Finding my inner geek…Cast Are Dice 2012
Board games are often the stuff of Christmas afternoons spent with the family, only to be shut in the cupboard for the rest of the year or until the kids are really really bored. But for a few thousand people in the UK, Board games, that is- ‘games that are played on or near a board,’ are the reason for weekends spent in community spaces such as colleges, churches or community halls. Yesterday was my first ever Board game convention, ‘The Cast are Dice’ event, in the beautiful atrium of Stoke-on-Trent’s 6th Form College on Leek Road. I have to admit, I went there to take some photos for an article (which, it now turns out, is this blog) and naively thought that people would be playing the classics of Ludo, Snakes and Ladders and of course, Monopoly.
How wrong I was. In fact, several times during the day the gamers referred to Monopoly as the ‘hated’ game. It seems the classics are in some ways the enemy- the reason why people’s eyes glaze over when someone mentions the word ‘board game’. As a child I spent hours at my nan’s house playing games like Frustration!, Buckaroo, Guess Who! , ‘Sorry’ and simple card games and the urge to play has never gone away, I just didn’t know this sort of event existed!
My day started by meeting Sue Fisk, co-owner of the games shop Shire Games in Parliament Row, Hanley. She owns the shop with her husband Nick, who is the real games enthusiast in the relationship. “The Games and the shop are Nick’s baby.” she said, ”I just do the accounts as I have a proper job!”
Sue found me a table which needed players, and I was introduced to mother and son combo Vicky and Gerard O’hanlon. They had come all the way from Glasgow to Stoke-on-Trent for the weekend and were immediately welcoming when I joined the table even though they were part-way through a game. The next hour was spent in a game of ‘Crooks’, a card game in which you are a criminal in a gang, and paying money allows you to ‘choose’ the best crook for the job in hand. It is a game of tactics and luck more than anything as you have to pick the highest scoring cards and place them in a position which will help you win at the end. We were all learning the rules but it was quite easy to pick up and a slip by Gerard at the end meant that I won! It was so nice to be able to sit and play – with total strangers albeit but it was so fun and you don’t need to know that much about each other to learn what their playing tactics are.
I was invited to the immense games ‘library’ after that – part of these board game conventions is that new board games are on offer to learn to play- and Nick and Sue had a few hundred! The games are free to borrow and play through a library card system (a piece of paper) which ensures you bring the game back. I spotted a few interesting sounding games, but we decided on what seems like a very popular one – Ticket to Ride. This was the Europe version, the original being from America. Using coloured cards, you have to collect enough links to build a train from one destination to another using your individual destination tickets, and the game stops when one person runs out of trains! It is harder and more fun than it sounds!
In the afternoon we were joined by two more gamers – another parent and child combo, this time consisting of James and Christian Cheevers, from Liverpool, who are also regulars to games conventions. James said he ‘loved games since he was 5′ and still hasn’t stopped playing and has ensured his love of gaming has passed on to his children.
They brought along two games – For Sale, a simple auction game where you have to use your money wisely to win the highest bid for a property and then use tactics to get the best money back. This was my second victory, which I was very pleased about. We then played RA, which although Egyptian themed, is another, more complicated auction game. It took a while for me to stop wondering what on earth I was meant to be doing! When realisation dawned however, it was at a good time, as it meant I was able to secure my third victory of the day. By then my new friends were almost laughing in disbelief and were almost on the way to not believing I had never played these games before!
After Ra, I decided it was time to do some talking rather than playing and took my camera around the building to photograph what the groups of gamers were up to. On my way I met Andrew Harman, a budding games designer from Luton, who along with his wife Jenny, is waiting for a deal to be announced so his game ‘Frankenstein’s Bodies’ can be published. Frankenstein’s bodies is the card game of the award-winning Dark Harvest; Legacy of Frankenstein role-playing game. Andrew said coming to his first convention last year inspired him to have a go at making a game himself and in the last 12 months he has been doing just that.
He said: “It’s wonderful to see so many gamers here in one place today, this convention is the first one we have been able to come and play rather than trying to promote our game. It’s brilliant that Sue and Nick have given us so many games in the library to choose from – but people have still brought their own with them!”
Jenny added: “It’s lovely to see how many children are here too, if you look around, the kids are all engrossed, no computers, no Ipads or mobile phones! Children will get so many skills from playing games that they can use in later life.”
Of course, this market is a niche and the hundred or so people that were there yesterday are the converted few. When you count the few specialist games shops that these board games can be found in, it is no wonder there is a lack of board-game love. For me though, I think I might have found a new hobby, and will be checking out Nick and Sue’s shop in the next few weeks!
-For all things board gaming, including facts and figures, reviews and other players to talk to, you can go to http://www.boardgamegeek.com
-PICTURES TO FOLLOW LATER