Gaming in the Second Chance Saloon

And those pesky Endangered Orphans of Condyle Cove, the ones that kept me waiting for month upon month and then turned up and instantly disappointed me with the style over substance of the action.

I learned a very valuable lesson on my travels through board gaming last week. Never write a game off after a single play.

Over the past year and a half of embracing play at the table I’ve been guilty on more than one occasion of taking an instant dislike to a game and deciding it had no future in our playtime. With some I stand by the initial reaction, Bardagi: The Claim for Gold and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth to name two. However, I now realise that sometimes gaming in the second chance saloon can be a real eye opener.

Come on down, Pandemic.

Of all the games that have found a home in my collection over the months, Pandemic was one I was genuinely enthused to try. I mean here was a game that seemed to garner lashings of praise and adulation wherever it was mentioned. A perpetual top ten game in all-time list upon all-time list. The very epitome surely, of a must-play game! And so, with cash in hand and a spring in my step, I made the simple decision to buy the thing. And then, after play ceased on that first appearance at the table, and the world had been decimated by the various Pandemic diseases, I scratched my head, and wondered what the hell all the fuss was about.

Pandemic, the game that should have lit up the room, had in fact left us in the dark.

The action had lacked the anticipated drama, any story we might have written was shallow, the play was uninspiring, and the climax was of the anti variety. All in all, Pandemic had failed to spread anything over our table but the belief that this was likely to be its last appearance.

Then, a week ago, we pulled the game from its dusty corner of the cabinet, blew the cobwebs off, and sat down to see if we could salvage some form of pleasure from a game that had started so miserably. Roughly an hour later we emerged jubilant in defeat. Big smiles of joy delivered by the discovery that a game we had completely written off, was actually an absolute masterpiece!

For whatever reasons, Pandemic had landed. Perhaps it was the lack of expectation this time that had elevated the experience, maybe we were simply more in tune with the mechanics this run so that play was more fluid and engaging, or possibly, the universe, ourselves and the game were simply in the perfect place for everything to click beautifully in to place. Whatever the reason, the result was a new found love for a game that had been almost entirely written off.

I got it now. We all did. This was indeed a game more than worthy of the weight of praise it finds heaped upon it. The drama was alive, the cooperation was strategically joyous, and the climax was as tense as it always felt like it should have been. Despite another loss, the overall play had left us winners.

A couple of days later, this rethink regarding Pandemic got me thinking about other games I had written off, or been unimpressed by. Were there some gems hidden amongst them? Was it time to get the duster out for a few other potentially undervalued boxes? Maybe Bardagi: The Claim for Gold just needed me to dig a little deeper for the shiny stuff.

Where’s the shiny stuff!

It is quite easy to write games off early on in their life. Snap decisions sometimes, more considered at others, but every time the ugly head of ‘this game is not for me’ rears into view is a disappointing one. Largely because I want all the games we play to be experiences that transcend the game as it is, to become family events full of laughter, joy and occasional backstabbing glory. Or failing that, I want something that can entertain, at the very minimum, playing has to be a pleasant experience. This translates in some respect to our beloved video games as well. God knows I’ve written plenty of these off long before the opening level was complete.

Pandemic had proved anything but pleasant on its first outing, but the second appearance left me questioning had I made too quick a judgement elsewhere.

Looking back over the past year, there have been other games that have failed to make a mark, or at least failed to make the expected mark. I really disliked the aforementioned Bardagi, but I struggled  with rules translation more than actual play. In fact the play was stifled by the rulebook. Maybe it’s time to bring Bardagi back to the table. Gloomhaven has yet to hit as I expected. The amount of parts at play and the time to set-up has dampened the joy a little, but I will strive to give this game the time it deserves. And those pesky Endangered Orphans of Condyle Cove, the ones that kept me waiting for month upon month and then turned up and instantly disappointed me with the style over substance of the action. Maybe it is time to pluck the little mites from obscurity and get them back to the table.

My love for Pandemic is now set in stone, but it has also made previous beliefs about games appear very shaky indeed. I have had my eyes opened to the second chance saloon, and how gaming there can be a considerably more rewarding experience than I ever believed possible.

Now, where’s Exploding Kittens?

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