The Table-Top Olympics — A Family Tradition

Though I see myself as many things — father, husband, writer — at heart, deep down, I’m a gamer.

I love all kinds of games — board games, war games, role-playing games, miniature games, even video games (though this last medium misses the camaraderie of personal interaction in my opinion).  I love ’em all, though I admit I’m drawn most to war games, particularly Warhammer 40,000 (40k) and Mars Attacks the Miniatures Game.  There’s just something about combing organized play (i.e. gaming) with little, awesome toy soldiers that really appeals to me.  Maybe it’s the fact that these sorts of games remind me of my youth, playing with toy soldiers, making up my own games and stories, and adding little “Pew Pew” and explosive sounds affects.  Maybe it’s the combination of spending a lot of time lavishing love upon these cool little monsters, tanks and soldiers with paint, conversion work and backstories.  Whatever the case, my primary love is war gaming and other miniature games, but it wasn’t always so.

Obligatory Image Include for a Kazzigum article.

As I said, I love lots of games.  Just about every game in one way or another.  And even though I’ve pretty much always been into war and miniature games, they were not always my primary love.  Indeed, once upon a time, before kids, even before my wife, I was really into role-playing games (RPGs).  Mostly Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) if I’m honest.  I was almost always the game master — running, creating and just being the whole world.  And we played a lot.  I’m talking a lot, lot.  I even created/wrote D&D stuff professionally for a bit.  And I loved it.  But, life intrudes as it does.  I had kids, we moved away and I’m slow to make friends.  There’s also the fact that gaming miniatures have come a long, long way in the last 10-15 years.  Seriously, you kids have no idea.  Looking at the plastics that Games Workshop is pumping out now and comparing them to the static, metal (and I’m talking lead in some cases) miniatures I played with as a boy and into my early gaming days, it just makes me want to weep.  And so I put aside my RPGs and embraced miniature and war games like never before.

Not a totally inaccurate portrayal of my high school years … until they took away the guitar.

Miniature and war games are great, especially because unlike many other games they are multi-faceted.  A game like 40k, for example just has so much I can do with it.  I mean, sure, you play it with your buddies, even strangers in a pick up game at your local game store or a tournament, but honestly, I spend more time doing other facets of the game.  List building, painting and modeling miniatures, photographing them and even writing articles like this one.  Basically, war and miniature gaming are more than just games, they’re a broader hobby.  And it’s this aspect of these particular games that draws me the most, especially over the last 15 years or so.  The ability to ‘play’ by myself, to participate on my own in the wee hours of the morning, even when none of my friends are available, has been a godsend to me.  Because though I always put my family first, and moving across country and raising children was always the first and foremost priority, I’m still a gamer in my soul.  Were I to turn away completely, I just wouldn’t be me.

Now we’re talkin.’

Involving the Family

Of course, as a war gamer, and even as an RPG player before, my friends and I take our games very seriously.  Oh don’t get me wrong, I still have fun and mostly play the game more for just the fun than to win, but even still, games like 40k and D&D can be pretty deep, involved and just plain wonky.  They’re not for everyone.  My wife likes D&D, but is completely uninterested in war or miniature games.  At 13, my son is just getting old enough to really understand these sorts of games, and my older daughter dipped her toe in Heroclix when she was in her mid-teens, but never had any interest in the rest of it.  So given this, how’s a gamer dad supposed to get his family interested in playing games?  Well, it’s not really too hard if you think about it — play other games with them.  In my family’s case, we enjoy playing simple board games, though not the boring Monopolys or Lifes of the world.  Hey, we’re still gamers after all — if there’s not zombies, plagues or gangsters, we ain’t interested.  Fortunately, I’ve always had a wide assortment of such games lying around, as even serious gamers like my buddies and I have always needed to step away from the war or role-playing games for a while and just bash on each other.

I’m always the Batman.  Even when I’m not.

For these sorts of family entertainment games, we’ve always preferred pretty unsophisticated games.  We really shoot for a complexity rating of 1-3 or so on a 10-point complexity scaling.  And we prefer games where you can really stick it to one another.  I mean, what’s more fun than flying away in the helicopter and leaving your family and friends to be eaten by zombies while you hang out the window and yell smack back down to them, am I right?  We love just these sorts of games.  In fact, in my family, we’ve made a family tradition of them.

Kazzigum’s Family Gaming Tradition.

