In Defence of Board Games

The joy of questing with friends

My Photo from the Heroquest Sesh.

sit behind a cardboard screen at the head of the dining table. My plastic horde of minions lies crushed and defeated at the side of the board. My friends snigger with glee at their inevitable and impending win. One player smashes his ‘Barbarian’ character onto each game tile as they near the dungeon exit. The four heroes start to spontaneously chant as the figurine clicks onto each tile: ‘THREE’, ‘TWO’, ‘ONE’. Dammit.

For the third time in a row, the player in control of the minions of evil is defeated. The good guys get to keep their loot and they get to move on to the next quest. With their excited and spontaneous chanting as they close in on another victory, it was even hard for the evil player not to end up rooting for the good guys.

All the evidence littered about the room suggests it has been a long campaign.

Game pieces and dice scattered about the sides of the board. Greasy fingerprints on the glass tabletop. Bourbon biscuit crumbs. Cans of ‘Tennent's’ and ‘Punk IPA’. A Glencairn glass with the dregs of Highland Park sloshing about within. Those annoying little rings of condensation you get when people forget to use coasters!

Not Just for ‘Geeks’

Why the hell would you want to sit for hours and do this? I often hear people talk about how they ‘don’t have the time’ or ‘the attention span’ to play board games. Worse, I think people have a pretty negative mental image of who actually plays board games: some unkempt spotty teenagers in a sweaty bedroom-dungeon, perhaps.

It saddens me to think that some people are missing out on the profoundly fun and entertaining social experience that a simple campaign-based board game such as 1989’s ‘Heroquest’ can give you.

Of course, you and your friends could do any one of a hundred different things to pass the time. The pub. Watch a movie. Play the latest version of ‘Fifa’ that one of you might own. Few activities though, are is rich in conversations and entertaining banter as sitting around a tabletop game with a like-minded group of friends.

The setup is key. Choose a board game thats long enough, with a strong enough hook or theme, to let people get settled. It has to be long enough to get people comfortable and talking. I am talking a length of hours here, not some 40-minute session of ‘Cluedo’.

Sit back, get people talking and watch the hilarity ensue.

We had it all over that weekend. ‘Lord of the Rings’ references, and I am talking some NICHE references here (‘Mouth of Sauron’ quotes from the deleted scene, anyone?). When the Barbarian (called ‘Gerard B.’, a good Scottish name) slew one of my tougher minions, my friend cried that classic ‘300’ line “EMBRACE ME AS YOUR KING AND AS YOUR GOD!”

It wasn’t all just mindless fun either: we actually had serious conversations somewhere, in amongst all that questing. Reminiscing on growing up in Scotland, a friends recent proposal and engagement and the recurring nightmare that is UK politics. The game was a vehicle which allowed five friends who rarely get to hang out together, to have these kinds of conversations.

The Joy of Preloved Games

It is true: board gaming can be an expensive hobby. The market is busting with titles, expansion packs and can be a little daunting to outsiders.

There is something glorious though about buying a dusty ‘preloved’ game hidden in some persons attic and resurrecting it, to use as your own. The slightly shabby box edges, cards with scuffed edges and the pieces freely rattling around inside all add something unique to the experience.

Somebody, at some point, has sat for hours and painted the mighty ‘Barbarian’ like a certain square-jawed Austrian action hero. The dwarf, a little shorter than the rest of the cast, has a cute little blue tunic with a ‘dusty’ look. Not because of the skill of the painter, but from 30-or-so years of living inside the box.

The wizard is a product of his 80’s moulding and comes complete with a glam-rock hair style and a hand-on-crotch power pose. His staff was broken long ago- no doubt during a previous adventure. The elf, of course, has been painted in woodland chic with a number of shades of brown and green.

Maybe at some point, I will get around to repainting the figures but I can’t quite bring myself to undo the work of some kid 30 years ago.

Endless Replayability

No two games will ever be the same. Conversations will be slightly different, even with the same players. The quests will take different twists and turns. You might pull a treasure card and get stung with a trap (oh the irony!). The evil player might actually get to kill one or two of the heroes.

In ‘Heroquest’ every new player even gets to design their own ‘clan badge’ when they start playing. As you will note from the title picture, even grown men with a combined age of over 120 still manage to find a way to incorporate damn penises in their drawings.

I like how, finally, at the age around 30, that five grown adults can sit and quest away the day without really giving a thought to what anyone else might say or think about it. I know I couldn’t claim to have been so carefree when we were growing up together. The shame is that, living so far apart, we rarely get to have these shared moments of joy these days.

This will make it all the sweeter though, when I crush the good guys. I’ll get them next time (shakes fist).

Scottish Teacher and MSc student at Edinburgh Uni. All about Whisky, Beer, Board Gaming and Dogs. Getting back into writing after a long thesis grind.