Like most people, board games were a big part of my early years. But after a long hiatus, I rediscovered the hobby when I was close to 40. Initially, I was researching games my partner and me would like, as we’d moved in together and she had a love for the classics. So, I initially looked for abstract games for us to play. But this soon became something much bigger.
I became a regular at board game clubs and conventions, started writing a blog about board games (GoPlayListen) and started dabbling in game design. My first game, Empire Engine, was published by AEG in 2013 – which was around the time I started to notice changes in my personality. Having been incredibly outgoing, I started worrying a lot more about – well, everything public really. I’d cancel appointments or meetups, not turn up to concerts I had tickets for, and started trying to work from home as much as possible (rather than the office).
Generally, I’m much more reclusive now. I still struggle to get to concerts and work completely from home. While I try to avoid large, noisy places and gatherings which I used to love. I struggle sometimes to even walk into a shop or bar. But board gaming has been largely unaffected. I love introducing new people to the hobby, going to game groups and having people round to play some games. I struggle a little with conventions, but do still try to make the effort.
For me, it’s all about how the community works. I can be in a room with 100 people and there’s that nice feeling that you’re all in it together. But equally, once you sit down and play, it’s just three or four of you in the moment enjoying the game. It’s a huge community made up of tiny, shifting microcosms, and I feel somehow safe in that fluidity.
If I walk into a heaving pub, it can feel like everyone is staring at me. I just have to leave again. But when I arrive at Essen Spiel, with 20,000 other gamers, I feel anonymous until I sit down at a table and start to play. It’s hard to explain, but it always feels personal rather than overwhelming. Sure, sometimes I don’t want to sit and play with people I don’t know. But in those times, I can just wander and keep to myself, while still enjoying the feeling of belonging.
I’ve now reviewed more than 200 games including Forbidden Desert, That’s Pretty Clever, Kingdomino & Qwirkle. I’ve been to Essen Spiel 10 years in a row and have five games published – with more in the pipeline. And I help run a board game convention. None of it is easy, but it does feel worthwhile. Because the community – you guys – make it so.