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Title: Fantasy lives in real-world games

Source: The Columbian, June 3rd, 2011

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Fantasy lives in real-world games
Players meet regularly, find a kind of fun that computers screen out

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian staff writer

Friday, June 3, 2011

Vivian Johnson

 Surrounded by books, staring down at odd-looking maps strewn across a large white table, St. Vladimir realized he had a problem.

 “Are there any space/time portals around here?” he asked, looking hopefully across the way at Sean McGill, a silver-haired, wizard-like man who was strangely dressed as a librarian.

 “No,” McGill answered, thumbing through some notes and a small stack of Dungeons & Dragons books at the Washougal Community Library, where the 46-year-old is, oddly enough, a librarian.

 St. Vladimir, who is the fantasy alter-ego of 15-year-old Brandon Brown, looked disappointed, then slurped a deep straw-full of Mountain Dew before engaging his brother, Alexander Brown, 17, in an in-depth argument about scrying, a mystical method of seeing the unseen.

 The group of about 10 people, ranging in age from 10 to 46, have been using their creativity — rather than their computers — for the past two years to venture through this imaginary realm, which was created by McGill using the Dungeons & Dragons system.

 And while it might seem a bit analog, at least to the computer gaming crowd, there’s actually quite a range of similar noncomputer options out there for folks in Clark County who are tired of looking at a screen for entertainment.

 Groups across the county say they welcome newcomers who’d like to join them in their love of strategy, collectible card games and role-play.

 “We’re open to anybody who wants to come and play,” said Andy Rice, a music minister who runs First Friday Game Night at First Evangelical Church. “We also encourage people to bring games that they want to play, so they can teach us.”

 Rice’s group, which meets on the first Friday of each month, tends to play a lot of strategy games similar to Risk, although some members play role-playing or miniature games.

 It started out with a few friends meeting on the occasional Friday for a game called Axis and Allies, but as the group expanded over the past 10 years to 30 regular players, members taught each other about a wide variety of other game types and styles, Rice said.

 “Games like Risk, Risk 2210, they’re called Ameritrash,” Rice said, adding that the term is somewhat affectionate. “Other games are called Euro Games (by board game snobs). But we play all kinds.”

 Some board games that the group enjoys include: Power Grid, Twilight Struggle, Bootleggers, A Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, he said.

 The First Friday group inspired Roy Starkweather, owner of Dice Age Games, to start a complimentary group at his store called Game Night 2.0, which plays a similar array of games on the third Friday of each month.

A welcoming crowd

 The Washougal library group, which plays on Fridays from 5-7 p.m., might be a bit harder to join than the two Game Night groups, because its adventure has spanned two years, McGill said.

 “If people want to come out they’re welcome,” McGill said. “It’s been going for a while, so it’s a little hard to break in, but we’d be happy to teach new people.”

 Several members said they like role-playing because it teaches them to think about working collaboratively and finding a variety of strategies to fight any problem.

 “You can bargain with the world’s creator,” Alexander Brown said. “You can’t do that with a computer. You can actually argue the physics.”

 McGill said the Washougal gatherings also have the unintended, but welcome, consequence of getting teenagers to participate in efforts to support the library.

 “We’ve had events where we’ve needed volunteers, and this has gotten a lot of the younger people involved in helping out,” McGill said. “We’ve had people say, ‘This is great.’ They’re glad that their teenagers are here.”

Another option for would-be analog gamers is the world of collectible card games.

Shane Munyer, owner of CCG House, runs card game tournaments at his store every evening, and he also said his group would be more than willing to teach newcomers.

“We play a lot of Magic the Gathering, which has been around since 1993,” Munyer said. “It’s sort of a spin-off of Dungeons & Dragons in card form. It’s simplified in that it takes a lot of the ideas of (D&D), and puts you in a competition where you’re a sorcerer or wizard, and you have a deck of cards that tells you specific things you can cast.”

Matches are usually one on one, with players trying to beat each other through a series of spell casts. Games last anywhere from two to 40 minutes, he said.

Tournaments, which can net crowds of 60-100 people on Friday nights, set players up in a round-robin format that turns to elimination as the evening wears on.

“Anybody that’s sort of a fantasy gaming type, if they don’t know about Magic they should, they’d love it,” Munyer said. “We’re always willing to teach people. We’re very new-player friendly.”

Whatever option they choose, the people who play these noncomputer games say they really appreciate the face-to-face interaction with others. It’s something that can be hard to find, especially with the dominance of digital gaming, Rice said.

“Oh, come, tell people to come,” Rice said of his group. “We’re friendly, and we’d love to see more new players.”

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