Published on March 30th, 2013 | by Luke Turpeinen
I Was a 90s Game Nerd
A personal game history
I grew up around games. The original Nintendo Entertainment System was released in the United States the year I was born and my family owned one for as long as I can remember. As a child my mom, siblings and I played board games often. We had the usual ones around the house: Candyland, Sorry!, Yahtzee, Life, Trouble and Monopoly. We played board games together fairly frequently and as I got older I learned some of the more complex or difficult games that the adults were more willing to play, including card games. My grandfather taught me Cribbage, my uncle taught me Rummy and Pinochle, while his partner taught me to play Risk on our (then cutting edge) Windows 3.1 computer and my mom taught me Hearts, Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble. Playing games together was always a tradition with us and family gatherings always culminated in the adults playing pinochle while the kids played some other game. Games didn’t define my life then but they were definitely a large part of my playtime activities.
I can pinpoint the exact time in my youth when my greater nerdiness began. It was 1993, Christmas time, and my step-aunt got me the TSR board/roleplaying game hybrid Dragon Strike. The box was huge, it came with dozens of fantasy figures, two double sided boards and even a VHS instructional video about how to play the scenarios provided. Playing such a complex looking game in such a rich world with all of these bits and pieces to interact with changed the way I looked at board games from that point on. No longer would simplistic Sorry! or Trouble interest me, I’d found something else.
The jump from that tender moment of 8 years old to my now 28 years of age is quite a bit and a lot has changed in the way of gaming, and for the better. When I was younger the only options out there for board games in the United States were the Hasbro and Milton Bradley staples and then a large jump forward into what were mostly war games or things based on war games. Battletech, Warhammer and all of its variants, hex-and-chit games, Magic the Gathering and its CCG successors, HeroQuest and games based off of D&D were the only things that I could find in the small city I grew up in. I experienced all of those to a greater or lesser degree but after a while they started to feel old, like the games were failing to innovate or became bogged down in complexities as they grew. That’s when I was introduced to eurogames.
While I didn’t attach myself emotionally to these deceptively simple looking board games as much as I did their big box “ameritrash” cousins, they did lead me to appreciate them in other ways. What eurogames lacked in essential character (farming is just not as emotionally resonant with me as wizards and dragons), they made up for in innovative, clean, elegant game mechanics. The game wasn’t about, or just about, the flavor anymore- it was about the game itself. I’ve never personally owned a copy of Ticket to Ride or Agricola, but I do appreciate what they (and games like them) have done to the American board game scene and I applaud them.
Stick around, my next article will be a short rundown of what I like to see in games. I will be basically putting all my biases out on the table for you in an effort to be transparent. Each of the authors you’ll be reading from will be doing something similar so that you don’t have to guess when we’re biased for (or against) a certain game. Cheers!