Tabletop Games and Play-Acting force you into the present

Happy Halloween, everyone!

This past weekend my hometown buddies gathered together at a friend’s beach house and celebrated my latest PET scan. It was an opportunity to see me, hang out, give me a high-five and some hummus, and for a bunch of guys to see friends they rarely see, and engage in….dare I say, “guy things.”

Well, maybe it’s our age but “guy things” turns out to be pretty tame, but really really fun. I had to be the first to bed both nights because of my steroid / head pain issues but I wish that I had been able to stay awake and chat with those fellows until the early morn.

[I did wake up early on Saturday and watch the sunrise for an hour. That was a powerful way to start a morning. Picture below.]

Sunrise at 7:50am, St. Augustine, Florida

The type of crew assembled that weekend really enjoys games- video and table top. (Tabletop gaming is just another way of saying board games. Blame the “kids these days”.) We all had brought an assortment of video game consoles and contemporary tabletop games (no monopoly, or yahtzee to be found there).

The game that stole the weekend was a tabletop game called Red Dragon Inn.

Red Dragon Inn, series 5

We played it Saturday afternoon while it was raining on the beach outside. (Not like the melanoma cancer survivor was itching to head to the beach anyway.) It took some time to get everyone set up (we had 7 players) and explain the rules / gameplay sufficiently but once we got going we had a lot of fun. Sadly, I was one of the first exits during the game. I left the room, not because of any bitterness, but I liked the game so much I didn’t want any more of the cards and writing revealed to me. I wanted it as a fresh surprise when we, hopefully, played later. That game took a little short of 2 hours.

Around dinner, I took the temperature of everyone to see if they would up for playing again. The response was, “Yes, in fact, we’re hoping we can get in 2 games of it tonight.”

We set up again, this time more streamlined and familiar with the gameplay.

The game consists of a character you play as. You have a hand of cards that consists of actions you play to stay “in the game.” The characters in the game are themselves playing a drinking game. The goal is to stay healthy and sober. If you drink too much and lose too much “fortitude”, your character passes out and leaves the game. Each character has a unique background and set of abilities. Some characters are more defensive (better at fending off offered drinks or staying out of bar-fights). Some characters are better at plying the others with drinks and instigating bar-fights. The game is done very well and there’s a lot of good writing contained in it. (The series we played is called series 5 because it’s the 5th set of characters. Each set contains 4 different characters. Someone else brought a set and that’s how we played 7 characters. Another great feature of this game.)

The characters are playing this game at an Inn, the Red Dragon Inn. The Inn itself is a character. A little warning here– lots of cards involve the actions or reactions of the Inn in the form of the “wench.” She is not a character anyone can play but in the story, she’s the one serving the drinks. While a game involving a “wench” could be an issue for the inclusive crowd, let me tell you there is absolutely no #metoo stuff that involves the wench (or anyone in the game). I’d argue that the “wench” herself as a character is very powerful, sometimes turning the tide of the game because she becomes frustrated and stops some gameplay, or sometimes a card is played and she “accidently” takes a player’s winnings as her tip. From what I saw, it’s very well done.

During the game, there was plenty of “OHHHHH!” moments and yells. The cards are surprising, in that they sometimes contradict and stack on other cards, making the outcome of a round of play a fun and manageable sort of chaos. There’s a “mini-game” of gambling inside the game that is fun and easy to follow, too. Whoa, we’re talking about a lot of games inside games here!

I realized that the everyone laughed harder and had huge smiles when you play-acted as your character. If you had a grouchy Dwarf, you’d speak roughly and with whatever you imagine a Dwarf accent to be (many times the cards are written this way in order to make this easy). Someone had an half-ogre named Gog, and spoke in short, loud, broken sentences. Somehow the orge accent twisted into a bit of a Scottish accent. It was a really good time.

What was happening is that we are living in the moment through this game. The game itself blocked out distractions. And then, if you play-acted your character (instead of reading your cards aloud in a dry, monotone voice) you had to focus further on the game and the role you’re playing. If you didn’t play-act and just focused on the game, you were one step away from the play-actors.

I think this is why professional actors (TV, movies, what-not) insist that when they’re acting their mind can’t be anywhere else but there, in the present, in the moment. They can’t act out a scene and be thinking about what they’re eating for dinner that night. If it’s going to be real, they have to be present. Which is maybe the irony of this whole thing. Actors are pretending to be someone else for a role. We were playing this game, and pretending to be these characters for the game. And yet, the further we get into these roles, the more present we become– even though it’s not our self, it’s a sort of True Self. We become “unconsciously conscious,” and the flow is like floating down a winding river.

There’s the paradox. We become our Self by diving deep into another Self. Aren’t games wonderful?

[Postscript- I won the 2nd game. It took an hour and a half. I was a quick exit in the 3rd game. That game lasted 45 minutes.]

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