Geek gaming gone low-tech

What do nerds do for fun? A few weeks back, I wrote some tips on how to throw a successful LAN party, a favorite activity for my friends and me. However, in recent months, my get-togethers have taken on a decidedly more old-school focus, and in the process reignited a childhood passion of mine: board gaming.

Sure, the games have changed. Sorry! and The Game of Life are out, instead replaced by the likes of Settlers of Catan and Risk, but the fundamental experience is the same. There’s just something incredibly pure about gathering a few friends around a table, matching wits for hours, and cursing over dice rolls. But what makes that different from competing through video games? Why have I chosen cardboard pieces and plastic tokens over headshots and rocket-jumps?

Put simply, LAN parties have lost their luster. In their heyday, LAN parties offered a completely unique experience: playing video games with a large group of friends. Dial-up connections weren’t exactly suited for large-scale online gaming, and many of my friends were lucky if they had even that. Getting a bunch of friends together for a chance at 6v6 Quake 3: Team Arena was a rare treat, and one that was worth all of the equipment and setup time.

Nowadays, with the mass adoption of broadband and enhanced matchmaking services, spending an hour fragging your friends can be a nightly occurrence. Services like Steam, Xbox Live, and Xfire make it easy to maintain a list of your buddies, keep tabs on what they’re playing, and use a mic and webcam to communicate obscenities without even resorting to emoticons. What an age we live in.

Attendees don’t need to pack up their desktop PCs—let alone own one—to play board games. Forget everyone needing a copy of each video game along with all of the necessary patches, drivers, and other easily overlooked things that can throw a wrench in the works. Just have the board games and a table to play them on, and then all you need are people. They don’t even need to know the rules: teaching and learning new games is half the fun, and an integral part of the experience.

The whole scenario is actually somewhat odd, if you think about it. The LAN party seems like the natural evolution of the board game night, almost an electronic version of the same event. Now, the LAN party finds itself being rendered obsolete by more robust online capabilities, leaving its predecessor as the best activity for nerd gatherings. Although some of my friends have dismissed the activity as too juvenile, trust me: don’t judge a book by its cover. What may appear simple in passing can turn out to be an incredibly rewarding experience, with hours of gameplay to offer.

Take Munchkin, for example; one of my favorite discoveries in recent months. On the surface, it’s a straightforward game: two big decks of cards that play like a watered-down version of Dungeons & Dragons. In reality, though, Munchkin is a parody of D&D and board gaming as a whole, and it simultaneously manages to be a well-designed and enjoyable experience on its own. Players set out on a journey to be the first character to level 10, along the way encountering fearsome monsters like the Shrieking Geek, Plutonium Dragon, and the Gelatinous Octahedron (a less-than-subtle play on the famous D&D monster, the Gelatinous Cube). The game’s sense of humor goes beyond curiously named creatures and extends into the gameplay itself. Unfortunate players can be cursed with such maladies as the Hungry Backpack, which forces them to roll a die at the end of each turn to discover how many of their items their knapsack consumes.

Not content to be a simple parody of other hero-quest games, Munchkin adds a layer of complexity by allowing players not only to help, but also to hinder each other. You can jump into combat with an ally, coming to their rescue in their most desperate time of need, or throw buffs on a monster to ensure your fellow adventurer’s utter demise. Invariably, Munchkin ends up becoming a game of politics, and one simple rule becomes clear: no one forgets a grudge. Combined with the intentionally poorly written rules, replete with loopholes and gray areas, the age-old board gaming tradition of arguing always ensues. Truthfully, I can’t ever help but laugh. The game’s designers have no doubt spent countless hours around sticklers in D&D games, so creating a rule-set that intentionally angers those kinds of players, while still retaining its appeal for everyone else, is truly impressive. Munchkin succeeds in mocking almost every aspect of traditional gaming—it is the ultimate troll for people who take games like Dungeons & Dragons too seriously, which is probably why I love it.

German-style board games have become increasingly popular in recent years, too, with creations like Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne as standard-bearers for the genre. It’s easy to understand the appeal: they’re quick to learn, quick to play, and offer a variety of strategies to win. It also helps that they’re generally non-elimination games, meaning you won’t get knocked out 30 minutes into the game and wait for two hours while the remaining players fight over Park Place and Baltic Avenue. The genre looks ready to grow even further, with both of these titles gaining success in digital forms on Xbox Live Arcade, and several more German-style games on the way.

If you’ve got an Xbox 360 and a few spare bucks, do yourself a favor and pick up one (or both) of these titles—I could always use more random players to challenge. Who knows? You might find yourself liking them so much that you’ll shell out the extra cash for the board game versions, as I did. All it takes is one or two games to start hosting your very own board game night. Before you know it, you’ll have a library complete with Talisman, Shadows over Camelot, Puerto Rico, Dominion, Risk, Axis & Allies, Race for the Galaxy, Ticket to Ride, and Blood Bowl.

