So, I love Christmas. I really do.
Like, I SUPER WICKED REALLY do.
But Thanksgiving is my favorite.
I know that it’s becoming more and more commercialized, and Black Friday seems to begin a little earlier every year, but I still see Thanksgiving as a break from the holiday commercialization and retail contests that are ubiquitous from mid-September through the New Year.
Sure, there are flaws in this argument. I’m heading them off here because this is the Internet, and if I don’t, someone else will. So, yes, Thanksgiving is still somewhat commercial. It was founded on a lie – based around one notable time the Pilgrims mutually co-existed peacefully and respectfully with the Native Americans. And the only interesting part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade is when a balloon goes rogue.
All of those points are true, but none of them are what I’m here to talk about.
Regardless of some of the detractors, I like Thanksgiving because it’s about family and friends. It’s about sitting down together and sharing a meal, a story, a narrative. It’s about togetherness and the power of the social bonds and traditions that form among a group of people who may share only one common trait – blood.
I see Thanksgiving a lot like I see gaming. Everyone comes together, and it doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what else you do. You have something in common – something to build upon. You like to game. So does everyone else at the table. You can start there, and build your own narrative. You share stories and tasks and goals, even if they are often conflicting (and what’s Thanksgiving without a little conflict)?
So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving and gaming, I’ve drawn up a list of the three games I am most thankful for:
This was my gateway game (something that I may have mentioned once or twice), and it’s a staple on my game table. While it never gets played quite as often as I’d like, it gets more attention than any other game of similar length. This is partly due to its cooperative nature, partly its theme, and partly the attention to detail that makes this game a consistent favorite.
I know that the masses (by which I mean BGG, obviously) are decidedly mixed on this Lovecraftian epic, and I appreciate where the naysayers are coming from. The game relies heavily on luck. It’s very susceptible to dominating players taking the reigns from less-experienced investigators. It doesn’t always make sense.
I get it, but my love for Arkham isn’t necessarily a rational one. Before I played Arkham, I thought that gaming was Monopoly and that more intense gaming was Settlers of Catan. I didn’t really like either, but the style of Arkham Horror drew me in. I like horror. It’s set in a small town, I’m able to choose my character, and I play through a story. I like stories. Playing Arkham Horror is a little bit like living in a book for awhile. There is a plot, and it moves ever forward. Doom hangs just above our heads. Each action we take brings the Big Bad that much closer. Sooner or later, we would have to fight.*
So really, Arkham taught me that games can let you make choices that mean something more than whether you’ll collect rent on Baltic Avenue. Games can let you be heroes, strategists, warlords, or detectives. Games can let you be whatever you want.
I’ve never been an aggressive player. I prefer a defensive strategy – I build up my army and wait it out. I’m a classic Architect. Eventually the other players will kill each other and I’ll loot the bodies all the way to victory.
Of course, it doesn’t always work like that. I often end up with an army so large that no one will attack me and have no way of building toward victory since I’ve spent all my turns constructing moats, walls, and fire traps.
Small World forced me out of my comfort zone – or, if you will, my turtle shell. There is no defensive strategy in Small World. Aside from the few traits that give tiny defensive bonuses, there is no practical reason to play a non-aggressive strategy.
So, I don’t. I play Small World viciously. It helps that I often go first because of my super-pointy ears. I take the best locations, and I spread. I go after hills and mines and sometimes even the sea, leaving a trail of dead giants and ratmen in my wake.
Small world taught me that what happens during the game will not affect my relationships outside of the game. I can attack my fiance in Small World, and he’ll be upset for maybe a second. Then he’ll change his strategy, move his troops, regroup and come back to kick my butt next time. There is no permanent damage. My relationships don’t crumble under the weight of betrayals and false promises. Instead, they grow through the shared experience created in the game itself.
Settlers of Catan
This is the only game on the list that I’m not a big fan of. I mean, I don’t hate Settlers, but it’s not one of my go-to games. Yet it holds a special place in my heart (and limbic system).
Ryan and I met playing Settlers of Catan. We made lots of jokes about wood for sheep – like you do – and I stole repeatedly from him. I beat him, in the end, but he didn’t hold it against me. In fact, we started talking, then dating, and then we created this site. Now we’re getting married. So thanks, Settlers. Without you, I’d be a crazy cat lady**.
Settlers isn’t on this list because of it’s outstanding gameplay or dramatic theme. It earns a place for its ability to bring people together, and it does this more than any other game I’ve seen. It’s a gateway game, but it’s played by more than just beginner gamers. It’s played at parties and dinners and lunch breaks at work. It’s fast enough to whip out whenever there’s downtime, and it’s simple to explain to newcomers. Rules do not need to be constantly referenced, and you can get on with your conversations while it hovers in the background. The game gives you a way to fill in gaps in conversation and smooth over the getting-to-know-yous, but when the evening starts to flow, the game knows to get out of the way.
So that’s what I’m thankful for this November. Do you have any games that you’d like to thank for making a difference in your life? If so, I’d love to hear about it. No, really. I like that kind of thing.
* Or die. Sometimes in Arkham, you just die.
** That’s a lie. I actually prefer dogs. Ryan would be the crazy cat lady.
Erin Ryan is a regular contributor to the site, and is thankful for her readers, among other things. Feel free to share your thoughts with us over on our social media pages!