Are You A Board Game Fiend?

A ruthless board gamer writes about her favourite pastime

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan Published Jun 22, 2020 15:54:50 IST
Are You A Board Game Fiend? (Left:) The author in a Splendor board-game session in Hanoi, Vietnam; (right:) back home, a board game session in the company of the author's cat, Olga da Polga (Photos courtesy Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan)

Bookish people, nerdy pop-culture people and people who like to socialize, but do not like to go to a bar or a restaurant, all probably have one thing in common in their circles. There'll always be that one set of friends who have been collecting board games for so long and with such devotion that no sooner do you learn the rules to one that you are whisked away to another. With these friends you discuss all sorts of games, what's good, what's bad, what's winning prizes, they always know and like good librarians everywhere, will guide you towards something you'll love. In India, most of these games are still quite expensive, so a lot of people gravitate towards board game cafes—a mushrooming business in India pre-coronavirus times—and make a night of it, unless you're lucky and you have rich friends with the same interests as you. Or you're lucky like we were.

My partner and I were in Vietnam one year, and we stumbled into a board game cafe, and asked for a two-player game, and one of the Board Game Baristas guided us through the rules of a game called Splendor. We were so hooked, that when we stumbled across a Vietnamese board game shop we bought Splendor and then, drunk on our purchasing power, messaged one of our Board Game Friends and let him tell us what to buy.

16139932439_2dfb408ff4_c_062220034744.jpgA game of Splendor (Photo: Flickr)

All the games were made in China, so they were essentially pirated editions (except oddly, a card game called Exploding Kittens, which is so popular in Vietnam that it has its own language edition). We even went back the next day, and an unexpected thunderstorm kept us inside the shop, so the two shop assistants shuttered the doors and sat down on the floor and played Splendor with us. No need for a common language between us, since we all knew the rules, and “Yes, I'm winning!” looks the same everywhere.

Returning home with our cheap games, we found ourselves becoming the Board Game Friends. People messaged for us to bring some games, and we had enough by now that we didn't have to play the same game twice. Our friends began to quietly acquire games too, not just the hardcore Board Game Friends, but regular folk, just like us, sucked into this world, and soon, nights out began to be laced with the question, “Shall we play a game?” Like drug dealers we brought out our collections for all to admire, the fancy boxes, the pretty, thick cards, the weighty tokens. The person who owned the games always had a quick patter on how to play. Somehow I preferred YouTube—there was always some man, ready to explain, how everything worked.

exploding-kittens_062220034827.jpgExploding Kittens (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

It's usually men that play games, whether its online or across a table from you. Looking up some research online—still nascent—I found that according to one study in the US, 74.6 per cent of all respondents were male. While I play mostly with equally ruthless couples, I can see how competitiveness might be more acceptable in men than in women, who are, after all, socially conditioned to be nice.

Now, of course, with all plans of a social life indefinitely shifted into the future, we're beginning to pull out our two-player games again. It's one way of bonding, across the dining table, a cat lounging nearby, the desire to win, bringing your heart rate up pleasantly. There are virtual game websites, where you can invite four friends to a game, but it won't be the same, will it? But then, will anything? The one good thing is that you no longer need a Board Game Friend. It's all there, virtually, waiting for you to get started.

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