Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Game Group

True happiness is of a retired nature, and an enemy to pomp and noise; it arises, in the first place, from the enjoyment of one's self, and in the next from the friendship and conversation of a few select companions. - Joseph Addison

At 5:15 I head for home, stopping at Hebrew University (Givat Ram campus) to pick up Rachel. We arrive home by 5 to 6. As usual, we are pressed for time.

Between the two of us, we form hamburgers from the defrosted meat, chop vegetables, and defrost some pitas. Game night is supposed to start at 6:30.

While Rachel finishes the meal, I place an insert into the table, and bring in the small card table from outside. I unpack and unfold the chairs from the closet, setting up the card table in the living room.

We are ready to sit down to eat at 6:15 or 6:20, which is when Brendan arrives. Brendan catches an infrequent bus from Hebrew University (Mt Scopus campus), so if he didn't arrive early, he would arrive late. He brings with him 2 "mana chama"s, packaged plastic food items that require only hot water to reconstitute. Sometimes we ask him to join us for dinner, and sometimes he insists on eating his plastic food.

We are not done eating when Guy and Nate arrive at 6:28, usually with Binyamin following. Itamar may be with him. Binaymin has brought some games in his bag, probably a few new ones that none of us have played. They talk about games, and may start a warm-up game while we finish eating - something new and short, or San Juan, or similar.

They ask "who is ordering"? There's always a few people ordering food from the local Burger's Bar. Nadine arrives. Elijah arrives. Elijah always orders a steak salad. Nadine usually orders a single burger, spicy. You need at least two people ordering or they won't deliver.

Adam and Gili arrive, and maybe Ben, and some others. Altogether we may now be between ten and fifteen people. If we're over ten people, I let everyone sort out what they will be playing. If under ten, I need to help arrange the games, dealing with the usual chorus of "I don't like that", "I really want to play that", "We played that last time", "I'll play anything but that", "That doesn't work with X players", and so on. So far, this has never taken more than ten minutes.

As requested, some of the players bring snacks, typically some sort of cookies, chips, or similar items. Even though I'm not ordering food, I place the food order now, unless I have to explain a game in which case it will have to wait until the explanation is over. For most games, other people can also explain them, now.

Games explanation is always: 1) These are the victory conditions. 2) These are the primary means of obtaining the victory conditions. 3) This is how each turn works. 4) So, as you can see, the primary paths to obtaining the victory conditions are X, Y, and Z, or a combination thereof. 5) A few things to remember, and a few exceptions.

If David is there, we plot how we can split off from the others to play Magic at some point during the evening: Rochester draft from my cards. I take 20 cards at random from each color, and another 20 cards from artifacts/gold/special lands, shuffle, remove 30, and we draft from that. Then we build decks and I lose three games to him.

Otherwise, if we are lucky, the shorter games have ended by 7:15 or so, and the main games may start. Intro games are often abandoned in favor of the main games, in order to not keep people waiting. As the first game ends, I take out my pen and paper and begin writing down games played, by whom, and scores.

Sometimes with ordering food, a short game, figuring out which game to play, latecomers, and explaining the rules, the main game may not start until 8:00. That eliminates certain games from a number of the participants who have to leave by 10:00 - no Power Grid, Caylus or other games that take too long. Instead, they will opt for Taj Mahal, Puerto Rico, Prince of Florence, or similar.

The noise gets a bit loud, and people are asked to hush. There is a constant chatter about what moves to take, what other players should do, clarifications on the rules. The phone rings at least four times. The food arrives, and everyone starts figuring out how much money to pay and how much tip to give the delivery guy (not required in Israel, but we usually give, anyway). Then people have to figure out where to eat, which are the meat silverware and the meat sink, where is the garbage, and please don't put that cup so close to the game.

If we're lucky, games will end at close to the same time. Those that ended a little earlier may finish eating, talk, surf the net, decide what to play next, or go to the bathroom. If we're unlucky, the Amun-Re game is only at round four by 10:00. People admonish each other to move quicker, yet still take a long time to decide what to do on their own turn. But everyone is pleased with the game.

If the first games end by 9:30, another main game will be started. If later than 10:00, a shorter game, such as Settlers or San Juan. If after 10:30, maybe some Bridge hands.

If a new game has been played, judgment is passed. A poor game will likely not be seen again. A game that some like and some don't will, and it will enter the roster of games that we argue about the next time a game has to be chosen. My own game collection doesn't vary too much, but a borrowed game may be returned, and I may have traded and received the trade recently. Mostly, new games are brought in by others. Mostly Binyamin.

I will complain that I'm losing, but not seriously. Binyamin will complain that he made the wrong move because he didn't understand the rules. Nadine will suggest that we rewind the game several moves so that someone can redo their turn. Elijah will furrow his brow, or be bored. Adam will warn you not to move where he wants or risk his vengeance. Gili will do whatever is the opposite of what was suggested in order to try something new. Brendan will ask if we can play Apples to Apples after this.

Gili or I will heat up water at some point. Gili drinks Chico, while I drink tea. Brendan drinks cocoa.

Some leave at 10:00 or 10:30. Rachel warns everyone else that she wants game night over by 11:30. On a good day, she will be drawn into a Puerto Rico game with variant buildings and enjoy it, although she will be chomping at the bit to get to her next turn already. She'll win. On a bad day, she may be sucked into the PR game when she had other things to do, and regret playing. In this case, she'll lose.

By 11:30, the last game is almost done, and by 11:45 it is done. There will be a bit more talking as I herd people out the door saying "Goodnight! See you next week!"

After it is over, the tables go out, the chairs are folded, the garbage is thrown out, the cups put into the dishwasher, the insert removed, the floor is swept, the games put away, and the counters cleared. I used to stay up and write the session report on the computer, but now I wait until the next day.

Somewhere in the fabric of the night, the tendrils of gaming and companionship bind us in a web that, though we scatter from the group, bring us back again.


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