A Bit of History

A Bit of History

What’s the first game (as opposed to sport) you remember playing? It might have been some form of “Let’s Pretend” or perhaps Snakes and Ladders.

It’s hard to pin down the first game I remember playing: as a family, we played a lot of games from gin rummy and other card games when on holiday in the caravan to the common board games of the time: Monopoly, Cluedo, chess and backgammon. I remember playing Mouse Trap and Spy Ring with friends and family, too. A couple of games that stick in my mind belonged to my grandparents, but I don’t remember their names: one was a kind of mountaineering game with a vertical board with plastic ledges and teams of plastic climbers—I don’t remember the rules—and the other was a metal object like a kind of flattened bell shape with a metal spinning disc on top. It was a kind of forerunner of the game Tension: the disc revealed the initial letter of the items you had to list in a category (fruit, vegetables, etc.)

In time we played Careers instead of Monopoly because it was more fun and you could set your own conditions for success, and Scrabble where I drove my family mad with my speed of play, which made continental drift look quite zippy. When Trivial Pursuit came out, we bought and played that too. Christmas parties would always include some games—usually a party game that adults and kids could both participate in.

In my early teens, I got the Fighting Fantasy game books by the founders of Games Workshop, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. They were my gateway into role-playing games: I came across a group of lads playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) in their lunchtime at school, and I was hooked: my parents got me the legendary red box set of the Basic Rules and I was launched. I played basic D&D with friends and then discovered there was an Advanced D&D that covered a wider range of play. I got the first edition books and spent many hours playing and refereeing games with friends.

At the end of my university years, the second edition of the rules came out and after another ten years, the third. This is the edition that I introduced my stepsons to, when they got interested in what Matt was doing with his Friday nights (I’d also been reading the Hobbit to them at bedtime for several months). We began playing at the weekend with their friends and continued until they reached their late teens and work, academic studies and other pursuits forced a hiatus.

In their late twenties we re-started, beginning a new campaign with new characters and a new game system: Pathfinder, a spin-off of the third edition of D&D—the original D&D game was now on its fourth edition and although I had the books, I’d found it too different from the previous edition and Elliott, who largely drove our resumption of the gaming sessions, suggested Pathfinder as a good alternative. We played Pathfinder for several years, and I converted several classic D&D first and second edition scenarios for them to adventure in.

Nicola, though uninterested in joining in, willingly supported our regular gaming habit and resigned herself to watching TV upstairs while we took over the living room every month or so. When we built the conservatory, she was able to shut us in there and watch the television more comfortably or she went out and spent the afternoon with friends.

After Nic died, I lost focus and Elliott took over the reins for a while, allowing me to just play instead of doing all the preparation associated with these games. Eventually I picked up the traces again, but other factors have since made it difficult to keep the sessions regular.

D&D isn’t my only interest in the role-playing games field: I have played Call of Cthulhu (horror and ghost stories), Traveller (science fiction), Ars Magica (medieval wizardry), and Shadowrun (cyberpunk), and I have an increasing library of electronic and physical source books for other roleplaying games, including games set in the Star Wars and Star Trek universes.

I’ll also mention here the murder mystery parties I have played in from time to time over the last twenty years or so, since they’re really role-playing games with a script instead of a character sheet. If you haven’t taken part in or hosted one, the host buys a box containing script booklets for all the characters, invitations, menu suggestions, clues, and a CD; they send out the invitations and arrange the meal. When the guests arrive, they are handed the booklet for their character and once everyone is present, the host plays the first track on the CD: this introduces the mystery, after which each of the characters follows their cue in their booklet. When everyone has said their piece, the next course of the meal is usually served and then the next track on the CD is played: the voice-over provides a summary of the investigation so that everyone can make notes.

This process is repeated two or three times, after which everyone considers the evidence and accuses one of the other characters. The actual villain is then unmasked (or unmasks themselves) and the evening draws to a close. The invitations include costume suggestions but just as with roleplaying games, there is no need to dress up if you don’t want to. You don’t even have to all be in the same place: my friends and I managed to run a murder mystery over Zoom during the pandemic.

The Murder Mystery Store has some great choices that cover 4 to 14 players in several different genres, and they can all be played several times because the villain is chosen randomly each time you play—other providers’ mysteries (like the ones you see in box sets) are often less flexible and can only be played once.

While all the role-playing was going on, I hadn’t stopped playing other table-top games: Nicola and I would enjoy evenings with friends and family playing newer games such as Articulate, Pass the Bomb, and Apples to Apples. One game I learned after meeting Nic and getting to know her dad Lloyd and his wife Irene was Rummikub, a tile-based variation of the card game rummy.

Before she died, we began a tradition of spending an evening with close friends enjoying a meal and drinks before playing one game or another—one of these evenings teamed Nicola and Ian in Articulate, and Ian’s failed attempt to describe a reindeer to Nic (“Unicorn!”) left the rest of us helpless with laughter for a good ten minutes.

I am glad that this tradition has survived to the present day and includes new friends and family. We have played a lot of games such as Pandemic (not so much of that in recent times), Tsuro, Forbidden Island, Ticket to Ride, Sheriff of Nottingham, Dixit and Mysterium, to say nothing of the Nigerian-themed Monopoly game; I have played Takenoko, Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards, King of Tokyo, and Petrichor at my brother’s.

The other kind of gaming I have done is computer gaming: from the early days of the home computers my parents bought to the first-person shooters like Doom. Nowadays, my computer gaming is restricted to a regular session with my old university friend Andy: two to three hours on a Sunday evening working through computer role-playing games. We started with Baldur’s Gate and went on to its sequels before switching to Neverwinter Nights. We are now nearing the end of the first campaign but there are others to pursue and other games after that.

That’s my history with games. I have enjoyed playing all of them and although our roleplaying group has faltered somewhat of late, I look forward to resuming our sessions in a part-virtual, part-face-to-face set-up.