THE YOUNG DORK
I remember sitting at the kitchen table, staring down at the hexes in wonder.
Each hex was a colourful landscape — a mountain, a sea, a green field like the one outside my house, a yellow field like the ones outside the city.
My father was dropping little discs with numbers onto the hexes. 5, 3, 2, 9, even a 12.
“What do the dots underneath the numbers mean?”
“How likely those numbers will come up,” my dad replied. “How many ways are there to make 2 with two six-sided dice?”
I thought for a moment, “Just one, right? With 1 and 1.”
“Good job!” he said, punching me lightly in the shoulder. “Now how many ways are there to make 8 with two dice?”
This was harder. 4 and 4, 5 and 3, 6 and 2, 7 and… wait, there wasn’t a 7 on a six-sided die! And then you had to work it the other way around, for the other die. so 2 and 6, 3 and 5, 4 and 4…
“Six!” I cried.
He nodded, smiling. He was separating out the components for each player now. It would be a while before we had plastic bags for each player’s starting components.
“But the 6s and 8s only have five dots underneath them. Shouldn’t they have six?”
He looked at the numbered discs with the universal expression of a parent who’s just been asked one of Those Questions. “I think it’s just a probability thing,” he said. “Like a ranking.”
He placed a bunch of roads, houses, and cities in front of me. Small, brightly-painted wooden bits where, in my mind, hundreds of tiny people were playing out lives of commerce and exploration.
“Now, where should you put your settlements to start?”
“Why is that?”
“It’s the highest number?”
I knew I was wrong when he shook his head. /p>
“Look at the board. You’ll get resources from the board when you roll the dice and the numbers come up. You can only get resources from hexes your settlements are next to.”
I looked at the board.
“Is that why the 6s and 8s are red and have the most dots? They’re the most important because they come up the most often?”
“Yup! Well, they don’t come up the most often. 7 comes up the most often.”
I started working that one out. 4 and 3, 3 and 4, 5 and 2, 2 and 5… and then I interrupted myself.
“But there’s no hex with a 7.”
“When you roll the 7, you move the Robber,” he said, placing a dark figure on a hex full of sand dunes. “The Robber shuts down a hex and you get to steal a resource from somebody else.”
“That seems mean.”
He nodded, with a slight shrug. “It’s just a way to represent bad luck. Bad luck happens to everyone. But you don’t have to put the Robber on a hex next to somebody. You can just put it somewhere else if you want.”
(Which I would do for years afterwards when I hadn’t previously been Robber’d, but that’s beside the point.)
“What is this?” I asked, holding up a cardboard card.
He looked over. “That shows you what you can build. And what you need to build it.”
I started reading. And calculating. Roads cost one brick and one lumber, so I needed to make sure I was near hills and forests, but cities gave more Victory Points, and they needed ore and grain (but why three grain? Were they building thatched roofs? Why are there more roofs than walls?), so I had to make sure I was near those, too, but the 6s aren’t near there, which meant probabilities were lower, so should I pick a corner with a 5 and 3 and the resources I want over a corner with a 6 and 2 with resources I could trade? And, and…
And then followed a lifetime of board gaming.
IF YOU’RE WONDERING WHY I SHARED THIS STORY…
A Muse N Games is running two boardgame camps this summer, for kids ages 9-12. The first one is running right now, but registration is still open for the second one, August 21-25. For $125, your kid gets five days of boardgames, RPGs, arts and crafts, snacks, and more, all supervised by experienced teachers.
It’s something I wish I had when I was younger. Boardgames, along with D&D and Magic, helped a lot with my reading and math skills. It meant I never really minded mental math problems or difficult chapters in my school work since I had already handled much tougher stuff trying to beat my dad in Catan or The Great Dalmuti or miniatures games or whatever else came our way. And they were just fun.
I can’t recommend or support it enough. If you’re interested, drop by the store or e-mail Scotia at scotia(at)amusengames.ca for more information!
Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic (most of the time).