It’s no secret that I’m a gamer. Even my KNOM profile features me playing “Ticket To Ride – Europe” – (which has become known as “The Train Game” in the Volunteer House) – it’s one of my favorite pickup-and-play board games, since it is strategic and fun with pretty much any number of players. I like to play board games, as it’s a focusing social activity – providing a reason to sit around and talk, and revealing aspects of people’s character.
“The Settlers of Catan” is especially good for discerning character. Are your friends around the table traders? Hoarders? Builders? Strategians? (Ok, I made that word up. But it’s my internal code for someone who changes tactics based on situation). In High School, I learned a piece of advice that has stuck with me:
“Who you are in a game is a reflection of who you are in reality.”
When a player of Catan hoards their cards, despite the threat of the “robber” stealing half of them, it’s a fair bet that they like to keep options open, and either have so many plans that they can’t decide where to start, or so few plans that they are just looking to get the one card they need, and forgot that they can trade with others. In life, Card Hoarders may miss opportunities because they weren’t exactly what they were looking for, and tend to rely on their own resources rather than reach out to others.
Builders are the opposite – they play their cards as soon as they get the right combinations, choosing to get as many pieces on the board even if they don’t fit into an overall strategy. These players tend to be spontaneous in life, taking opportunities when they come, and move from one thing to another without putting together an overall plan.
Of course, these interpretations are my own – I have no research to back them up. But it’s still a neat analytical technique – when you play games, you start to get to know people on a level different from standard conversation. And that sense of knowing is great when you’re not playing games – you have an idea in a crunch situation of how your friends might react.
All that is to say, when this year’s crop of KNOM volunteers plays games… we get weird. Stories spontaneously appear in the least likely places – perhaps the trains in Ticket to Ride are carrying valuable unicorn cargo from London to Stockholm, or the Candyland characters are locked in the “Candy Cane Dungeon” for non-compliance of Candy-Tax Code, wherein players must give the current player a peppermint candy (Yes, we’ve played Candyland – it’s much more fun with extra scenarios and stories!)
Yesterday afternoon, I introduced my roommates to one of my favorite games – the lengthy and not-really-descriptive game called “Betrayal at House on the Hill.” In this game, the players explore a haunted house, revealing it room by room, until one player stumbles on an omen that brings about “the haunt” – an end game that differs each time you play. Josh, who stated categorically at the beginning of our volunteer time that he didn’t like board games, absolutely loved the game. Daynee had some trouble connecting the stairs together in her head, but was happy when she replaced her character with a gummy candy that her “character controlled with the power of her mind” – completely outside the rulebook, but entertaining to envision. And though the “heroes” lost in the first game, it was still compelling enough to bring us to play it again! When all five of the volunteers get together to play a game not just once, but twice, it’s indicative that we were having fun.
Then, later that night, we celebrated my birthday by hosting a murder mystery party. And here, again, we really had fun, getting into character, and even selecting characters that were different from who we were. Unlike a board game, the Murder Mystery was all about characterization – portraying a character with an agenda to conceal and facts to reveal, taking place over four “rounds” of play. And we five volunteers, along with four friends from the community, spent three hours revealing facts about our characters, while dismissing the allegations against us. By the end of the game, we were ready to find out what happened – and, though no one got the answer exactly right, we got close! It’s always fun to solve a mystery together, and role play characters.
One of these days, I may suggest attempting a true table-top Role Playing Game – but we’ll see what the future holds.