Comments closed
    • thermistor
    • 11 years ago

    I knew people in the 80’s playing ‘Car Wars.’ What happened to it?

    Good to hear BG’s are alive and well. We had our very first family Monopoly night right after xmas, with daughter 6 and son 8. I was a player and bank/auctioneer.

    Already taught my son to be ruthless…he kicked everyone’s butt.

    • MadBrad
    • 11 years ago

    Probably the best site on the Net for information on boardgameing is boardgamegeek . There are literally tens of thousands of good games out there, and I know you will find a whole new level of information there.

    I too have been playing wargames and more recently Euros. Started a long time ago. The new games coming out from a host of publishers are really redefining what “games” really are all about.

    If you are so inclined, check out some of my favorites:

    Twilight Struggle, Britannia, Advanced Squad Leader, Twilight Imperium, For the People, Fire in the Sky, Agricola, Colosseum.

    • NeVeRLiFt
    • 11 years ago

    Shadowrun and Battletech/Mechwarrior, D&D and Harn’s World were always my favorite pen & paper roleplaying games.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    BTW, why not mix both worlds and play StarCraft the board game? I hear it’s different but still competent as a board game.

    I would recommend war40k but really… /[

    • floodo1
    • 11 years ago

    God d00d, you’re a noob if you didn’t play RISK so hard in high school CS classes 🙂

    • firestorm02
    • 11 years ago

    Axis and Allies FTW

    • Aphasia
    • 11 years ago

    Funny that you mention Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. It was the two games I played the last time i played board games with a few friends. RIsk can be quite competitive but are great fun too.

    Was some time since i played warhammer fantasy or bloodbowl, and its too bad warhammer like games take so much effort. That was really the great fun of blood bowl.

    Although the rules was annoying sometimes, especially when someone gets a darn rat with longlegs and a large rat to throw him over the line. After that everybody tried to chase that sucker down to put him out.

    • mthguy
    • 11 years ago

    My personal favorite has to be “Third Reich” wonderfully complex war-style board game. Someone should make a video game out of that one so i can actually find some people who would want to play with me.

    • mbutrovich
    • 11 years ago

    Those of you mentioning Risk, just make sure to play with the modified rule of no more than 12 armies per territory. It makes the game way more strategic, trust me.

      • ludi
      • 11 years ago

      I’ll have to remember that and see how it plays. Risk wears thin with standard rules because there isn’t a lot of strategy, whereas some of the other strategy/conquering games (like Axis & Allies) take too long to set up.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    Actually yeah my friends and I like to play either /[

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 11 years ago

    Yes, I totally concur that board games are forever!

    My buddies and I had been playing board games, but then since have switched to poker cuz we like to have our hands and minds more free for drinking White Russians and BS. Nothing like going home with a stomach ache from all the laughing! Nothing beats that.

    The LAN games are reserved for my son/daughter and I as not many of my friends are geeks or as nerdy as me. Tho, I’m working hard to get the company guys together for one as they are has geeky as they come!

    My family play a lot of board games. But I have to admit that I’m a little behind here on the games. We play Blockus, Survival, Scrabble and those kinda games. But I’m most definitely going to get Munchkin cuz I know that my kids and I will love it and we can hog the Friday nights for it! Looking forward to it!

    So, Matt, good review and great advise! Keep them comin’!

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 11 years ago

    Do Scattergories and Balderdash count?

    I also enjoy going to play trivia, especially Buzztime.

    • yogibbear
    • 11 years ago

    Spoons. Can’t go wrong. Simple rules, quick rounds, instant satisfaction at having faster reflexes that everyone else.

    • ludi
    • 11 years ago

    Some friends of mine in the same school apartment complex got me started on /[

    • pikaporeon
    • 11 years ago

    “You enter a tavern”
    “I sit down at a table. I get the elves to start preparing character sheets, the dwarves to start whittling dice…”

    More seriously, I play Risk a lot; I dont have patience for Axis and Allies though (read: I suck at it)

    • astrotech66
    • 11 years ago

    Ah, I miss the old days of playing board wargames. That was my original passion before I got into computers. Squad Leader, Panzerblitz, Panzer Leader, Russian Campaign, Terrible Swift Sword, and all the others. The glory days in the 1970s when SPI was still around and Avalon Hill still made real wargames. It’s ashame the industry collapsed …

      • MadBrad
      • 11 years ago

      Actually, Wargames have made a huge comeback. Check out the titles by GMT, Clash of Arms, Multiman Publishing, Avalanche Press and many many others!

      The old SPI classics have been supplanted by these new publishers who are putting out some great stuff!

        • Buzzard44
        • 11 years ago

        I believe that they’re coming out with a Panzerblitz: Hill of Death soon. Don’t know if it’ll be as good as the first, but the Avalon hill games rocked.