At least once a year, my family and close friends pick a day, usually a Saturday, and we hold the Table-top Olympics.  We gather together in the morning at one of our home’s with plenty of space, eat lots of junk food (usually paired with barbecue), play seven different “events” (just the sort of games I was mentioning earlier) and spend all day throwing down and talking smack.  We take it semi-serious, with me playing John Williams’ Olympic Theme before every event and us tracking everyone’s score — the top three players earning the Gold, Silver and Bronze respectively for each given event.  At the end of the day, we tally up the scores, and crown the winner the Master Gamer — he or she gets to wear a plastic royal crown at next year’s Olympics.  The loser is dubbed Oblivion Man or Woman, and must wear a clam hat at next year’s Olympics.  It’s all silly good fun, and my family and friends eat it up, be they serious gamers or non-gamers who need to learn the games we play that very afternoon.

Yes, like this, only with zombies, pirates or alligators … maybe even all at the same time.

The thing that makes our Table-top Olympics all work is that we always go for the really easy games (following our bleak family themes of course).  The more simple, the better.  We do need to complete seven separate events after all, and even in an all-day event, that can be challenging if you’re not careful.  One of the few rules we do impose over everything is that if you don’t know how to play a given game, you are required to learn then and there.  So easier is just better.  Of course, in the near 25 years we’ve been doing this, we have our staples — Family Business, Navel War and Plague & Pestilence have always been present, and they are family favorites.  The remaining four “events” have rotated in and out over the years, but the most enduring have been Zombie Dice, King of Tokyo, Wiz-War, Bohnanza and Zombies (if you don’t have any of these games, I highly recommend them).  And we’re always looking for more.

If you’re a serious gamer like me, or even if you’re just looking for a way to bond with your family and friends, I highly recommend you give something like the Table-top Olympics a go.  Just don’t forget the theme music — if you’re gonna do something, go big!

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Thick As Thieves

As I said, my family and I are always looking for new games to add to the Table-top Olympics.  They just need to meet four criteria — be short, fun, let you hose your opponents, and not be a boring theme.  It just so happens that I’ve recently had the fortune of playtesting a prototype for just such a game.  The game is called Thick as Thieves by Michael Conn and will be coming to Kickstarter on this July 18th.  In the game, each player takes on the role of a London prowler — think jewel thief — and using a hand of cards must break into an upscale home and rob it of it’s valuables — do a ‘job.’  The game uses an innovative system that allows the players to play an Entrance card with a number representing just how hard the job is gonna be (the higher the number, the tougher the job).  Players then play various cards representing pathways through the home represented with numbers.  Once you get the Entrance card’s number or higher using these pathway cards, you complete the job and ‘earn’ a valuable — first player to 20 points in such valuables wins.  The rub is, there are plenty of negative number cards that represent obstacles rather than pathways and you are allowed to play these on your opponents to make their jobs more difficult.  Of course there are plenty of other cards to spice it all up too, from stealing the treasures straight from your rivals completed job pile to forcing a forgery — super low scored valuable card — on your opponent right after he completes a job and thinks he’s about to score a juicy valuable.  And oh such more.

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Looks just like my nephew Angel.

The whole game is permeated with a sense of silly, goofy fun.  From the cartoonish art (I thought of Spy vs Spy, but with thieves instead of spies) replete with depictions of dastardly burglars bungling about to the over-the-top British colloquial quotations, the game is just lots of fun.  Cards like Hidey Hole with it’s quote “So vats where va bee keeps ‘is honey!” really set the stage.  And if you can get in with a group that really likes to do the accents, like I did with Mike, his charming wife and our buddies at Ulises Spiele, then you’re really in for a treat.  I personally had a great time and told my wife all about it.  I then had the opportunity to play again the following week, and got my wife to try it as well.  She too loved it and informed me that it would need to be added to our Table-top Olympics roster as soon as possible.  That’s high praise indeed in my family.

Fun Fish Pictures - ClipArt Best

Best Laid Plans — “Feedin’ vat fish is va key to vis ‘ole operation.”  Not the actual art, but he looks shifty to me…

So if you’re looking for a fun card game to add to your gaming library, check our Thick as Thieves at Mike’s Facebook website, and look for the game again on Kickstarter on July 18th.  I know I’ll be backing.

So what about you?   Does gaming burn in your blood?  What are your favorites?  You have any gaming traditions that are cool?  Share with us in the comments below.

Read more from Kazzigum on Slaved to Ruin

  • Mr.Gold

    non warhammer/table top wargames etc?
    Settlers of Catan, Dobble, Dixit, Risk, Fluxx…

  • Severius_Tolluck

    That is pretty epic. I may recommend things like mag blast, or aye dark overlord as simple family games for general play. Although if you ever had a team event to your family event.. I suggest Ugg Tech. A hilarious game of team building, trying to build monuments with only grunts. Make the wrong move, get hit with a rubber club, give the wrong order, hit yourself with a club.