The Linchpins of My Gaming History

I’ve thought about how it is I came to rent office space just so we can play board games. It’s been an evolutionary process really. Throughout my life, it seems, there have always been games. Below are the linchpins that have really forged my love for the hobby.

1. Monopoly

Monopoly was a gaming linchpin for Muskegon
Monopoly from Parker Brothers

The year was 1977. Star Wars had just been released. Jimmy Carter had taken the oath of office. And I first laid eyes on Monopoly. My dad, my aunt and my older cousins sat down to play a rousing game of Parker Brothers’ real estate trading game.

After pleading with my dad (to no avail) that I too should be allowed to play, I resigned myself to sitting on his lap and “helping” him play.

My eyes lit up when I saw little buildings spring up from the earth and money exchanging hands.

But Monopoly didn’t just have cool bits–it was a game that adults seemed to enjoy. All the other games I had played up to that point (Candyland, Casper the friendly ghost, etc), were children’s activities. But Monopoly had adults(!) building the Atlantic City skyline while trying to dodge the police and paying rent.

I was hooked!


2. Chess

Muskegon needs a chess club
E.S. Lowe’s Chess Set

The next linchpin happened a year later. The year was 1978. Luke Skywalker didn’t know who his father was yet. Jimmy Carter was still in office. And my dad had a renaissance chess set like the one seen here. The cool little guys made me want to play this game badly. I knew how to play checkers, a game that uses the same board, so how hard could this game be?

My dad taught me how to play. And my love of chess only grew over time.





3. Clue

Muskegon loves a good mystery
Clue from Parker Brothers

I guess I’ve always enjoyed puzzles. And Clue is nothing more than an interactive logic puzzle.

Luke Skywalker found out who his father was but not his sister. Jimmy Carter lost the election to Reagan. And I received Clue for Christmas in 1980.

I loved the little metal bits. It was cool trying to solve the mystery while imagining how a candlestick might be a murder weapon.

I forgave the game all of its conceits back then. For example: “We have this dead body riddled with .38 caliber bullets. Can someone please prove to me that this pipe wrench wasn’t the murder weapon?”

Clue represented the last game of its kind: a family game that I enjoyed.


4. Risk

In 1982 Luke Skywalker destroyed a second Death Star, the British invaded the Falkland Islands and I was first exposed to Risk.

I was at my cousin’s house when I saw Risk sitting on the shelf. I took it down and read the rules. I was really eager to play. I was told to “Be careful with that game. That game costs $8 at K-Mart.”

Risk blew every other game I had ever played out of the water. Not since I had first laid eyes Monopoly (1977) was I so taken with a game.

Players attempted not to take over Atlantic City but the world itself! Negotiations? Check. Military? Check. Economic considerations? Check.

Risk represented the first game of its type that I had encountered. It was a game that adults could enjoy (like Monopoly) but Risk was also a gamer’s game–not just a family game. And my love of the hobby deepened.


5. Dungeons & Dragons

Muskegon loves Dungeons & Dragons. Best game of the 80's!
TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons

I was fascinated by Dungeons & Dragons long before my first play of it. The polyhedral dice were way cool. Medieval fantasy is a wonderful setting.  The pewter or plastic figurines accessories were nifty ways to pimp your game. Plus there was the forbidden allure of playing something so roundly condemned for leading children into witchcraft and satanism.

It was in 1987 when I first got a copy of the the red box (basic edition) of D&D. Before long I was on adventures defeating monsters and stealing their loot.

Rolling fistfuls of dice and keeping extensive statistics would prepare me for the games I would play in the 90’s.





6. Axis and Allies

Muskegon loves classic Ameritrash like Axis and Allies
Milton Bradley’s Axis & Allies

Monopoly may have introduced me to my first adult level game; Risk may have introduced me to my first gamer’s game. But it was Axis & Allies that introduced me to my first modern gamer’s game. And the effects were sweeping.

In late 1988 I was at my friend Larry’s house. He pulled out this coffin sized box, colored navy blue with large red fonts that read “Axis & Allies”. The pieces were an amazing cache of toy soldiers. And subject of the game? Why, my favorite period in history.

Larry proceeded to beat me the first couple of times we played. Then I studied the board and the rules. Then the polarity of the beatings was permanently reversed.

Axis & Allies wasn’t just a gamer’s game like Risk. It was a modern gamer’s game. Axis & Allies was published during my lifetime (1981) unlike Monopoly (1933) and Risk (1959). But more than just that, Axis & Allies was modern in its design not just in its publication date. Players had many more levers and buttons at their command than in Risk or Monopoly. More economics than Risk? Check. More robust military? Check. Historical context? Check. Axis & Allies was the wave of the future. I knew it even back then.


7. Advanced Civilization

Muskegon Area Gamers play a lot of Advanced Civilization
Avalon Hill’s Advanced Civilzation

1994 was the next watershed moment in gaming for me. That year Magic: The Gathering came to Muskegon. I dabbled into the M:TG craze but nothing more.

The game that made 1994 special was Avalon Hill’s Advanced Civilization. I found a copy of Civilization for $10 at House of Hobbies when they were still in the Park Row Mall. I was intrigued by the lack of randomness in the combat system.

The game was about diplomacy and trading as much as it was about expansion. And with the right crowd, this game shines. The expansion, Advanced Civilization, fixes all the issues I had with the base game. It was the first game I ever had an expansion for. And it was really a patch for the base game. This was truly the mark of modern design.

We played this game a lot during the 90’s. We even mustered a full crew of 8 players once. Good times.


 8. Mage Knight

Muskegon Area Gamers played tons of Mage Knight
Mage Knight’s Order of Vlad

I’ve always had a soft spot for games with a heavy toy factor. Miniature wargames were constantly calling out to me. The prohibitive cost of Warhammer made me reconsider my love for this toy factor.

Then in early 2000 Wizkids came out with an affordable alternative: Mage Knight. The cost was very reasonable. The rules were fairly straight forward. And the minis were already painted so I didn’t have to paint them myself.

We played this game all the time. We created thematic armies and clashed them in Dugas’ basement. I even slapped Nate on the face when I caught him cheating.

The game was heavily supported by Wizkids for several years. And the expansions added much to the game.

The game imploded in the mid-2000’s and the designer left Wizkids to pursue other projects. But Mage Knight was definitely a linchpin that steered me through the hobby to where I am at now.


9. Twilight Imperium

Twilight Imperium Twilight Struggle Muskegon
When it comes to Twilight, Muskegon hates vampires but loves board games.

There was a lull in my gaming career after Mage Knight ended. I missed regular gaming. Plus I missed Advanced Civilization (which by 2005 I no longer owned).

I was browsing at the Barnes and Noble on Harvey Street one day in July of 2005. Barnes and Noble began to stock games in their stores about this time. I was walking through their game area when I saw a coffin sized box colored navy blue with large red fonts. The game was Twilight Imperium. The description made it sound like Axis & Allies meets Advanced Civilization. You managed an economy; you built large military forces; you waged war; you negotiated peace; you made lasting trade agreements. And it was space themed! The price was a whopping $80 so I didn’t pull the trigger.

I was at work that week and the thought of this game wouldn’t let me go. I didn’t have $80 to squander on a game. I didn’t have the game group I had in the mid 90’s. The game probably sucked.


I found myself at Barnes and Noble the following weekend, after working 20 hours of overtime. Suddenly I DID have $80 to squander. And suddenly I found renewed energy to reestablish our mid 90’s game group. Plus the game probably didn’t suck.

I pulled the trigger and bought it.

It was several months later when I was finally able to get this game to the table. But on that day was born the Muskegon Area Gamers!



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