways we choose to fill those vacated hours is to sit down together and play board games.
Board games? Really?
A few key points in favor of board gaming as an activity with your spouse:
- You get to actually use your brain. You get smarter. Your brain gets faster at solving problems. You get better at planning, calculating, deducing, strategizing. Having a clever brain will serve you well in all areas of your life. Work that grey matter!
- You learn about yourself, how your own brain works, what you’re good at, what your partner is better at than you, why that’s okay and can be fun.
- You learn how your partner thinks, how their mind works. The more you play, the more you learn about each other in ways that conversation would never reveal. In public, my wife is the sweetest, gentlest, kindest Care Bear you’ll ever meet and she will bend over backwards to help anyone with their problem, but if the opportunity presents itself in a board game, she will wait in silence for the perfect moment to sabotage all of your carefully laid plans in a single move to crush you in end game scoring. No mercy! Getting to know your spouse on a more intimate mental level is just awesome.
- You don’t have to play mean. Some of our best games are when we help each other solve each other’s difficult problems. Sometimes it’s fun to just work together and get the best scores possible. Being able to work together as a team is going to serve you well in life. (Stay tuned for Best Games for Couples and Best Cooperative Games)
- You’re actually interacting with each other instead of sitting in mutual silence staring at the TV. You’re companions for a reason. Play together! Have fun! Whoever has the most happy memories wins. It’s a race! Go!
Testing the Waters
Our first games were a random sampler platter of whatever the guy at the game store recommended. Ticket to Ride: Europe, Guillotine, and Kill Doctor Lucky.
Right away we learned a few things: minimum player count and minimum recommended player count matter. It’s hard to get games to the table when they require (or are most enjoyable with) a minimum of 3 players and you only reliably have 2. Guillotine and Kill Doctor Lucky got played, eventually, but they felt like a waste of money at the time because of the limited opportunity to play them.
We just didn’t know anyone who wanted to play games back then. So that left Ticket to Ride: Europe, which was always just okay to me. Even in our first plays I felt that it was a bit on the light side, but it was simple and straightforward and eased us into modern boardgames.
That’s not to say it’s a bad game or a disappointing purchase. To date it continues to be an all-time favorite when we introduce a game to non-gamers. It’s a perfect game for convincing people that modern board games aren’t like Monopoly and Risk. Whenever I think about trading it away, my wife asks me to keep it for this very reason. Friends come over for dinner: “Can we play the train game again!?”
And then there were more
This batch of games lasted us about two months and then I got antsy. Judging by the number of board games I’ve owned so far, I must get antsy a lot.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that there were better games out there. By this time I had looked online a little bit for game reviews and heard mention of Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne more than a few times, but didn’t know much about them other than they were somewhat popular. We headed back to the game store.
I remember the big Settlers of Catan display with all its expansions. I didn’t even know what expansions were yet. It just looked like different flavors of the same game. Which box was I supposed to start with? Was it like a series of novels? Did I have to play them in a certain order? They even had a demo of the game out on a table and it looked beautiful and interesting. This is when the clerk came over and started chatting us up.
While trying to decide which game to buy, I started thinking back on my experiences with that first batch of games. It was a choice between Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan, and then I realized Catan had a minimum player count of 3. I wanted something we could play as soon as we got home, just the two of us. Carcassonne it is!
Near the checkout lane I caught a glimpse of something Sherlocky which caused me to veer abruptly away from the cash register – Letters from Whitechapel.
The box art on this game was all the reason I needed to buy it. I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, love the mystery surrounding Jack the Ripper, and am a big sucker for Victorian era London as a thematic setting. That it came with a solid recommendation from the store clerk sealed the deal and we walked away with two new games with a 2 player minimum.
I’ve already mentioned our love for Carcassonne (and there’s a lot more to say about it), but Letters from Whitechapel offered something completely different: Hidden Movement. This was to become one of my favorite types of games. I’ll discuss each of these games in more detail soon.
The purchase of these two board games was the spark that ignited my interest in this hobby. They provide a beautiful presentation and the simplest of mechanisms, but still offer clever tactics and strategy and hidden depths to explore. They get better the more you play them, and you learn as much about your opponent as you do about the game.
If I had to recommend one game for a first-timer, it would be Carcassonne.
Over to you, Collin!
Collin had his first Carc experience recently. Then he demanded we play it again, 6 times in a row. Any thoughts to share on that experience?
[Collin] I know I’m getting addicted to a game when weeks go by and I’m still thinking about it. I think the thing that struck me about this game was the incredible potential for depth with so few rules.
The first thing I thought was “Oh, it’s like a Blizzard game!” I’m a huge Blizzard fan boy because their games are always easy to get into but difficult to master. This, to me, is the sign of a well-designed game. I genuinely did not want to stop playing once we got started. It didn’t matter that Steve won every time. I couldn’t get enough.
[Steve here – Collin actually won the 6th and final game. I want that on the record. Granted, this was after I drank my third liter of delicious German beer, but a win is a win!]
Each playthrough taught me a little more. I would see something Steve did and think “OH! Genius! – I can’t wait to do that to him.” I never felt frustrated because being good at this game is on me and my ability to work within the rules. For me, frustration comes when others are better because they just know more than I do about the rules. With Carcassonne, I knew all of the rules by the end of our second game. After that, it was all up to me, and I loved that.
I just want to know…are you ready for a re-match?
[Steve] Bring it.