      • Kharnellius
      • 11 years ago

      Axis and Allies (The most recent revised edition) is like a drug for me. I can’t stop obsessing about it.

    • charged3800z24
    • 11 years ago

    Am I the only one that played the original BattleTech? I still have all most of my figures LOL…^_^

    • Sargent Duck
    • 11 years ago

    Back last year me and 2 friends would get together every Friday night (and sometimes Saturday) and play Monopoly the whole night. We were very aggressive and making big gambles. Thus our games would last, at most, a few hours.

    When we got more people involved (wives/casual gamers), we’d bust out Settlers of Cataan. Ticket to Ride was also a popular one, though not as common.

      • ucisilentbob
      • 11 years ago

      That’s exactly the way we started. Monopoly==>Munchkin==>Catan. It’s fun to see that alot of us geeks play the same types of games. With some of my family, Catan is a badge of nerdiness-shame.

      When it comes to muchkin they have alot of themed versions of the same game.
      The good the bad and the Munchkin (wild West)
      a couple of Chthulu themed sets.
      Munchkin Booty (Pirates)
      Munchkin Fu (Martial Arts Movies)
      Star Munchkin (SpaceBalls)
      Super Munchkin (super Hero genre)

      It’s fun stuff especially with the various dungeons.
      How can you not like the tagline for Munchkins??
      “Kill the Monsters – Steal the Treasure – Stab your Buddy”

    • End User
    • 11 years ago

    Power Grid and Imperial are two of my favs. My friends and I gather every Friday to play board games until 2AM. Once we get home we play TF2 until sleep kicks in. I’m still waiting to play the Axis & Allies: Anniversary Edition that I bought at BGG.CON.

    • Krogoth
    • 11 years ago

    Nothing beats Chess.

    • morphine
    • 11 years ago

    Pffft noobs.

    Dungeons & Dragons is where it’s at on the table top.

    Thus spoke the DM. Love thy DM. Respect thy DM.

      • KinCT
      • 11 years ago

      Dungeons & Dragons has become too complex… Too much for my small brain. The old version from the early 80’s is just right from my perspective.

        • StrangeDay
        • 11 years ago

        4th Edition is criticized as being too simplified. It’s probably way simpler than the AD&D you may remember. It’s possibly on par with some versions of OD&D.

          • Zyphos
          • 11 years ago

          4th Edition, in my opinion, has nearly wiped out the essence of “Role Playing” from this RPG. I may be cynical in my view, but it seems WotC has designed the latest editions to pull in the people that would try play MMO’s. I can respect them trying to be current, but it means my friends and I stick with AD&D.

    • paulWTAMU
    • 11 years ago

    I got munchkin this Christmas, from my in laws. I’ll never forget using the Kneepads of allure on my father in law to force him help me kill a monster. Good game.

    • ekul
    • 11 years ago

    old lan party war heroes will want to check out the starcraft board game. it’s a perfect rendering of the computer game onto a table. The unit balance that made starcraft great is preserved and the brood wars expansion (not making this up) is fantastic.

    if you have a bunch of people over and the 4 or 5 player limit of most games starts to get in the way robo rally allows up to 8 and is immensely fun. you play instructions to a robot (think logo the board game) but others can shoot you or you can fall prey to the dangers of the factory like holes in the floor and conveyor belts to nowhere. Other players are also moving around and can mess your whole program up if you’re not careful.

    anyone looking to get into the new wave of board games should try either powergrid or puerto rico. Both are very fun and relatively easy to learn.

    apples to apples and things in a box are not really games but are awesome larger group activities too. Much better then the old party games like charades and pictionary since there is no acting or drawing.

    Finally check boardgamegeek.com to see all the best games. There are some truly unique options out there. I have war on terror: the board game. it’s risk meets satire.

    • Able-Contention
    • 11 years ago

    Yes, but there is nothing better then a LAN party for CS sources/ Battlefield 2 or Vietnam and taking a break for food and Munchkin. Munchkin games with 10 people are awesome!

      • Buzzard44
      • 11 years ago

      I do like me some BF2 and BFVietnam. There’s just something about killing communists that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

    • mboza
    • 11 years ago

    Munchkin is fun. One of my friends has been giving everyone a different version for their birthdays, so we now have a couple to mix together.

    Transformers Risk was the new game last time round. A pleasantly surprising variation on an old game. We had three players, and any of us could win going into the last two rolls of the dice in the first game.

    • dragmor
    • 11 years ago

    Board games are more fun than computer games. I’ve been playing:

    Descent: Journeys in the Dark (and expansions)
    40k, Warhammer, Blood Bowl
    Shogun

    • Buzzard44
    • 11 years ago

    An awesome board game my friends and I play is Panzerblitz. Sure it’s only for two players, and it’s from 1970, but it’s incredibly realistic and strategic. Nothing like spending four hours or so sitting across from a friend trying to destroy his tanks and artillery.

