As many of you know, over the last year I have been involved with a couple of different programs in which I have taught children and interested adults, a wide variety of board games. For most of the year I have been helping Andrea Callahan, and her wonderful family, run the Family Game Day at the Southport Public Library on the first Saturday of every month. I also helped out with a local junior high school’s “Gamers Guild” for a couple of months this past autumn. The Gamers Guild was organized and run by an amazing teacher named, James Plane. If the rest of the teachers in this country were even half as terrific as Mr. Plane our education woes would be greatly reduced! These two functions combined to give me some experience in running or at least co-running a board game event, but I had never really given a lot of thought to making event hosting a major part of what I do. However, this past Friday night was an exciting Life in Games’ first, as I joined forces with a local Boy Scout Troop to bring board game goodness to their lock-in!
It all began a couple of months ago when my wife Heather was contacted by an old friend from high school, Jennifer (Underwood) Sines. Jennifer had seen one of Heather’s posts about my involvement with Family Game Day, and inquired as to whether I would be interested in running a board game event for their December lock-in. One thing led to another, and before I knew it I was agreeing to bring and teach games as part of the entertainment. Because I thought it would be a fun opportunity to spread the word about this blog, and because I really had no idea if this was going to go well or not, I offered to do it for free. As far as I was concerned, it would be hard to not give them their money’s worth, if I did not take any of their money! Clever, right? I know.
So I agreed to do it, marked the date on my calendar, and literally did not give it much thought or planning for quite some time as December 13th was far away. Like all things that are far away, it was far away until it wasn’t! Therefore, as December started, I began to wonder exactly what I was going to do. Obviously I would take games, and obviously I would teach games, but numerous logistical questions began to rear their ugly head. You know, the kind that a first time event coordinator has a hard time answering. Fortunately, Jennifer was helpful in providing a rough idea of the night would entail. Unfortunately, she was not given a whole lot of information herself due to people’s tendency to not RSVP in a timely manner. Oh well, if I was going in blind, at least I would not be going in alone!
As I had a very vague description of the number of attendees (10-50) and an equally vague description of their ages (6-11 with older siblings welcome) I decided it would be best to abide by the timeless motto of the Boy Scouts, and be prepared! I brought a wide array of games that could handle a broad age group and number of players. Although I included some more complex games, in case some of the older siblings showed up, I mostly focused on simplicity. I figured that this would enable me to teach the most games to the most players in the least amount of time. In addition, I planned to run a tournament of the game Jungle Speed and give a copy to the winner. If I could teach several kids Jungle Speed at once and interest them in the tournament, then I would be able to teach the kids were eliminated other games a few at a time instead of trying to run several different games at once. After wavering whether this was the best plan or not, Heather reassured me that this was an excellent idea and that I should stick to it. I tried. I swear that I tried, but the boys had different plans and the way that I figured, it was their night. I believe there were two key contributing factors to the derailment of my plan: They were boys around the age of ten and there were lots of them, and the Carrom table. The Carrom table was both to be responsible for changing my plans and one of the biggest hits of the night!
Carrom is a game popular in India and South East Asia that had seen a recent growth of popularity in the US due to the number of immigrants from that part of the world. The easiest way to describe Carrom would be to compare it to team Pool, that is played with your fingers and disks instead of balls and a cue. After first playing Carrom a couple of Gen Cons ago, I purchased one for the family and we enjoy playing from time to time. I figured it would be popular with the boys and decided to take it at the last-minute. It turned out to be the most popular thing that I brought by far. After I set up the table, three Boy Scouts and my stepson Jarrett sat down to play and there was never a moment when it was not full for the rest of the evening! There was tons of cackling and cheering as they had a blast and as the night progressed even some of the adults got into the action. Whether they were six years old or forty-six years old, everyone had a great time with the Carrom table! Of course, as you might imagine, all of that enthusiasm for Carrom made it quite difficult to organize a Jungle Speed tournament.
After leaving some of the boys to their own devices with the Carrom table, I gathered up a few more for a quick lesson in the game of Jungle Speed. Still foolishly entertaining thoughts of running a tournament for this game, I figured that it would be a good idea to start teaching as many of the boys as I could.
Jungle Speed is a very simple game, and perfect for boys of this age, because it is high-energy, quick to learn, and engages both their bodies and minds! Each player is given a deck of cards face down with each on having a different pattern on its face. These patterns are exact matches with a few others and this is what players are looking for. On a player’s turn he flips over a card and if it is an exact match by shape (not color) with a face up card of another player, those two players must try to grab the totem out of the middle of the table first. The player who fails to grab the totem must take the victor’s discard pile. However, should someone get jumpy and even touch the totem when there is not a match, or they are not involved in the match, that player must take everyone’s discard pile! As the goal of the game is to get rid of all of your cards, both speed and accuracy are important.
