Playing in Public: Winning Friends with a Fireball to the Face

PiP campaign Facebook page. Click to view and "like"

“When you want to watch your favorite sport, or go out to a bar/restaurant, do you have trouble finding friends that want to go with you?  Probably not.  So why is it so hard to find people to play our favorite board games with us?  Wouldn’t it be better if we could find someone to game with whenever we wanted instead of having to game on the limited schedule of our game group or local board game store?  What is keeping us from pursuing our hobby as frequently as most other hobbies are pursued? Where are all the other gamers?”

The above excerpt is from the Play in Public (PiP) campaign started at Seize Your Turn. This campaign was initiated to ask those of us who consider ourselves hardcore board gamers to share our passion with others by taking our games out to our favorite bars, restaurants and hangouts. Since its inception in July, hundreds of board gamers all over have been spreading the news of the PiP campaign, playing in public and posting their experiences in forums, blogs and on the PiP campaign Facebook page. Overall, the results have been encouraging, and many people who would never have considered board gaming as a social pastime have been awakened. Our ranks are growing. Games are selling. Times, they seem, are a-changing – at least we hope.

Playing San Juan with a very special bartender at West End Wine Bar in Durham, NC

The overall goal of the PiP campaign is to increase public awareness of a broad range of intriguing and fun games that aren’t available in many mainstream stores – “adult” board games, as the PiP mission statement labels them. This is an admirable goal, but with such a diverse hobby, taking a subset of games to the bar that may not elicit a strong response may prove too limiting. My fiancée and I have taken games like San Juan, SmallWorld, Roll Through the Ages and Ticket to Ride to our favorite local bar quite a few times, and many people have watched, participated or asked questions. This weekend, however, I brought an old childhood favorite of mine – Fireball Island – to the bar and an intriguing thing happened: people rejoiced. Many were reminded of their childhood and all the fun they had playing with their family and friends. Nostalgia set in, and it was powerful. Onlookers were fascinated by its sheer, over-the-top audacity. One person saw the 3-D board and asked if they could eat it.

Ballin with a growing crowd at West End. Nothing says welcome to the bar like a fireball to the face.

When I brought Fireball Island to the bar, I figured it might be a fun little game between myself, my fiancée and our bartender, but two other people who have seen us previously play games in the bar immediately wanted in. The game is only made to accommodate four players, so I used a resource peg from Roll Through the Ages as the fifth explorer. Everyone got into the spirit of the game, taunting each other, tensing up at every roll of the die, and delightfully flicking red marbles along the game board to fireball the other explorers. In the end, someone mentioned that this was the greatest day at the bar ever. To me, beyond all the fun and camaraderie, what this experience meant was that we had awakened more board gamers. Next time we bring over something a little more daunting like Carcassone or Settlers of Catan, those that remember the Fireball Island experience will be more likely to want to try something else and something new.

By sharing this experience I am in no way saying that everyone should stop trying to share Agricola or Pandemic with the unknowing masses. Would I rather be playing Memoir ’44 or Last Night on Earth rather than Trivial Pursuit? Absolutely, but if someone brings Monopoly into the bar one night, looking for players, I’m not going to turn them down, because that’s a game and damned if I’m not going to play it. Board gaming, of all types, brings people together. Strangers can become friends in the span of a couple of hours with the simple act of rolling some dice and moving a few pawns around a board. It doesn’t matter if those friends were made playing Clue or Mystery Express, chances are you have opened someone’s eyes to a whole new world, and they’re going to want to play again and try new games. Ultimately, I think that’s what we all want in the end: some special people whose eyes will brighten whenever the game’s afoot.

For more information about the Play in Public campaign, visit Seize Your Turn, and keep taking board games out into the wild!

End tangent: To see possibly the coolest recreation of a classic board game ever in the history of mankind, check out Rodney Godek’s custom Fireball Island artpiece.

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  1. […] Hate Me that Monkey238 and I like to play games with our favorite bartender and barback – Jarrod and Michelle – over at West End Wine Bar each week. We typically play on Sundays when the bar is quiet, […]

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