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The Unboxing of a Gaming Group

Part 1: All the Great Ones Have an Origin Story

Heroes, villains, gaming groups......the really interesting ones are only interesting because of how they came to be. And most of them came to be as a result of some accident or strange twist of fate. The Fun Group is no exception.

The Fun Group

(NOTE: all the great ones also have a catchy name too. I know this. Just as I know "The Fun Group" is lame. I originally called us "The Wednesday Night Gaming Group" but that freaking Steve and his schedule, we only occasionally met on Wednesday nights. So I came up with "The After-Work Fun Group" because we always played after work and because fun. And then Steve got laid off and Workman and I quit and while technically still after work, we stopped playing AT work, so the name felt stupid and all we were left with was fun. Which is not so lame at all, really, now that I say it that way.)

Anyway.....how did the planets align such that these four people started coming together once a week to play games and talk about life things? A guy I don't know, and his wife, and their front porch, that's how. Allow me to explain.

I knew everyone in the Fun Group from work, but to varying degrees. I knew Workman the longest and the best. We had been thrown together three years earlier on a sinking ship of a software development project, he as a developer and me as a project manager. It was not always a great collaboration, but over time, we became a great team (and we saved the sinking ship in spectacular fashion.) And we became good friends. We were kind of an odd pair, since I'm all old and frumpy and he's all young and hip. But the best friendships are the ones you don't see coming. One of the things we had in common was board games. We hadn't actually played a ton of games together, but we talked about games a lot. (Interesting sidebar, the first game we ever played together was Jaipur. And I won. And he was stunned. I remember thinking "He's genuinely surprised that I won." Little did I know......)

I also knew Leon from work, but not as well. Mostly just from passing in the break room and working with his team on the odd project. And I knew he played games. I honestly don't remember exactly how this came about, but I taught him to play Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn in the break room one day, and from then on it was a thing. We played Ashes almost every day at lunch for months. And I loved playing games with Leon. He's super smart and a good player, and he's not chatty. (When he does talk during games, it's usually hilarious.) He mostly won our games, but when I did occasionally win, I really felt like I'd accomplished something.

And then there was Steve. I knew him just barely. I knew he was friends with Leon, I knew he was a gamer, and I think that's about it. He worked over in the corner with the cool kids on the atlas team, so our paths didn't cross for work stuff ever.

And then one morning, Leon and Steve appeared at my desk. "You want some new board games?" It was very much like that scene in Titanic when Leonardo DeCaprio meets Kate Winslet on the staircase and says "You wanna go to a real party?" Except that neither of them are Leo and I'm no Kate Winslet and there was no dancing or beer involved. So in retrospect, it was nothing like that scene, except for this undercurrent that seemed to be hinting that something unexpected and awesome was about to happen.

Leon had a big stack of games on his desk. He explained that he had this friend who bought lots of games. Lots. Of games. And every so often, his wife lost her shit and made him get rid of a bunch of them. In this latest purge, he put a bunch of games on his front porch and told his friends to come and take what they wanted. Leon obliged.

I can't recall what games were in the stack, except for Cosmic Encounter. I said I'd take it, and then Steve said he'd already claimed that one. (Steve has been causing problems since day one. Before day one even.)

And then I saw Chaos in the Old World. In shrink, no less. I'd never played, and knew nothing about it other than it was a Workman favorite. So I said I'd take that one instead. I offered to pay for it, but they said no, just take it. The only caveat was that I had to play it with them. So I agreed, and said Workman would have to teach us.

And one Wednesday night in November, we all went to the cafeteria after work and Workman taught us to play Chaos. Leon was Khorne, and had to go first. Workman told him "Eh, there's no wrong move, just start getting pieces on the board." So Leon paid for his biggest, baddest figure and plopped him down in the Empire. Workman said, "That is the worst opening move I've ever seen."

I don't remember many of the other details, other than Workman won, and they made me laugh. A lot. Those would become prominent themes in all of our game nights: me laughing and Workman winning.

We got together in a very hit and miss fashion after that, and then some time in late January, we just kind of fell into a routine. Workman and I really wanted to play on the same night every week, but Steve's schedule is weird and in the end, we realized that we'd rather have Steve and just accommodate whatever night he could play.

And then Workman and I kept running into each other at this Tex-Mex restaurant after gaming. After maybe three such times, we just agreed to meet there after, and Leon tagged along. And the next time Steve came with. If the after-work gaming brought us together, the after-gaming meal really cemented the deal. We talked about whatever game we had just played, but we talked about other stuff as well. Some heavy, some light. But we talked. A lot.

