The freedom that comes with being a nomad allows me to be spectacularly spontaneous. Shame that I so rarely make use of that luxury. I tend to plan my moves carefully and far in advance. But not always. Towards the end of my stay in the US, Rafael, a lovely young man I met online, invited me to Belgium to play board games, and I thought, “Why the hell not?” So I flew from Los Angeles to London and then took a train via Belgium to Antwerp, where I stayed for two weeks.
The first ten days, I stayed with Rafael on a blow-up mattress in his, his boyfriend and his flatmates living room. When I walked into this living room, I knew I had found people who share my passion/obsession with board games. An entire wall was stacked from floor to ceiling with countless board games.
And so began an orgy in gaming. The first weekend, we and a bunch of Rafael’s friends went to a cottage in a remote Belgian village by the border of France and played games. Then Tuesday-Thursday, we played games. During the second weekend, we went to a board game convention and played games. The following week, we were sick and tired of games and… nah, just kidding. We played games.
How do you socialise with you friends? Let me take a wild guess. You meet for drinks, coffee, dinner or movies. It is as if those forms of socialising have executed a terrifying pogrom on all other forms of socialising, and we are now left with a tedious selection of the same old ‘meet and talk’ routine. Talk over drinks, talk over coffee, talk over dinner — or sit in communal isolation and watch a movie ‘together’.
Contrast this with board games, were you get together, look each other in the eyes and have fun while doing something, together. Nothing, apart from sex perhaps, is a better way to chill out and have fun in groups.
And no, it is not something that is the exclusive domain of nerds and social outcasts. Nerds and social outcasts are just freer from the stupid social delusion that we need to be cool and aloof (a.k.a. boring and disconnected) in order to be socially successful.
So if your life is deprived of board gaming, then this is your wake up call. You are missing a whole world of awesome, and so are your friends. Be the Messiah in your social circle and introduce some real fun!
The first step is to burn your copy of Monopoly. You will never touch that insidious game again, understand? Never. Again.
If you and your friends are new to gaming, then you can’t jump straight into the hard-core Euro Games. These games are amazing but you need to learn how to walk before you tango. Start with a good gateway game, like Ticket to Ride and work your way up from there to things like Steam, Craftsmen or Carson City.
For gaming in larger groups, from 5-10 people, try the new kind of social deduction and hidden identity games, such as The Resistance and Avalon. I have yet to come across a single non-gamer who did not love these perfect party games. Nothing brings me more joy than when people who thought they didn’t like board games beg me for another round of these games.
You should also have a co-operative game to cool down with in between the feuds, such as Pandemic.
Orval Monastery and Beer
During that first weekend away, we took a short break from the gaming and visited a nearby monastery, Orval. We walked around the ruins of the old monastery and peered across the wall to the rebuilt parts.
Being a monk in Belgium means you must brew beer. I presume so anyway since they all do it, and they do it well. Belgian beer is astoundingly good. I’m not a big beer drinker, but the beer in Belgium is so good that I don’t think I had a sober moment during my time there.
And never ever pour a Belgian beer into any old beer glass in sight of a Belgian or expect a long lecture on which beer goes in which glass.
So if you want to get some beers to go with your new weekly game night, I recommend Chimay and Westmalle.
Of all museums to see in Antwerp, the Plantin-Moretus is the one to which you simply must go. It is a printing-press museum, and it has the two oldest still existing printing presses in the world. It is a beautiful museum housed in the original printing house, and you could see what kind of luxury goods books were in the olden days. The house is just as interesting as the printing presses.
I stayed a week at a Bed and Breakfast owned by a guy I met online, Bart. I stayed in the fifth-floor loft conversion. I have not much more to stay about it other than that I rescued a leather jacket and that the B&B was gorgeous.