My re-found level of gaming
I always loved games and as kids my friends and I would play a lot. In the 90’s it was mostly video games as the only board games I was exposed to regularly back then consisted of Monopoly, Go For Broke, and Game of Life.
In the past year or two I’ve rediscovered my love for both, and I’d like to share why. So this post has two halves;
- Board games
- Video gaming
Board games #
My friend Dave can take all the credit for getting me into boardgames. He’d been getting into it himself with local groups, then started buying games of his own. Soon we were being invited over for sessions at his house, and now have a regular group who meet about once a fortnight in town after work one evening.
Board games have gone through a renaissance in recent years. The increased popularity has led to the market being flooded with interesting titles, largely spurred on by kickstarter which de-risks the high production costs. We’ve even seen chains of dedicated event venues popping up all over town, providing a gamer friendly environment with food and drink.
What I’ve come to love about the games is the range of mechanics at play and interesting challenges. It’s also fun to play IRL with friends who also love to play.
The most interesting thing we’ve played is two seasons of a cooperative campaign game called Pandemic Legacy. Pandemic is a stand-alone game, a really great one, and the campaign (Legacy) introduces more mechanics and took us around half a year to play. A season 2 came out with a new map and more new mechanics which took another 6 months. We can’t wait for season 3.
Board end-state upon completion of Pandemic Legacy Season 2
We’ve played small card games that take 10 mins a round, complicated board games that take 12 hours, and everything in between.
I’ve been enjoying it immensely and hope to continue long into the future.
Probably the most complex game we’ve played: Twilight Imperium
Video gaming #
I’ve always owned something to play games on. Early consoles in the 80’s and 90’s, leading into the PS2, Xbox 360, PS4 (which I still have and use), and a short run of gaming/Counter Strike PCs. But it was the Nintendo Switch that really got me excited about video gaming again.
Nintendo always held a special place in my heart. During the 8-bit console generation my parents bought me a Master System II, making me a Sega kid, and I’d occasionally play on my Sisters original GameBoy. Then in the 16-bit generation I switched to a SNES and my true love affair with Nintendo began. I never owned an N64, but a good friend did and I spent a lot of hours play his. I did however get a Game Cube, and a Game Boy Advance, and I played a lot of Wii too. Nintendo games are special. They are well considered, well made and contain a certain kind of magic that no one else can replicate.
As soon as the Switch was announced I was sold. It launched in the spring with only a few games, so I waited until the launch date for Zelda Breath of the Wild was announced before committing. I bought it with Mario Odyssey and played that game every weekend until I had completed it. When Zelda was released is when things really changed.
I’d played several open world games in the past, my previous favourite was Shadows of Mordor on the PS4, but nothing was as truly open world as Zelda. In Zelda you can go anywhere, and given enough experience or potions, do anything. There is an underlying story you can pick up at any time, you can even run straight to the end boss unprepared if you want, as unadvised as that is. Everything else is about uncovering the world they created and levelling up your character, which in turn opens up more of the map. I think this is why I enjoyed it so much; the sense of adventure, discovery and progress.
You build your own world based on your experiences, and everyone’s experience will be different. The limitless environment made it a cut above the rest, adding the the sense this that this felt like a real world with real world limitations rather than a programmed one with obvious bounds as most games feel. Listen to two big Nintendo heads talk about what makes Zelda so special on one of my favourite video game podcasts: Remaster Episode 31.
Once I felt I’d done all I want to do in Zelda, including the expansions, I played a few other games that held my attention for long enough and went on another break.
I’m a big YouTube watcher, and one of my favourite types of content to watch is gamers (lets play content). The pioneer of this field is PewdiePie (Felix) whose content I mostly love, and through him I discovered Jack Septiceye, Cinnamon Toast Ken and a few others. I’ve watched pretty much every PewdiePie video for years, past the gaming days, into Meme Reviews, a war with T-Series to 100 million subscribers and back onto gaming. I can safely say that Felix is 100% responsible for what I played next.
Minecraft has long been the worlds most popular video game. I’d played it with my Wife’s Nieces in the past, along with Roblox and other ‘childish’ video games, always in some strange multi-player mode, but I never saw the appeal. I heard podcasters I listen to like Myke Hurley talk about his love for Minecraft when he first discovered it years earlier. It was a meme in itself amongst ‘gamer’ YouTubers who didn’t think of Minecraft as a real game. So much so that most refused to play it, including Felix. But on passing 100 million subscribers he promised his fans, many of whom begged him for years to try, he’d give it a go. He only played single player mode, which I’d never experienced myself, and began building his new world. I was hooked from the very first episode.