    I still love LAN parties though. It’s just a lot harder to friends together due to the faster internet connections you mention. Or maybe I just need to make friends from TR.

      • KinCT
      • 11 years ago

      Good god, that was my first wargame – and I still have it, along w Panzer Leader (at least I think that is the title, it’s been a while – the Western Front version of Panzerblitz). It’s hard to find wargamers to play face-to-face games though, especially the monster games (my favorite is Fire in the East / Scorched Earth).

    • moritzgedig
    • 11 years ago

    Recession hits hard.
    Gamers go back to dice, cards and cardboard.
    I like it.

      • Meadows
      • 11 years ago

      Now that’s an evil take on the topic.

      • ShinyN00b
      • 11 years ago

      How is that “evil”? Maybe you don’t like it, but it’s the truth. I think it’s wonderful that people can see the good in these not so good times. You’re a “the glass is half empty” sort of person aren’t you?

      edit: And I’m a moron who can’t use the “reply” correctly lol

        • ludi
        • 11 years ago

        Evil as in “funny”, in a slightly twisted and laconic sort of way.

        It worked for me.

          • ShinyN00b
          • 11 years ago

          I guess tone is hard to read.

    • kravo
    • 11 years ago

    my friends and me play poker a few times in every month. Just for fun. And we enjoy it a lot. Besides, nobody needs to do round-trips in the city with chunks of hardware weighting 20kg, we can still get waisted, and generally there´s a lot more discussion (…emm…schmooze) than on any LAN party I`ve ever been to.
    People should talk more to each other. Seriously.

      • SomeOtherGeek
      • 11 years ago

      I totally agree… My comment is above.

    • pmonti80
    • 11 years ago

    I bought “Shogun” for Xmas and It’s probably one of the best boardgames I’ve played I recommend it to everyone.

      • StrangeDay
      • 11 years ago

      I have very fond memories of Shogun, Talisman, and Blood Bowl. Those were the games we really played to death in high school, besides D&D and the Warhammer wargames.

      • Alareth
      • 11 years ago

      I’ve been waiting to play Shogun for 20 years.

      Back in 1988 I began the campaign of hint dropping that I would like the game as a birthday/Christmas gift. It was a little out of my budget at the time.

      Miracle of miracles, it was under the tree on Christmas morning. I opened it up, sorted out the pieces and … nobody would play it with me.

      For years I would dutifully pull it down from the shelf whenever someone mentioned playing a game and I would always turned down. Friends, family, it didn’t matter. I was always told no, they didn’t want to play that game, it looked to complicated or it would take to long.

      Then in 2002 someone finally said “yes”. This was it, after years I was finally going to get to play! I reverently pulled the box from the game self in the closet and shortly afterwards discovered that in the interviening years my children had gotten into the box and lost the instruction manual.

      I cried.

      I was able to eventually find a PDF copy of the instructions on the web, but the oppourtunity had passed. The one person I’d found in all those years that wanted to play had moved away.

      Excuse me, I … I have something in my eye …

        • StrangeDay
        • 11 years ago

        Sorry dude. I’d check out the gaming sites online. I’m sure there’s a player-finder index for your region. There’s probably a legion of grognards out there waiting to school you in that game.

        No gamer should go through life without a gaming fix. 🙂

    • continuum
    • 11 years ago

    Or Power Grid, Arkham Horror, Pandemic, Attika, Union Pacific, Ra…

    Actually I’ve never played Settlers. o_0 I have enjoyed Shadows over Camelot, though…

      • khands
      • 11 years ago

      Settler’s freakin’ rocks (just don’t get the Space version :p), got my family hooked on it, then we bought the Cities and Knights expansion, looking forward to grabbing Seafairer’s (spl?) and Trader’s and Barbarian’s (yes, I’m talking about blowing a couple hundred bucks on a board game, it’s that good).

    • Philldoe
    • 11 years ago

    I dunno bro. I like sitting with the buds and playing risk, but there is nothing better than you and 11 of your best friends ina cramped room full of computers adn every one of you are so drunk your trying to light each other farts.

    That might sounds bad, but you know what… I love being s**t faced with my friends and taunting them as I blow them to high hell. It’s always more fun in person.

      • Kurkotain
      • 11 years ago

      yeah…not everybody finds steam or online gaming soo appealing…wjere i live, internet is a piece of crap so i can hardly play a decent round while connected to the internet, while when we all get together around our laptops and desktops its a completely different experience, by the way, excellent article about the LAN party, reminded me of all the times we did that and we ran into the same troubles lol, had a big laugh

      • Able-Contention
      • 11 years ago

      I whole heartly agree with you.

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