Paul: Welcome! Welcome to a very particular corner of my home. While apartment life in Vancouver doesn’t afford me the sort of cavernous attic that we peeped into when Quinns talked about his game collection, I do have a very particular place where I keep mine, all safe and warm and pristine. Welcome to my Games Closet. Welcome to the home of my fun. Please, take my hand as I invite you into a midnight tour of a very snug, very intimate space in my life. Don’t worry! You’re quite safe. Now, walk this way with me. Walk this way. Just around here. Toward the light…
YES. This apparently slim, unassuming alcove actually holds dozens of games and has room for so many more. It’s almost an afterthought, hidden around a corner, and if I took its shelves out it might double as a mini panic room. If I wanted a panic room where I could only stand up. And with no lock. ANYWAY. Take that light and follow me. We’re going in.
I haven’t always been living in Canada. I originally spawned in a pond in Hampshire and then spent nearly a decade in London. Putting my pasty British bottom down in Vancouver meant making a lot of sacrifices and the two bags that travelled halfway around the world with me contained absolutely no board games, mostly just books and underpants. I left my collection in the care of a friend and effectively started from scratch. It’s been an interesting experience.
What I own now has grown in a very different way, through a philosophy that’s been part practical, part experimental. I could’ve simply tried to find many of the games that I used to own and build something similar to what I had before, but Shut Up & Sit Down constantly hungers for new flavours and so I’ve tried to make myself shuffle out of my comfort zone, step sideways and reach for what might be unusual or eclectic. Board game distribution in Canada can also be a bit spotty, so that’s made me even more likely to make impulsive purchases that I might not get a second chance at.
(Click to peek closer! WE’RE GETTING VERY NEAR.)
Looking at this collection now, a year and a half after I began assembling it, I see something strangely disparate. It doesn’t feel like a Paul collection at all, yet I feel really very happy with it. It’s given me an awful lot of fun.
First, let me tell you about my system. My system is very complicated. My games sit on shelves and the more interesting the game is, the higher up it lives. Let’s start by looking at what I keep on the floor or, as I like to call it, THE TRASH ZONE (since the bottom “shelf” is effectively the floor, imagine these as games that have just been tossed onto the ground). Shine that thing down here!
Oh hello, 504! Fancy seeing you here. Why are you still here? The answer to that question is the very simple “Absolutely nobody wants you.” One cannot simply give 504 away in the same way one cannot simply heave nuclear waste into a trash can. Here’s a little story about one of the first times I played 504: A group of friends who came round to try out one of the recommended scenario combinations with me flat refused to play a second. The rules will be somewhat different, I protested! There’ll be some other mechanics, I cried!
Bye, they said. IT WASN’T EVEN TEN IN THE EVENING.
So 504 remains here and, I imagine, will have to be buried in concrete somewhere near the earth’s core and left untouched for at least the next ten thousand years.
Other titles languishing in the Depths of Disappointment include T.I.M.E. Stories and Specter Ops, both games that run laps around 504 but still fell short of the hopes I had. I feel a tinge of sadness when I see T.I.M.E. Stories because it was such a classy-looking cad and had an interesting premise, but just couldn’t deliver. Will there perhaps be some future module that rights this game’s rather wonky wheels? I’m not holding out. …And Then We Held Hands also lives down here. Nobody ever holds it any more.
And yes, you see what you think you see there, shrinking from the light. That’s Cards Against Humanity. I’m sure you’re very, very curious about why I might have this. There is a story.
Our widely-shared feature about CAH actually began as a video review that I wrote and filmed solo a couple of months before. It was never finished, in part because I was interrupted by a homeless woman who wandered into my old apartment building, clearly not well, prompting my building manager and I to intervene and eventually call the emergency services, also in part because we decided it would work better if we all contributed to the discussion. In order to both make that original review, but also to give a fair and comprehensive analysis, I had to get a copy of the game.
I also made the not-at-all-great decision to film some of that review in a few local parks around East Vancouver. Cue me walking around in public holding cards that said things like “Jews” and “Child abuse” on them, some of which I didn’t realise I’d accidentally dropped and had to go back and retrieve before anyone found them and wondered what the hell was wrong with me. That was an uncomfortable and embarrassing thing to shoot, serving only to further remind me of how the game is far more crass than it is clever. I was worried this stuff might actually get me into trouble even though I wasn’t trying to defend the damn thing. Still, the silver lining on this cloud is that I ended up recording my Greatest Gaming Memory instead. For an improvised, last-minute replacement, that went pretty well.
I have no idea what to do with this box. There is nobody, nobody that I’d push it upon, nor do I even want to give it away, as the world does not need another copy of this game in the wild. Is it too wasteful to simply destroy it? I’m not a destructive person so, instead, it remains forever in solitary confinement.
Above that is the Middling Shelf. Games on the Middling Shelf are fine, but they don’t get much play. I thought XCOM was fairly good and I’ve certainly had some fun with it, but after a dozen games it doesn’t have enough staying power for me. I’m sure it’ll hit the table again sometime, as it has some cool crossover appeal for video gamers who still need to be tempted to this hobby. Pingo Pingo might also get the occasional party play, but I think Deus and Cacao are likely to just gather more dust.
