When we first moved into our house in February 2006, I took one look at the long, carpeted basement and thought, "This is a great space for gaming."
I like games a lot and I like a lot of games, and this is in addition to having worked for a company that sells toy soldiers and wargames and such for over a decade. From high school and university friends playing things like Dungeons & Dragons and Battletech through Warhammer 40,000 and some historical wargames and including mainstream games like Cranium and Blokus, games have been an integral part of the way I relate to my friends. There is nothing I like better on a Saturday night than to have some friends over, put some chips on the table and have a beer while we pursue some arbitrary goal, either collectively or competitively. I suppose that sounds a little sad, but, hey, the drinks are cheaper than a bar, and I get to choose the company I keep, so I have no regrets.
It's a pretty clean split among my friends between family men and the kidless, and over time, some of them have moved out of province, people who have been an important part of my life since high school, for heaven's sake. The basement immediately suggested to me a means of collecting everyone together, and playing some massive games, ones that support 8 or even ten players. Everyone could sleep over so there was no chance of drinking and driving (even though my friends range from abstainers to ambitious with everything in between), and we could share some meals and some stories in a time of dedicated fellowship.
In hindsight, I really don't know how we pulled it off. Audrey and I moved into the house in early February, and the first Gaming & Guinness (or G&G as it has since become known) happened about 5 weeks later, right around St. Patrick's Day. My lovely and understanding wife agreed to visit her sister in Rocky Mountain House with our two girls in order to allow we men to burp, fart, scratch and curse without fear of offense or impacting anyone's sleeping patterns but our own. In short, we had most of the elements of a hunting or fishing trip with none of the hardship or safety concerns. Besides, it is not like any of us hunt or fish anyways. In fact, one of the guys who doesn't drink doesn't curse either; go figure.
It is my experience that these sorts of events have a much better chance of being self-perpetuating if they have their own identity, so they definitely need a name, and there are some other elements that help a lot too. "Drinking beer and playing nerdy games" isn't very catchy and doesn't acronymize very well, and being so close to St. Patrick's Day, Gaming & Guinness seemed a natural. (Brew-Ha-Ha would be another candidate, but seems a little hokey and is probably taken besides.)
My good friend Peter and I talked at length about what a good iconic image might be: a Space Marine with a pint glass on his shoulder? A giant dice with pints for pips? We wrestled with it for some time before I came up with an idea:
Pete is not technically an art & design professional (that is to say, it is not the primary reason for his employment, per se), but his kung fu is pretty strong, so if he is impressed with something you've done, you are probably on the right track. I got some basic white tees from Work Wearhouse and some iron-on transfers for the computer printer and made t-shirts before everyone arrived. They were no great shakes and didn't have a lot of durability, but since no one had expected them in the first place, they were delightedly received.
We played games of all kinds, but my preference is always for the games that have the most people playing simultaneously, so there were some big Warhammer 40,000 and Lord of the Rings games for miniatures, Formula De (a great car racing game), some Risk of one fashion or another, some Zombies, and I don't recall what all else. There were usually some retro video games being played at the other end of the basement by those who had opted out or been knocked out of play, very much in keeping with the theme of growing old but not up.
There were around ten people at peak, with some coming and going in accordance with their various commitments. One friend flew out from Vancouver Island, and another from Ottawa, and at a time in my life where I need to schedule a D&D game three weeks in advance to achieve quorum, that seems more amazing in hindsight than it even did at the time. It also snowed a ton that weekend, something which has pretty much become a tradition in its own right, and we ended up pushing more than one car out of the drifts just in my neighbourhood, including the one which had just finished delivering our pizzas.
A wonderful time was had by all, and a spontaneous wish for some fun male bonding time has become a full-fledged tradition with its own customs and language. The following year, Island Mike invited us to his home on Vancouver Island, had custom screened t-shirts made. The year after that, Pete ordered up two sets of custom dice, one with a pint where the "1" should be, the other with a G&G III logo of his own design to serve as the six. We returned to the island the next year (and it looks as though we will in 2011 as well), and in addition to t-shirts added personalized mugs with "G&G IV" engraved on them (plus customized M&Ms!). More than one person has wondered aloud: How long until the one-upmanship leads us inevitably to tattoos? I've already said it would have to be one hell of a logo, because that is really not my bag, but you never really know, do you?
We have just wrapped up our fifth G&G weekend. We moved it from St. Paddy's Day to May to avoid the repeated conflicts with school breaks, sports tournaments and Easter. I am incredibly fatigued, having endured clinical levels of sleep deprivation since Wednesday, but happy, with a midsection tender from so much laughter. I made it home in plenty of time to take my family and parents out to dinner at Spago, along with my sister. I am looking forward to getting more than 4 hours sleep tonight as a change-up to my recent pattern, and hoping that not too much of it is REM-based, as last night's sleep was full of random dreams and was actually kind of tiring.
My friends are dear to me, and special, but I am not writing to brag about this or even to express my gratitude, which is plentiful, but rather to encourage others to do the same thing or something similar. Have a weekend at least once a year, dedicated to fellowship, and anything else you share joy in, whether it is a hobby, pastime or craft. Give it a name. Give it a logo. Make a t-shirt or a badge. Show your co-workers and associates that your relationship with your friends is something you are committed to.
It's probably a bit morbid, but it is kind of a neat feeling to know that the event I created with the help of my friends would live on if I were to accidentally step in front of a bus at some point, and that our trivial exploits and tiny victories might achieve a legendary status, at least in our own minds.