Back in 2000 or so, I fell into this world of "German" games after noticing a Funagain.com ad (for Settlers of Catan, I believe) in the back of Games magazine. Upon first visiting Funagain's site, I was put off by the relatively high prices of the games (relative to Monopoly for example), almost all of which had entirely unfamiliar titles. I didn't browse the site again until a few months later, following more links and reading everything more carefully. Somewhere in there, I progressed from put off, to intrigued, to committed:
"We're going to get these games for Christmas, and they're going to be great!"
Our first year's games included Bohnanza, Mississippi Queen, Durch die Wuste, Torres, Settlers, and Big City.
Fast forward a couple years: I was living in my German games bubble, thoroughly enjoying playing our growing collection of games here at home with Thor and the kids, hooked on the New Additions page over at BoardgameGeek.com, and a card-carrying SpielFriek. Yet, I'd never talked face-to-face with another person who had any idea about these games, let alone played a game with them. If I wanted to see a game, I had to buy it; likewise, the only games of this ilk that I played were the ones we bought. Thor and I would introduce some games to friends here and there, but the flavor of those times was more of our showing them what we were interested in—assuaging their curiosity—rather than their being drawn to the games themselves. Throughout this time, I would ask questions online, tapping into the world and knowledge of those Out There who shared my enthusiasm and interest. I would also present my own impressions of how our in-home playings were progressing (often notable for the rules mistakes!).
Then, in January 2002, I received an invitation to Gulf Games in Pensacola Beach, Florida, hosted by Greg Schloesser and friends. To this day, I have no idea why I was invited out of my bubble and into their midst. A quick search on MapQuest (18 hours?!), a fast glance at our calendar, and a sideways peek at our bank account were all I needed to write back to Greg, thanking him for the invitation but regretfully declining. Off and on through the days that followed, Thor would find me sitting alone, staring at the Mapquest results or a calendar, lost in the land of If Only, then regrouping and going forward with our mid-winter days.
Feb. 9th, 2002, my birthday: Thor and the kids present me with some nice stuff, with the final gift being a travel mug. Inside the travel mug, I find an itinerary: a printed record of plane and hotel reservations, with copies of e-mails Thor had surreptitiously exchanged with Greg, rescinding my regrets and registering me for Gulf Games. I doubt I can ever fully convey the impact of this gift on me; even without the gaming component, I was presented with the opportunity to fly for the first time ever(!), and to stay alone at a hotel on a beach for five nights. And then, there were the games, and great people with whom to play them (not necessarily in that order). This was a truly mind-boggling, imagination-exceeding, over-the-top gift, beyond what I could imagine or think to ask for.
Two weeks later, I found myself in Pensacola Beach—it was a momentous event, as I went from zero contact with other gamers to total immersion, traveling well outside my comfort (and imagination) zone to do so. Just the array of games on the tables around the room was enough to give me chills. I spent a good amount of time just taking out game boxes and pawing through the contents, amazed to hold and look through games that didn't come shrink-wrapped and at personal expense. Even better than the games were the gamers, many of whose names I recognized from online postings, and a good number of whom I'd personally corresponded with—having no real expectation that we'd ever meet.
Over the course of those days, finally getting to see and play such a variety of games, I was encouraged to discover that the games I'd already purchased for our family were very good choices—they still stood out among and often above many of the other games I tried at Gulf Games. I realized that the primary reason I'd been able to choose so well is that many dedicated and articulate gamers had taken the time to write about the games; because of their efforts, I was able to make informed decisions. A highlight of my weekend was realizing that a fair number of those gamers were with me in Pensacola, and being able to thank them personally.
I played, and played, and played. I don't know which is the more apt descriptive: kid in a candy store, or deer in the headlights. Do you remember your first game of Web of Power? Of San Marco? Of Atlantic Star, Metro, Tichu, Mexica, Zirkus Flohcati, Royal Turf, Entdecker, Quandary, and/or Tyranno Ex (blech)?! It often takes me at least two-thirds of a new game before I begin to understand "what" I am doing, and to start to formulate the "when" and "why". Playing each game exactly once, I didn't win often (read: at all, for almost the entire time), but that wasn't the point. What a glorious ride!
|Sarah Samuelson (far right), plays Nur Peanuts! during Gulf Games 2002|
Somewhere towards the end of the event, along came Volle Hütte. In that game, great things came together—excellent company, a game that immediately appealed to me, and my first win. Volle Hütte is entirely visual—you see the type of card or tile you and others are choosing, with self-explanatory pictures, for the entire game—and the theme drew me right in. The buck-toothed customers make me smile, and I really enjoy the artwork and "feel" of setting up my little bistro. I love telling the story of Volle Hütte as we play: "See, this Swedish couple here (one blue, one yellow), tired of playing pool, is looking to relax at terrace dining. Oh, dear, you don't have terrace dining? It looks like they'll have to come here to my establishment. What's that? They stiffed you? So sad." I especially enjoy tracking certain sets or couples of customers around the board, noting their spending habits and preferences.
Anyway, I loved the game—its presentation and its playing, and: I won. Other than Crokinole (and a two-player, hidden-color game of Formula Motor Racing that I coerced a kind soul into playing with me at the last minute), this was my sole win of the weekend. Well, I also tied Marcia Baldanza for the win in Cheatham's Folly, the opening night mixer involving rapid position changes and thundering herds. I still contend that our victoriously surviving that contest required as much or more strategic planning and tactical prowess as any of the board games that followed, but the Powers That Be disagreed, and we garnered no medals.
Saturday night, prize table giveaways. Lo and behold, there's a copy of Volle Hütte on the prize table. Woo, hoo! Top of the list it goes.... Random draw. I haven't been called up yet. Volle Hütte's still there! It's still there! It's... gone. The moment someone else chose Volle Hütte, a new friend who was part of our game and who had already had a turn at the prize table, turned to me and said, "I wanted it too, but I left it up there for you—I was hoping you'd get it." I was very touched by his kindness, which hit the mark regardless of the prize table outcome (and somehow, I believe, was very much a part of what finally happened). My turn came soon after and I made out very well. In fact, I was awed at the great games I was able bring home for our family. Later, I saw that the gentleman who'd chosen Volle Hütte had traded it away—a sweet gesture, as he thought the person he'd traded it to would appreciate it even more than he. Towards the end of the evening, this newest owner of Volle Hütte walked up and placed it on my pile of games, as a gift, saying simply that she wanted me to have it. Soon after, I was relating this story to Stven Carlberg, who then smiled and informed me that he was the one who had contributed Volle Hütte to the prize table. As meeting and playing with Stven was one of the happy from-online-name-to-in-person-comrade boons of the event, this only enhanced the wonder and fun of my receiving it.
So: given when, how, and with whom I first came to play Volle Hütte, and because of the generosity and kindness through which I received it (far better than a random draw, or a pre-arranged trade with someone with an earlier pick), Volle Hütte stands in my heart and on my game shelf as more than just a whimsical, endearing game. It's the crown and reminder of everything wonderful that came to me in and through the kindness of so many during my first true immersion into this world of board games and those who play them, and of what endures as the best part, still.
- Sarah Samuelson