Huddled around them for warmth are Through the Ages, 7 Wonders Duel and Histrio. The first two are sure to get passed on at some point, but God have mercy on anyone not prepared for the evening-eating, overblown scale of Through the Ages. They are going to die. They are actually going to die.
Histrio, meanwhile, is one of those games that we bounced off so, so hard. It may get some more play soon and it’s certainly cute as hell, but Quinns and I were not impressed by a two player experience that had us also having to control two dummy players as we shuffled our way through a slow game of nudging different values up and down. What do you think? Is this worth a serious re-appraisal?
As our eyes lift upward, we cast the bright glare of our flaring lamp upon the Cool Zone. Step in to my Cool Zone! It’s arguably the most thrilling zone, as it’s a mix of both games that I like, games that I’m currently playing and games that are in the to-play-and-get-excited-about queue! These games fall at eye level whenever I open this cupboard, so they’re always a first consideration.
As you can see, I’m slowly splashing my way through SeaFall, still enjoying Junk Art (that’s the big wooden box you see), remain happy with Porta Nigra and I also recently cracked out Ashes again. While I know now I’m never going to be much of a competitive deckbuilder and don’t have that deep desire to constantly tweak and refine, I was reminded how smart Ashes is. It gives you so much possibility for coy card combinations, yet it’s also a game that can give you just enough rope to hang yourself with.
Alongside these, there’s a couple of games I still need to try. I inherited Meteor from Quinns while he was in Vancouver, then promptly loaned it out without playing it. Hit Z Road came back with me from GenCon, but was forgotten while I jetted off to a certain wedding. I actually picked up Fresco a while ago, on a whim and because I’d heard good things about it, but both friends and I have always wanted other games to jump the queue. Similarly, Patronize was a sudden, impulse purchase, a tiny card game by Hisashi Hayashi, the same designer as String Railway. Is it good? Oh boy, I wish I could tell you! I will in time, I promise! I might try Res Publica first…
And yet I cannot! I must open these.
Letting all of you into my home like this (my God, there seem to be quite a few of you) also gives you a special, sneak peek into some big titles that get moved to the front of the line for SU&SD to look at next. The Harry Potter game is actually a co-operative deckbuilder, while 4Gods made a good first impression on me at GenCon. Both these are going to get a thorough going over in the weeks ahead but, as you can see, they haven’t even been opened yet. No kidding, folks, these arrived JUST THE OTHER DAY and I’ve already had my hands full with our Halloween video, which is this curious fellow…
Surrounding these, you’ll also spot the comical Concept, the dwarven deceit of Saboteur, the slightly chess-like The Duke, Red Planet, The Great Dinosaur Rush and, peeping out at the top, Pandemic: Contagion. The latter is maybe the lightest of the Pandemic knock-offs and I wouldn’t say it’s a compelling title, but I really like that it’s both fast and that it comes with cute little petri dishes. That always makes a good first impression on guests and I like to show this off to remind visitors that board games can be full of clever little touches.
The same goes for The Great Dinosaur Rush, which again wins a little more love than its mechanics might deserve simply because of its wonderfully silly fake dinosaur assembly. I never really care who wins games of this, only what ridiculous animals they invented this time. I make people name them, too. You score no points if they have no name.
The top shelf is not only the Epic Tier, the games that I have the most love for, but it’s also the shelf that produces the most laughter. Panamax is the giant up here and, while it’s not chunkiest economic game I’ve ever played or owned, it’s maybe the most appropriately representative in its mechanics. You can get your fingers into so many financial pies, negotiate nautical nudges with your rivals and enjoy the satisfaction of shifting huge, huge stacks of crates back and forth all day long. It feels like capitalism.
Yet it shares this space with a lot of much lighter and more accessible fare. Isle of Skye demands you be very savvy if you want to be successful, but still has a very low barrier of entry, much like its very distant cousin Carcassonne. I will tell you right here and right now that I will probably be playing Carcassonne until the day I die, also on my deathbed and, quite possibly, could even be buried with it by well-meaning relatives. I just really like laying tiles and I think it appeals to the mapmaker within me.
Similarly, Hand of the King is a tiny treasure, also easy to learn but hard to master, and while both Codenames games are inevitably headscratchers, they’re again something that can be explained to new players in mere minutes. And Go Cuckoo, peeking back there? And Crossing? Crossing?! Crossing is even easier to teach and has become one of my best discoveries of the year. What joy lives up here. JOY. No wonder the rest of this shelf is complimented by that simple pleasure that is the rolling of dice, in Dice City and Roll for the Galaxy.
Am I going soft in my old age? Sure. Maybe. It may also be a soft phase that I’m going through and, perhaps some day soon I’m going to crack open something really, really heavy that will reawaken old passions, but until then I’m quite happy with a weirdly disparate collection. And what’s that you spot hidden at the very top? Why, yes, I still love Citadels to this day, the very first game we ever reviewed on Shut Up & Sit Down. After five years, here I am coming full circle.
Thank you for joining me in that circle, that circle of games which forms such a firm hug. Now, I’m afraid, I must banish you from my home. I’m pretty sure my tenancy agreement says the rent goes up by $30 if I move someone else in.