I have always been a gamer geek. I remember when I was about 7 years old my parents bought me a subscription to some animal magazine (Zooboks perhaps?) and every month I would get a new pack of 5”x5” cards of different animals. By the time the subscription had run its course I had a plastic case with hundreds of cards. Each card had a picture of the animal and a series of icons indicating whether it was some microbial organism, plant, mammal, reptile, bird etc as well as icons to indicate its habitat, food requirements and other information like that. I was fascinated with animals so I spent hours upon hours categorizing the cards a million different ways.
One day I decided that rather than just look at the cards I should make a game using them. Players would be able to build ecosystems based on cards they draw, needing to match habitats and food requirements to build their world while tossing the occasional panther into their opponent’s world to mess them up. My 7 year old brain was very creative but the game never made it to through play testing stage (I think it was mostly due to cries of “Ocelots are OP” and “Add moar anemones!”).
Fast forward to age 11 when I discovered my first RPG. Along with animals I was also captivated by anything Star Wars. I was one of those odd kids that was born too late to be caught up in the original trilogy’s release but too young to be defiled by the prequels (in fact my Star Wars obsession pretty much died the night I saw Phantom Menace) But for my friends and I Star Wars was retro chic and we would scrounge around our older sibling’s toyboxes and antique stores hoping to find a lunchbox or action figure from the Golden Age. Anyway, years before that fateful night when my innocence was taken from me by a Gungan in a dark movie theater I stumbled upon the Star Wars RPG produced by West End Games (R.I.P.). Growing up in a pretty sheltered home I had never heard of a roleplaying game before. I was shocked that there was a game you could play where you could try to do anything you wanted, literally anything! Always having been one to follow the rules I was equally impressed that there were rules to govern this world. No more “I shot you!” “Nuh-uh you missed!” “uh-huh I did!” and so on. I scrimped and saved and sold an old terrarium and finally bought the introductory adventure game for the Star Wars RPG. When I opened that box it rocked my world. There were two books chocked full of rules and a story to go through with my friends, character sheets and maps, dice and little paper cutouts of Storm Troopers. I had found the promised land and it was made of paper.
I read through the materials voraciously and talked one of my friends into playing with me. We didn’t really understand the rules and I acted as DM and one of the players but boy did we have fun. We rolled dice, filled out our character sheets, bought the core rulebook and encounter books and spent hours immersed in this world. We played for a year or two by which time our characters owned entire sectors of the Galaxy and could shoot a Star Destroyer out of the sky with a blaster (like I said, we didn’t really understand the rules).
Every time I would go to the game store to buy a model rocket or drool over a new Star Wars RPG book would always see stacks of miniatures. I now know that it was Warhammer Fantasy, but at the time I had no clue what it was. I was fascinated by them but it looked violent with monsters and wizards and stuff and I knew my parents would never let me buy any. They also had a rulebook for the Star Wars Miniatures Battles game (also by West End) and some blisters of minis for that.
Every time I went in I would look at the blisters, see the bare metal and the whopping price tag of $10 for a few tiny guys and I would sigh and think that I could never manage to have a game as cool as the one on the cover of that book. If only someone had taken the time to show me their army in the flesh or to let me paint a mini of my own I’m sure I would have been hooked and had many happy years of gaming. Keep that in mind next time you see an awkward young kid standing shyly by some product in your LGS. It could only take a few minutes of showing a kid the ropes (even if they don’t understand most of it) to get them passionate about gaming for the rest of their lives.
By the time we were entering middle school and using your imagination wasn’t as acceptable anymore our Star Wars RPG times petered out. Luckily a group of us started collecting and playing the Star Wars CCG put out by Decipher. Again, we didn’t really understand the rules, but we played a game roughly based on the official rules using the cards we collected. This lasted another year or two but as the hormones kicked in my friends lost interest in our nerdy pastime and instead spent their energies watching our female classmates grow boobs (no offense intended towards boobs, as my wife will attest I have only the utmost respect for mammary glands).
And so began High School, the dark night of my gaming soul. But we’ll save that for next time...