I started keeping a geeklist on BGG of all the games we played. (I enjoy writing, and I like logging things. The geeklist was my true medium.) But the more we played, and the more I logged, I began to notice something. My write-ups became less about the games themselves and more about the memorable moments that happened during the games. I would usually explain why I liked a game or didn't like it, but when I would go back and read past entries, I realized that it wasn't the games that made me want to keep playing with this group. It was the group itself. I had found three people who, like me, loved playing board games. But more importantly, I had found three people who made me laugh. And made me think. And made me feel like I could just be me for a few hours every week.

For someone like me, that was gold.

Part 2: The Components are Everything

So what makes a great gaming group great? Or in our case, what makes the Fun Group fun? I like to think it's the bits.

Bit #1: The Steve


Steve is a scream. He is animated and impulsive and quite possibly the most irreverent person I've ever known. Workman says "Steve is a black comedy." And he so is. He brings all that animation and impulsiveness and irreverence to the table. Every week. Every. Week. Except the weeks that he misses because of reasons that are not as important as game night. But I digress.

He misses a roll, he loses his mind. He misplays something, "Oh goddamit!" You move into his territory, "You know Charles, I don't care for that." The first time we played T.I.M.E Stories, we were five minutes in and Steve announced "This is my favorite game we've ever played!" Every group needs a Steve.

Steve is a lot like me in that it takes him a play and sometimes two before he can figure out the way to win. But once he's there, he's there. We now both work for the same company (a different one) and we play 51st State at lunch a lot. 51st State is one of my favorite games and I've played it a gabillion times. And he beats the shit out of me. It took him a couple of games to get it, but once he got it, he got it.

Bit #2: Leon


I talked a little bit about Leon's gaming style in Part 1. But let me reiterate: I love playing games with Leon. He's better than me, but I can occasionally beat him. He isn't chatty (I'm looking at you Steve) but he is hilarious. He has a very unassuming presence and you might think he isn't really even paying attention, but you'd be wrong. When Workman is trying to talk me into doing something, Leon is the one I go to for counsel. "Leon, should I do that?" "Nope." And occasionally "Yeap." On the rare occasions I would best him in a turn in Ashes, he would shake his head and say "Nothing I can do about that."

Leon is the anti-Steve. Every group needs one of them too.

Bit #3: Workman


Not his real name. Actually, it is, but he was one of two Brians on our development team, so we called them by their last names. And after the other Brian left, I just kept calling him Workman. He looks like a Workman.

Workman is brilliant. (Don't tell him I said that.) I mean like next level smart. In all the time we worked together, I never gave him a problem he couldn't solve. Sometimes it took a while, but he always solved it. And he brings all that problem-solving brilliance with him when he games. He sometimes acts like he's given up and he doesn't have a game in hand, but the gears are always spinning and he is always thinking. I've known him to think his way out of a loss more times than I can count. On those rare occasions when he does lose, it's amazingly satisfying.

But he isn't just smart. He is a master manipulator. We all know this about him, but we all fall for it. Every. Single. Game. When he suggests a move, it honestly sounds like the best idea you've ever heard. Until you do it, and then you see how it helped him all along and only helped you moderately, if at all. It's a rare talent.

And when he knows he's winning, he's talking a blue streak. He may be saying he doesn't have a shot. He may be saying he thinks you've got this one. But if he's talking, he's winning. It's when he gets quiet that you know you have a chance.

I would say every group needs a Workman, but there is only one. (He may actually be the Highlander. I'll report back.)

Bit #4: Me


I'm probably the biggest misfit in the group. For one thing, I'm a woman. For another, I'm the oldest by a fair stretch. I know why I love playing with them, but I haven't figured out why they play with me. Maybe it's the novelty.

I love board gaming. I love the games themselves - I love owning them and smelling them and touching them. (Did I just make it weird? I made it weird. So sorry.) And of course I love playing them. I'm just not very good at them. I don't intuitively suss out the way to win a game the first time I play it. Or sometimes even the second. I'm not good at any one type of game. (Word games maybe. I generally like my odds in word games. I don't generally like my odds in getting the Fun Group to play word games.)

I don't win very often. And it's not that I never get close. I once figured out that I had more second place finishes than anyone else in the group. No one was surprised by this. Workman likes to say no one can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory quite like I can. I accuse him of getting in my headspace, but I think I just get in my own headspace. I always trip up right as I see the finish line. Always.

But no worries. I don't play to win. I play to play. Winning is just the occasional perk.

So, that's what comes in the base set of the Fun Group. I think I was hoping there would be an obvious conclusion as to why our group just clicks like it does and we've had so much fun over the last year and a half. But it may just be one of those surprising intangibles that occasionally happen in life. As my good friends over at Green Day would say "It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right."

I'm certainly having the time of my life.