Abundance and Possibility

When I was a kid, I always checked out the boardgames in any store. Toy stores, of course. (Although there were plenty of other distractions there too, but we weren’t at toy stores very often to begin with.) But even, say, at Canadian Tire stores.

“More than just tires” as the saying goes. Which is only a saying for a certain clientele, to start with. A certain kind of clientele that probably called it ‘Crappy Tire’ not ‘Canadian Tire’ too. Anyhoo. (Clientele that use the word ‘anyhoo’ also.)

Especially around the holidays, there was always an aisle of games and toys at Canadian Tire. They weren’t necessarily all that desirable (but more so, certainly, than tires or air freshener, garden hoses or TV trays).

There were boxes of checkers and chess sets with plastic pieces (sometimes, too, fancier sets, but never as fancy as the sets for sale in stores like “Den for Men”). And there were some other games too, more interesting games. Maybe not a lot of them, but something to look at.

So, maybe it started there. Because now, no matter what mood I’m in, but especially when I’m not in a great mood, I love to browse games. Not on my phone, not on the computer –    Okay, that’s not true, any kind of browsing for games is fun. But virtual game browsing is second-best: nothing compares to being in an actual store, picking up the game boxes and turning them over in my hands, reading the sides and backs of packaging, picturing the boxes on my shelves at home, imagining them nestled in with my well-loved favourites.

For a lot of people, I know the pleasure is inherently connected with the idea of (and the reality of) collecting. But my browsing expeditions have a special quality which I have discovered is separate from the idea of collection-building. (I do my share of that too.)

It’s partly to do with a sense of belonging. Even when I was a kid, back to browsing those Canadian Tire shelves, I felt like there was a space for me in that store. My parents or grandparents were buying car wax or fasteners, and basically the entire store was built around the things that they wanted to (or needed to) buy. But I had a section too.

Now, in a boardgame store, the entire store feels like it’s a place for me, a place where I fit. (Were I to bring an older family member here, they would probably hover in the doorway.)

But it’s not just that. It’s a sense of there being more ways to have fun than I could possibly experience. A sense of fun on every shelf in every aisle. From front-to-back, from top-to-bottom: a sense of seemingly endless possibility.

My kind of place. No more than just games.

Three and Twenty

Shortly after I began to realise just how much the world of games had changed since I was a kid, I recognized that feeling I used to get when a new console appeared in the arcade, a simmering but non-specific excitement and anticipation.

I didn’t necessarily know anything about that new game, but I had fun playing on the machine next to it and this new one might be that much fun too. I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. It was simply the idea of ‘more fun’.

The idea of board games being something worth knowing, worth exploring was still new to me, even five years ago. By then, I had started collecting new family games sold in independent toy shops in Toronto and our family collectively and immediately stopped playing almost all of the classic games that we had been playing.

“Bonkers” and “Horse-o-poly” had been tiresome; keeping moose out of houses and memorizing food-chain order was much more entertaining. It was still a parenting pursuit, however, not a personal passion. When I was a kid, I played games with my family; playing games was something I naturally did as a father.

Soon, family events became an excuse to gather at the board game café and we tried something new each time, each game more fun than the last. But board game cafes were not common and their retail stock was limited; not one of the games we played was simultaneously available for purchase. Subsequently, when we returned, stock had either been replenished and sold out again or I had forgotten the name of the games we had enjoyed.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, I passed a new board game café and was inspired to browse their stock to see if I could recognize any of the family games we had played, thinking about the holidays approaching, about the hours in pyjamas and cozy socks that could be filled with games.

By now I knew what I didn’t want (any game that I remembered playing as a child, despite their having been reissued to match current taste in television shows or fresher colour palettes). But I still didn’t know what I did want.

Which is how I made a truly ridiculous decision, based on my newbie experience level; buying the boardgame “Munchkin Quest” seemed like a “fun” thing to do. Despite the playtime on the box of 3 hours and the mention of a 20-page instruction book in the list of box contents.

If you’re new to boardgames, I recommend a 4-6 page instruction booklet and a 30-45 minute playtime. But, as it turns out, Munchkin Quest is a tonne of fun and it’s still a favourite on the holidays. And what can I say: I was an ambitious and enthusiastic newbie.