As you can see, there are lots of smiles in those pictures! Far be it from me to interfere with their fun on behalf of my tournament plans. If they are having fun then I am succeeding whether or not it is following my plan! Jungle Speed was such a hit that Jennifer and another mother bought the two sealed copies that I brought! Hey, I am nothing if not adaptable.
Another big hit of the evening was Ninja versus Ninja. It is a light two-player strategy game that can be taught in about 5 minutes, and played in about 20. With each player controlling a clan of caricatured ninja figures and trying to invade their enemy’s dojo or wipe them out this little game is a sure-fire hit with boys of this age! All I had to do was say the word ninja out loud and they came running.
I could not have been happier with the response that Ninja versus Ninja received!
Another game that saw a little play was Qwirkle. Heather taught a group how to play before she had to leave to run errands. Although I did not personally oversee the group, she said that the thought it was a great game!
Qwirkle is basically Scrabble without letters or a board. Instead of creating words, players build runs of patterns and colors that must connect with all previous plays. The board evolves based on the random tile draws of the players and how they choose to strategically play those tiles. Based on the number of tiles played, and the length of each run that a play creates, players score varying numbers of points. Being easy to teach and fun to play guaranteed Qwirkle would be along for the ride!
While Forbidden Island is one of the more advanced games that I brought with me, it did actually get played. One of the fathers, a gamer himself, taught and ran a play of the game with a little rules help from me. Forbidden Island is a co-op game in which the players work together to accomplish a common goal instead of competing with each other. While I am not really a big fan of co-ops, Forbidden Island is one of the best and great for playing with a group of Boy Scouts. As Scouts are adventurous by nature, the idea of being a team of explorers trying to find treasures on an island and escape before it sinks is right up their alley.
As it turned out, they were able to get the treasure and escape the island before it sank. Many thanks to the father who jumped right in and ran the game for the boys. There is no way I would have had time to do it myself, so I am glad the boys got to play!
Last, but not least is a personal favorite from my childhood, Connect Four. I assume little explanation is needed as if you are reading this you must be a gamer. As such, I have no doubt that you played Connect Four at some point during your childhood. This game holds a special place in my heart because my sister used to throw it at my head after I would beat her when we were kids! Still being willing to win even though it would mean flying pointy plastic legs of death zooming at your head is a character building experience! Thankfully, there were no injuries Friday night, but it was clear from the amount of play that Connect Four saw that it has not lost any luster with kids of the right age!
Although I took several other games, this is the vast majority of what got played by the scouts and the adults. While I had modern classics with me like Ticket to Ride and Citadels, there simply was not the time nor the right environment to teach and play them. No worries though, I was just glad to have them along in case!
The night was a great success! The parents and leaders that I spoke to, including Jennifer were very pleased with whole night and said it was one of the best they had ever had. There was even talk of having me back next year, and as Jennifer put it, “Making it worth my while!” I can only assume that means vast amounts of money. Muahaha! All joking aside, she even went so far as to say that she would vouch for me for other events and give a warm recommendation. Certainly high praise, and a better reaction than I dared to hope for!
While I am personally proud of how the night played out and the excellent results of my effort, I would be remiss I did not thank the other people who helped make this lock-in the success that it was. Thanks to all of the parents and leaders who organized and ran the rest of the evening’s festivities! Were it not for their hard work and dedication, none of this would have been possible, Thank you especially to Jennifer. While we were acquainted in high school, we certainly were not close friends and for her to put the trust in me to interact with this number of young kids for whom she was responsible meant a lot. Just being given the opportunity was a big deal, and it was entirely her interest that made that possible in the first place! To the boys themselves, who despite their young age and hyper behavior were respectful of the games and Carrom board for the most part. I am happy to report that there was no damage to the table or any of the games and for that they are to be commended! My stepson Jarrett, for playing Carrom with the early arrivals, and helping to get things off to a good start. Last, but most assuredly not least, my wonderful wife Heather! It was her conversation with Jennifer months ago that even presented me with this chance. More than that, it was her work that provided the release forms for pictures, her actions as my P.R. rep, role as the “Rules is Rules” enforcer when I had my back turned, and Katie’s shuttle bus that made much of the night’s success possible. I am, as always, grateful for your love and support in both these endeavors and more importantly, life in general. I love you baby!
Fresh off a successful event like this, it has me thinking that I may explore this avenue further in the future. If you are located near the Indianapolis area and think that you might be interested in having us run a gaming event contact me here, on Facebook, or via Twitter. I will listen to your proposal, let you know what I can offer, and we can see if it is a plan that works for both parties.
In closing, it was a great night, sharing great games with great kids! It went better than expected and I hope to have the chance to explore similar opportunities in the future!