This post is a bit different from the usual fare on this blog. No exploration of a historical event through board games, no information on games to be released, no new instalment in an after-action report. And yet, there will be board games, and, from a personal point of view, also history.
Some days ago, a good friend of mine died after battling cancer for two years. We met at university, discussed things big and small, played and watched soccer, went through life from the earliest college days to fully employed adulthood, and, over the years, played many board games together. I’ll write about some of them and what they meant to him and me. As a Friend, I’ll call him F. here. This post is dedicated to his memory.
I played board games regularly in high school (with the nerdier part of my friends), but when I went to college, boardgaming pretty much ceased. A new town and new people will do that to you. I’d met F. in one of my very first classes of freshman year, but only one year later did we find out that both of us liked to play board games. It was a tiny revelation. And so, pretty spontaneously, we set up a game of the Catan Card Game – one of the few games F. had at his dorm room. All I remember of the game itself is that F. steamrolled me (13 to 8 VP or so, but he was very gracious about it). And after the game, we were excitedly chatting about this game, and other games, and my college gaming career took off.
Village is possibly the most F. game by itself. First, his gaming was deeply rooted in the eurogame tradition. And then, Village is a game that lends itself to analytic creativity. Sure, you can have a long-term strategy. But what makes you successful at Village is how well you identify and seize the small opportunities. Nobody is sending workers to church? – You might gain an easy clerical career. You have some goods to sell, but nobody else does? – Better call a market day. You desperately need a green cube, but don’t know what to do with the action that comes with it? – Think of something! And this kind of analytic-creative thinking was something at which F. excelled. He’d chart a path and fluently leave it for another, jump between options, and all of that in less time than mostly everyone else. Analysis paralysis was alien to him. And that was not only limited to gaming: Whether it was about finding apartments in a new town, getting internships or jobs, when F. had identified an opportunity, he’d assess it in no time at all, and seize it without hesitation.
One of the very last games F. and I played together. Another close friend of ours, M., and I had sent the game to F. for his birthday when he was already in the hospital. When I visited him there a month later, he’d just begun to get slightly better – but everything that required moving was still very hard for him. Holding one or two cards, as you do in Lovecraft Letter, was already a challenge – one that he would not have passed a few weeks before the visit, but was able to do now. As prolonged hospital visits grow boring, F. was pretty excited about his newfound card holding skills. His sister, F., and I played a few rounds of Lovecraft Letter that day. F.‘s characteristic optimism had prevailed through the exhausting illness and the equally exhausting cure for it. He was looking forward to his imminent change to a hospital specializing in physiotherapy so he could get his bodily strength back. This was less than two months ago. It was the last time I saw F.
For more than one reason, this is the perfect game with which to end this post. First, it is likely the game we played most often – usually together with M. We played through the base game in a frenzy during the summer of 2014, usually sitting on the floor in F.‘s room – including countless attempts to perfect our strategy against the dragon in the last legend. Afterward, we picked up the Journey to the North (Michael Menzel, Kosmos) expansion and the pace slackened a bit. In fact, I missed the last two legends due to new commitments as a new phase of life began.
And then suddenly everyone lived in a different city and we barely saw each other anymore. It was F. who broke this centrifugal momentum. After he’d received his original diagnosis (a bit over two years ago), he suggested that M., he and I meet again for a weekend once his health had improved a bit. And, as he got the band back together, of course we also picked up the latest Andor: The Last Hope (Michael Menzel, Kosmos). That is the second reason why Andor is the perfect game to end this post: It’s easy to be friends when you are in college, living in the same city, and healthy. But keeping a friendship when some, and then all of those circumstances change, requires effort. F. made this effort and pulled us along to focus on what’s important – and good friendships are among the most important things in life.
We met another time like that and had all intentions of making it a regular occurrence – but, alas, F.‘s health did not permit it. So that leads us to the last reason why Andor is the last game in this post: It’s a cooperative game, and thereby brought out F.‘s character best. He was full of ideas how to solve a particular challenge, and he could see them through from inception to completion. Just as well, he was ready to listen to the ideas of others, see their merits and adopt them. He discussed ideas freely and free from prejudice, always focused what was best for everyone – be that his idea, that of someone else, or an ingenious hybrid no single person could have thought of by themselves. I am happy and grateful to have been on his team in Andor, and in the big cooperative game of life.
May he rest in peace.