NERD ON WEDNESDAY

“The Inner Light” is an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Watch it and cry with [email protected]





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On Saturday night, Berkeley is abuzz with activity. Bars bustle with those of age, while fraternities open their doors to anything with genitals. House parties rock the living room scene. Co-ops take a moment to appreciate how amazing their unlimited access to Chik Patties truly is. And in some dark corner of Berkeley, Happy Happy Happy Man is crying.

I spend Saturday night hunkered down with friends around an esteemed table, plotting my next move in a test of cunning, will and grace.

“We’re playing a board game.” I can utter these words to anyone passing the table and brace myself for the awkwardness, for these words reveal one of America’s greatest recreational tragedies. When the public image of gaming is defined by “Sorry,” “Halo,” and “Pokemon,” it’s painful for me to explain that this game is not “German Monopoly.” Yes, it involves cards. No, it’s not like “Magic.”

Thus, geeks remain geeks, isolated in a juvenile, miniature fantasy world. The problem in America’s board game culture is this condescending focus on children. By limiting themselves to frivolous exercises in boredom and profiteering, companies like Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers have branded the board with immaturity.

Consequently, gaming at the age of 22 seems absurd to the college student who assumes almost anything else would be a more proper use of time.

Across the Atlantic, however, our former imperialist masters have gotten things right. Authoring a treasure trove of games removed from the genius of “Don’t Wake Daddy!”, the board game industry of Western Europe stands proud. Rather than rely on gimmicks, the unique mechanics of these games aim for rich and diverse experiences.

Take, for example, “Puerto Rico,” one of Germany’s greatest board games. In two hours, players build plots of land into colonial trading powerhouses, with a myriad of paths to victory. The award-winning development game “Power Grid” challenges players to buy up power plants and construct expansive networks in Germany.

The focus of these capitalist wet dreams is not bare-bones competition, but the elegant crafting of a microcosm whose form depends more on the personality and cunning of its executors than rigid game rules.

The designer gaming world also offers a host of political and conquest themes for armchair emperors. “A Game of Thrones,” based on a fantasy novel series by George Martin, pits warring houses against each other on the fictional isle of Westeros with armies, navies and (gasp!) no dice.

Even when based on the “Risk”-esque concept of empire-building, games like this minimize dependence on sheer luck and offer vastly richer game engines to give players a true chance to test their military mettle.

For those not ready to take the plunge (or for those who happen to be Wobblies), there are many easy options proving one doesn’t have to be a card-carrying nerd to enjoy the benefits of higher gaming. In the aesthetically satisfying “Carcassonne,” players take turns laying down tiles to build a table-sized medieval township.

Notably cute “Evo” charges players with protecting dinosaurs from theevils of natural selection. And the fastpaced party game “Zaubercocktail” (meaning “Magic Cocktail”) plays like a version of “Pit” that’s actually fun.

Board games typically cost $30- $50, but can be as cheap as $10 without a drop in quality. Berkeley is lucky to have excellent gaming resources— Games of Berkeley, on Shattuck Avenue and Center Street, offers the choicest variety and even has a weekly game night where customers can open up anything they want and give it a trial run. Their staff is well-versed and can offer advice for noobs as well as registered www.boardgamegeek.com members who just want to talk shop.

To those still unconvinced of the benefits of higher gaming, I leave one universal recommendation: Milton Bradley’s 1986 “Fireball Island.” If you manage to find a copy of this vintage children’s game, the premise of which is “run across an island while a giant evil stone idol spews fireballs at you,” be prepared for the greatest 44 minutes of your life.

Well, unless you’ve already seen “The Inner Light.”

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