I remember, many years ago, my mum buying a copy of Ticket to Ride. My family had always liked things we could do together, and had played some of the staples of childhood. But we had never seen anything like Ticket to Ride before. As a young teenager at the time, part of me couldn’t believe my mum wanted me to play a game about trains, but the other part of me was intrigued by the bright colours and tiny plastic trains.
And, just like that, Sunday afternoon gaming was born. My family love a routine. So every Sunday, whatever other madness was going on in our worlds, after Sunday lunch, we would sit down and play board games. My family are also scrupulously fair. We would each have a turn to choose what we wanted to play. In the early days our options were more limited and involved my brother choosing the Pokemon Master board game far too often for my tastes! My personal favourite was (ironically given my initial statement about trains), the London Underground Game. I can’t tell you what appealed so much, but trying to reach all your destinations and return to your starting station first was a lot of fun to a younger me.
Even then, without my being able to explain, it was the feeling of being together that I loved about board games. As every older sister can attest to, younger brothers can be pain! But for those few hours on a Sunday afternoon, he was a bearable, sometimes bordering on loveable pain. Until he moved my pawn to Wembley Central behind a closed station, dashing my hopes of a win…
As I grew up so did our gaming collection. Some of our tastes changed. Although you could always rely on my mum to choose Ticket to Ride on her turn, or my dad to turn to more traditional card games and pick Contract Whist. I moved on to Lost Cities; The Board Game as my most frequent pick. But what remained was the wonderful sense of togetherness of these sessions. I used to really look forward to and cherish those Sunday afternoons.
Those Sunday afternoon sessions continued through university. Whenever I was home there was a wonderful roast, an afternoon of board games, and the treat of my mum’s millionaire’s shortbread. I moved back home after university and the game sessions continued. Strange as it may be to others, it was our routine and I loved it.
So, what does that have to do with remote gaming? Well quite a lot actually. Eventually, I moved out of home and in with my now husband (introducing him to the hobby, which he now loves too, along the way). I am lucky as I don't live too far from my parents. About once a month we would go to see them on a Saturday for a day. This would always involve board games in the afternoon, from our old favourite Ticket to Ride (which is chaos with five people!) to the Sherlock Holmes Card Game. For those who haven’t played the Sherlock Holmes card game a quick aside - players are trying to find the murderer card hidden in someone’s hand, through playing a card to “arrest” someone (whilst the game is far more nuanced those are the basics). Well, they might be the rules for everyone else, but our rules must have had an added line saying “at every opportunity accuse Kirsty!” which leads to much laughing, hilarity, and some very big hands of cards!
Now five people may not be the ideal number for many games. We found lots of games to make it work. We were all particularly partial to a game of Chameleon. This suited us well as the rounds were quick, and the attempts to find a word which was obscure enough to fool the player who was the Chameleon, but with clear enough links not to get you accused of being the Chameleon led to a lot of laughs. I’m sure there are some rules about how long you play the game for, but we just played for as long as we wanted, or until our sides hurt from laughing so much!
Then Covid 19 struck. Suddenly I couldn't go and see my family for our gaming sessions. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly lucky to live with a huge board game fan who will happily play games almost as much as me. But sometimes, I would miss the madness of a five player game of Ticket to Ride. Or the occasions when my brother would come and stay overnight for a lengthy board game session.
I began to try and think of ways we could still game together. The problem being that most of the games we had either couldn’t work remotely, needed two copies, or just didn’t accommodate five players. That being said, in the early months of lockdown 1.0 there were some very enjoyable games of Kingdomino and Quadropolis. Both of which worked well remotely with a copy each end, and with a very patient mother sorting tiles into stacks to make things easier. These games couldn’t match the feeling of us all gaming in person but they did help.
I naively thought that things would improve in a few months, and it wouldn’t be long before I would be teaching them Wingspan, and getting trounced at 7 Wonders. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. Periodical sessions of remote Quadropolis and Kingdomino did take place. We even added Herbaceous into the mix which was good fun, but not a game which could accommodate five players.
Before I knew it, Christmas was almost upon us. The Christmas party is a very important tradition in my family (somewhat boringly to some not the one where you all get sloshed). Our Christmas party involves a music quiz, party food and plenty of board games. With the regulations changing and Covid-19 on the up, we couldn’t have the face to face Christmas party we wanted. However, by this time we had added Railroad Ink as a game we could rotate in, mum and dad had the main game, my husband and I just had some boards. Whilst it might not have been the Christmas party of tradition, we had an afternoon of board games which was a lot of fun. It was the first time in a long time where a spark of the joy of our five player board gaming sessions could be felt.
My parents both have birthdays shortly after Christmas. Following on from the success of Railroad Ink, Patchwork Doodle and even Pointless over video call for the Christmas party, we planned board game afternoons on both of their birthdays. Whilst they might not have scratched the same itch as a face to face board game session, I think it is safe to say it was what we all needed. A sense of togetherness; that no matter what was going on in the world we could still all come together and share a good time. As well as a sense of fun; one game of Just One had me laughing until my sides hurt!
It might not have made everything all better, but, just for a while, these gaming sessions let me be transported back to happier times. I found myself stopping worrying about all of the uncertainty Covid had created. I could focus on what I was doing in the present, having a great time with all of my favourite people in the world.
I wish for things to go back to how they were before as much as the next person. I look forward to sitting round a table with my family, playing board games, passing cards round without a care. One day I will teach them Wingspan (and then shortly after regret teaching them Wingspan as I get trounced!)
But for now, I want to make the most of what I do have. Whether it’s a special occasion or a random Thursday night, I am grateful that I do still have the ability to play board games with my family, my favourite adversaries. That we can still have that feeling of fun or togetherness. Because tonight, when we sit down to play games, I'm not playing to win. In fact I couldn't care less if I come last. Tonight I get to do something I love with the people I love. In these sometimes dark and uncertain times, that is something to be thankful for, and something to hold on to.