I had no idea it was a such a creative game, and watching Felix build a world of his own, with his own story (as there is no story to speak of in the game) captivated me. The Minecraft series he made was some of the most entertaining content I watched last year. I felt compelled to play myself.
I tried first on my Mac, but my ageing machine simply couldn’t handle it, plus I don’t like gaming at a computer/desk any longer, so I moved to the Switch. I have put several times more hours into this game than any other I have ever played. I have no way of telling, but my best guess puts it north of 300 hours. My first world I put in about 100 hours, but I entered creative mode a few times (makes you invincible and provides infinite resources when active). This felt like cheating and I also made some fundamental errors in learning the ropes, so I just abandoned it and started afresh. My new world is glorious and I’ve built an amazing empire.
Top-left, clockwise: My house in its setting / Inside the house, 1st floor / My automated farms and cattle / My fishing lake and entrance to my underground village for trading.
I’m reaching the point now where there’s not much else left to do. There is a big end boss called the Ender Dragon to beat, to do so requires finding an Ender portal which I have also yet to do, but defeating things is not what I enjoy in this game, it’s building.
You start with nothing, and this game makes you learn everything the hard way. There are no hints or instructions to follow. You start with nothing and by the time night arrives you better have somewhere safe to shelter, or something to defend yourself with, or you’ll die over and over again.
Every time you die you loose everything you were carrying and all your XP. You respawn in the last bed you slept, or world spawn point if that bed was destroyed, as naked as you were when you started. If you can get back to the place you died within a day (in-game day! 24hrs in game is about 20mins IRL) you should be able to pick up most of the things you dropped, and around a quarter of your XP, but the further you venture from that last sleep point, the more dangerous this becomes. It’s brutal, and every time you die it hurts real bad.
When you start you need to cut down a tree with your bare hands, you can turn those wood blocks into planks, that allows you make a crafting table. Using this you can make a wooden tools to start mining. Mining using these rudimentary tools give you stone and in turn stone tools/weapons, and once you mine coal and iron ore you can smelt iron for metal tools. You can mine and craft all sorts of materials into a wide array of blocks for building; clay into bricks, sand into glass, wool into carpet, the possibilities are endless.
Playing on the switch allows me to play on my commute, I even bought a little backpack to make transporting it easy. I got a lot done on these journeys, but after having achieved more or less everything I really want, and then some, I think I’m about done for now. I can now say with confidence that Minecraft is to me the best game ever made, never have I found myself returning to a game this much, or felt such a sense of achievement and creativity. I may return again either to play in my current world, or if I dare, start another one day.
As I write this I purchased Subnautica - another open world crafting game based on an alien water planet. This one has an underlying story, and I’ve watched Jack Speticeye play through the entire game already. I purchased it while unwell for a week at home, so I’m already 30+ hours in and enjoying it very much. I learning that open-world farming/crafting games are really my cup of tea.
I can definitively say that without the Switch I would not have rediscovered my love of video games again. It’s versatility, wonderful design, incredibly fast boot times (usually less than 5 seconds from wake to playing, vs a few minutes or more on the PS4) and a catalogue of wonderful new Nintendo games makes this my favourite console to date.
Some other video gaming highlights of the past few years:
Mario vs Rabbids, Switch
A really fun turn based strategy game on the switch. Bizarre as hell (as I understand the Rabbids always are), but it ramps up in difficulty pretty quickly.
Assassins Creed Odyssey, PS4
Another open world level up game, this time set in Ancient Greece. You explore pretty much all of the Greek islands by foot, horse and boat. The story is kind of optional again, and started well, but got pretty drawn out. I found myself just completing the story as I’d sunk so much time into it.
I go in and out of playing gams on my phone. Holedown is one of those incredible simple, well crafted games you can dip in an out of really quickly. A simple pinball like block destroying game. I played this a lot in 2018, and I keep it on my phone as my emergency gaming fix.
Uncharted 4, PS4
A Tomb Raider like game with one of the most engaging stories I’ve ever experienced in a game. This was like playing an interactive movie. It’s mostly on rails, in that you have to follow the path laid out and there’s not a lot of room to deviate along the way. But the way the story was written and unfolds is really captivating and massive cinematic moments happen in gameplay on a regular basis. Enormous fun, and deservedly the most popular version in this franchise.
Part of my 2019 year in review.