The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Subterfuge, Violence & Mind Control

Joe Golaszewski

April, 2002

Doctors. Lawyers. Policemen. Hundreds of people walk around every day and don't play games, and no one knows why. Scientists of all nations are baffled. Ancient philosophers studied the phenomenon in vain, and atheism was born. Rather than try to explain this illogical behavior, I will focus on strategic methods to redirect people's perverse urges to write screenplays, build bridges or start families into healthy, wholesome gaming.

The problem, perhaps, is that board games have the stigma of being intended for children. Sound familiar? The scene: you have invited some old friends over for "TV or something". Once they have all settled in, you nonchalantly pull out your brand new, eighty-dollar Roman chariot race simulation with its one hundred and fourteen mahogany tokens, nine-inch pewter emperor, laminated conversion charts, and coveted three-sided die. "Hmm," you say, innocent as a baby snake, "I wonder if this would be any fun?" It is at this point your so-called friends look at you and say:

"A board game? What, like Sorry?"

Those who have been at the business end of the hated and feared "Sorry" remark know all too well the tears of bitter shame that follow.

What does this have to do with the
      Ponderosa?One answer to this vexing problem is the card game. The card game has completely different connotations for the American drone. Cards are considered "cooler", thanks to their association with drinking, gambling and magic tricks. Maybe if people started betting on Candyland or played strip Careers the world would be a better place (I can only assume it would be), but for now we will have to make do with the way things are. And so, the point is this: the first step to dragging the rest of the world down to your level is the card game. I have had my own greatest success with Bohnanza, that delightful German game about the Cartwright family. Just as pot smoking inevitably leads to heroin and horse tranquilizers (are you listening, Mom?), Bohnanza is the first step on a long road to all-night tournaments of Die Macher where the winner is the last to collapse from fatigue or diet cola poisoning. This is a good thing.

It is important, however, not to scare off your potential converts. Gamers tend to like variety; they will have barely tasted the nectar of one flower before they are ready to buzz off to another. Your average newbie, however, is not so fickle. Once you have gotten them hooked on Carcassonne or Lost Cites, they will want to play that game ad infinitum, agonizing as this will be to you. Any suggestion of trying a different product will seem to them a wanton breach of fidelity, and, if repeated, they will come to regard you with mistrust. You must let them thoroughly drink in their first experience with a real game before you introduce the next one. If you would tempt a married woman away from her husband, it is best to wait until the bridal flowers have wilted. After she has been unfaithful once, each succeeding conquest will be progressively easier.

There are other methods of winning non-gamers to your camp, however. If you happen to have children, you can use that fact for a sly little ruse I like to call "The Fireman's Gambit." I call it this because it sounds cool. I do not personally know any firemen but I wish them the best of luck. Anyway, the crux of the biscuit is that it is quite easy to prey on your friends' innate sense of intellectual superiority. You invite said cronies over, again, for "TV or something". When they arrive, however, they find you standing over an open box and a set of rules. The look on your face is that of a monkey trying to understand a carburetor. You scratch your head slowly and bite your lip, your forehead wrinkled from the vain attempt to understand what is beyond you.

"I bought this game for my kids", you say, innocent as a 1-800-flowers.com gift basket of poison, "but I can't seem to figure it out. Can you guys make any sense of this?"

Your friends, filthy snobs that they are, will pat you on the head with an affectionate smile and help you out of your misery. "Poor fellow! Not too swift upstairs you know. Better let us take care of this, pookie."

Suckers! Soon you will all be playing a rousing game of El Grande, and then we will see who the smart one is. It's you, of course! You knew that! Why didn't they?

There is one last little fiendish ploy I know of, one which I call "The Wrath of God." It is quite simple. Innocent as a pink bayonet, you invite your friends over for—yes, you guessed it—"TV or something". Here's the trick: just before they show up, pitch a brick through the front of the TV. When they arrive and find out that their precious television is "experiencing technical difficulties," they will fall on the floor and start crying like babies. A warm blanket or a cup of hot cocoa is helpful at this point—try to remember your Red Cross training. After about fifteen minutes of no-TV, their self-esteem will be shattered, and they will feel helpless and confused. It is at this point that you introduce them to the concept of alternative forms of entertainment. German board games! Of course! Have we been so blind all this time? Blinking and sniffling, they will get up off the floor and bend to your will like a bunch of cheaply-dressed sheep. They may even be willing to clean your gutters or wash your car—the disorientation of no-TV can be just that extreme.

As gamers, it is our sacred duty to cure the world of bungee-jumping and stamp collecting. What's the point of going to an opera if you can't make the little Nibelungen fight each other? Who wins at hiking? All these pastimes are pathetic and they know it. We shall not rest until Settlers of Catan is an Olympic sport, played life-size on giant padded hexagons, where burly Austrian women run back and forth laying down colored railroad ties and try to trade live sheep with wiry Jamaican girls pushing wheelbarrows of bricks.

- Joe Golaszewski

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