I wanted to take a moment today to talk about the man who arguably had the biggest impact on me as a gamer.
My father, Bruce Devereaux.
I took some time out during this father’s day weekend to have a chat with my Dad about gaming when he was younger, and when I was younger.
“Games I played as a kid which I loved – Mastermind, Connect Four. Games I played as a kid which I thought I loved but really hated – Monopoly, Trouble. Also loved Scrabble, but mainly because I could spell out cuss words on my tray and pretend the letters just randomly did it.”
Truth be told, I don’t think TGR would exist without my Dad. His site Big Family, little income has been a constant source of pride for me. Not because I’ve had a huge impact on its content by any means, but because Dad proved to me you can make a living by doing what you’re passionate about. You can be a positive influence in people’s lives by writing about something inconsequential so long as you make people smile. BFli is an inspiration, and I’ve loved every part of the journey.
“The way I think about tabletop games… when I was a kid we were fed kidney and told it was mushroom. We liked it because we thought it was mushroom. Looking back, it wasn’t. The hype around the ‘classics’ was more exciting than playing the game itself.
Fuck this is depressing. My childhood gaming was a lot shitter than I remembered.”
However this part of my Dad’s influence feels like something I’ll say in a speech when I accept my pulitzer in Tabletop Journalism one day (I’ll print myself a certificate or something). What I want to talk about right now is why tabletop gaming became such a huge part of my life. And it’s largely because of my father.
I’ve always enjoyed games in general. I could see the value in playing sports (not watching them, I didn’t and don’t care for sporting voyeurism). Video games have been as responsible for being tired during university lectures as my insomnia. But when I was younger I didn’t understand tabletop games. Their graphics sucked. And beating my Grandma or Little Sister at checkers wasn’t as satisfying as blasting aliens on my PlayStation.
“I stopped playing tabletop games because the classics were easy to win against my kids and you get sick of deliberately losing all the time”
Dad insisted board games were fun though. And every year we’d go into the board game section of one mass market store or another and pick up the latest reskinned trivial pursuit or cluedo. Only to later sit around the table and be amused at some of our usual antics, with the game often forgotten and relegated to a corner of the table.
“The revival has not just meant better games around but it’s easier to find and buy them.”
I did enjoy chess. Dad and I would have a game over a cup of tea some nights. I liked how the pieces moved differently, the choices I got to make. But I honestly think the thing I enjoyed most was spending the time with my Dad. We were always laughing. It always felt good just to spend time. We would usually end the game of chess by making up stories. I still remember my Dad explaining in one of the stories where we would say a sentence each as the story continued “he ruled with an iron fist” and I responded by explaining how the bad guy would punch people with said iron fist. My positive feelings when playing chess led me to play in our school team.
“Games I played as a kid which I still enjoy. Chess.”
From memory, the game which Dad and I played where I first knew the game itself was a huge amount of fun was Axis and Allies Pacific. Dad and I would spend a night setting everything up, and then have a few turns each night over the course of a week. Not only was I having a great time with my Dad, I was enjoying the game. We would search online and talk about different parts of the world, or different facts about World War 2. It wasn’t forced, or homework. It just came naturally as we enjoyed the game.
“Axis & Allies game got me back into tabletop games. A bit.”
Even back then I could see the objective flaws in Axis and Allies. And boy did it matter who you played with. But I started to think of tabletop gaming as more than Chess V Boring. Suddenly all those times in the shopping center made sense. Dad was searching for something he would enjoy playing with us where we were able to laugh together and spend time being in each others presence. Nothing on those shop shelves would meet his criteria.
“One of the most exciting games I discovered as a young adult was 500. Finally a game which combined thinking, luck, strategy and teamwork. A social game. Instead of the cheating, lying, argumentative games I grew up with.”
A few years on and I’d be in Uni when I bought Lords of Waterdeep, Arkham Horror, and the 4th edition D&D Red Box. I was keen to show Dad but he’d largely moved away from gaming at this point, except for the occasional game of Rummy-O or 500. Wil Wheton’s Tabletop was perfect for conveying my message better than I could back then. I still remember after a few attempts to get him to check it out, he agreed to have it on in the background while I taught him Small World on my iPad.
“My son piqued my interest. It took him a while but eventually he convinced me to watch a video on YouTube which sounded boring but wasn’t. An episode of Will Wheaton’s Tabletop. I was instantly hooked. To be honest – these were the games I’d been looking for my whole life. They were fun!”
Mr Wil Wheton, I certainly hope you have a fantastic father’s day yourself. Because your show brought the gamer back out in my Dad.
“My favourite games at the moment – Stone Age, Dead of Winter, and Pandemic. They’re simple but you get to make choices. Unlike Monopoly where the only strategy I had was rip off my siblings and steal from the bank.”
This weekend we got in some games of Tiny Epic Galaxies and Betrayal at House on the Hill. But our cupboards are stocked with games we get to play. Christmas has turned into buying board games for each other, and not just because it’s a material possession but also because we know we’re buying each other experiences – smiles, laughter, and good times.
“I love defector games because I’m a fan of Agatha Christie.”
Gaming is a part of my life now not just because I’m a geek, but also because I have such positive times associated with it. From Chess with Dad, to the hilarity that ensued when I first taught the family to play Werewolf, to the nights of Pandemic with cups of hot chocolate as we would (failed to) save the world.
To my Dad asking for the seventh time how to upgrade his empire in Tiny Epic Galaxies.
“I like that we’re all around the table together. When you play video games or watching a movie together you’re looking at a screen. But with board gaming you look at each other.”
Dad always taught me growing up “You don’t have to be perfect, just be better than me. And if your kids are better than you, each generation will get a little better”. You set a high bench mark Dad.
What I can promise is I’ll play better games with my kids than Axis and Allies.
“When I was a kid I really wanted the starter set for Dungeons and Dragons. I was so cranky when Mum and Dad wouldn’t buy it for me. It had a dragon and everything. When Christmas day came around and I opened my present… I glanced at Mum and Dad. They were waiting for the ohmygawd-hat-throwing-yeehaw-excitment to kick it. I put it aside and opened the next present. I couldn’t do it. Of course if they’d mentioned I had a chance of getting the present I’d have been better positioned to warn them I’d looked into it by now and it required other people to play with me. I knew and they knew that wasn’t going to happen”
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