Board Games are Competitive. Board-Gamers are a Community.

I have only been a board-gamer for five years, but, when I fell for the hobby, I fell hard. The start of my journey might have been embarrassing or a turnoff if the group of gamers I stumbled upon weren’t so awesome.

In June of 2015, I was looking for people with whom to play games like Pictionary, Taboo, and Cranium. (I hadn’t even heard of Catan at this point.) I would throw board game parties with party games but sometimes had only a couple friends show up. Also, I was single at the time and wanted more people to socialize with who weren’t part of two-person package. I went on and stumbled upon a board game group. “Wow!,” I thought, “Here’s a group I can go to and play Scategories with every Tuesday night!” Nope.

I showed up to the Wilson-Mills Road Panera meeting of The Cleveland Board Gamers, overcame my substantial case of the nerves, walked in…and was really confused. What were people were playing? Were these even games?! I had never seen anything like the myriad multi-hued boards, dice with more than six sides, and explosion of other pieces and bits that I couldn’t even identify.

A really nice guy walked up to me and introduced himself as Mike. He was one of the group’s organizers. I think he recognized the baffled, panicked look in my eyes and approached me like I was a freaked-out deer in headlights. He asked if I was there for game night.

Now here’s the thing, I was there for game night but not this game night. Was this menagerie of boards and bits game night?! I was here to draw “broccoli” with my eyes closed or to have my team guess I was Mickey Mouse by my brilliant portrayal of the squeaky-voiced favorite. But I was too embarrassed (and intrigued) to admit that was my goal. I swallowed my shock and anxiety, confirmed that game night was indeed why I was there, and allowed myself to be gently guided to a table where Splendor was about to begin.

It truly was splendid playing my first game.

Somebody explained the game in really simple terms. I don’t even remember asking questions. I was still in shock—maybe even more so learning a game as complicated as this existed other than Risk and Axis & Allies (which I had heard). I never imagined I would be playing anything like this game.

It’s a little bit of a blur. I think, for at least the first few rounds (maybe all of them?), I was getting rules wrong and asking the same questions over and over. Now, this is Splendor I’m talking about—a definite gateway game with limited rules to learn—not too complicated. Though the actual gameplay is foggy, what I do remember is that the other players were so patient and encouraging. I had so much fun in my bewildered haze that I stuck around and played Diamonds and Poison. (Note: This Poison is the early-2000’s card game from Playroom Entertainment that now comes up as “a.k.a Friday the 13th on Board Game Geek.)

I was hooked! I went back to Panera the next Tuesday night. Then I found out that The Cleveland Board Gamers also met at various Cleveland-area libraries and community centers every Saturday. I started going to those too! I learned game after game and rarely had an impatient teacher or tablemates.

To be clear and to keep expectations realistic, I’m not saying there was never an impatient player. Once in a while, there was a frustrated sigh that I was taking too long. Occasionally, I got into a game that was a little advanced for me, and, rather than given the opportunity to learn, my turn was pretty much taken for me by an overzealous player. However, this happens in every large gaming group and was really rare for me in this one.

After just one night playing games, I knew I wanted to be part of this community and it welcomed me. This was a community of people who simultaneously were competitive game players and individuals who did not play games competitively. What does that mean? It means that these players were in it to win it but didn’t let that competitive spirit overshadow their sheer love of playing games and sharing that love within a community.

The love was infectious. My love for board games has not stopped growing. It is going full tilt five years later.

I confess, even before the pandemic, I had fallen away from the Tuesday-night Panera board-gamers. The past few years, I usually played games at home with my husband or with his board-gamer friends (who became our board-gamer friends) down in Akron. However, that first game of Splendor, my patient teacher, and supportive fellow players changed my life. I am forever grateful for the Cleveland Board Gamers group and the broader board-game community for welcoming me.

I hope everyone who comes to the hobby by surprise, invitation, or intent finds a seat at a table as welcoming as the one I found that June night in 2015.

One thought on “Board Games are Competitive. Board-Gamers are a Community.

  1. Em, I didn’t realize that we both came into the board game fold around the same time! I met our mutual friend Larry at work in the summer of 2015. When he asked me if I liked board games, I said ‘yeah!’ thinking about The Amazing Labyrinth, Sorry, and and card games like Rook and Hearts. I had no idea what I was really getting into. He introduced me to this wonderful world and to all of the lovely people (including you and Jay) that I game with now. <3

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