First Games


Since I’m a game designer and a board game fan, it should be no surprise that I’m a regular listener to the Ludology board game podcast. Each episode is an extended discussion of one aspect or another of game design, from mathematical principles to psychology and and humor.

This week’s episode was about writing good rules, and was interesting enough by itself, but what caught my imagination was when they brought up the old wargame Starship TroopersThat was my first hobby game, and just hearing the name again sent me down Memory Lane.

Bugs, Mr. Rico! Zillions of Them!

I can’t quite remember if I got this for Christmas or for a birthday, but I must have been about ten years old when it showed up. I had discovered science fiction a year or two earlier and Robert Heinlein not long after that, and I was in the process of devouring everything of his I could get my hands on. Somehow my parents ran across this game in a Kay-Bee, read “Robert Heinlein” on the front cover, and bought it for me.

This game was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I had played Chess and Monopoly and Connect Four and the like, but wargames? I don’t think I’d ever seen Risk before, much less an “adult simulation game, for ages twelve years and up.” (Yes, I still have the game, in its battered old box.)

I remember being very confused the first time I tried to play it, because there were so many pieces. Too many pieces! I had dozens and dozens of Mobile Infantry and “Skinnies” on the board, and I didn’t know what to do with them! It took a second reading of the rules to realize that in this game — unlike every other game I’d played before — you didn’t use all the pieces in every game.

Despite my confusion, despite the fact that most of the time I was my only opponent… I was hooked. The mental challenge of mastering rules and figuring out strategies (not necessarily good strategies, mind you) grabbed me, and one way or another they’ve been part of my life ever since.

It’s one of the reasons I love to teach games and share them with other people — it’s a thrill to see them light up when they encounter something new and exciting. I’m hoping this club will create more moments like that for more people around San Marcos.

What was your first game, and why did it grab you?

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