On the Wagon Again: Jos

On the Wagon Again is a regular series of articles in which you can get to know regular members of the Wageningen Board Gamers, past and present. This time we introduce: Jos!

Who are you?

I am Jos Naber, 42 years old. I’m a local lad, born in Renkum, but I moved to Wageningen around the age of 3. Apart from living in Mozambique for three years (9-12), I’ve lived in Wageningen my whole life. First going to school here (at Pantarijn), then studying (soil, Water, atmosphere) and after that working in the warehouse of a small metal factory. I recently decided to go back to school so I started studying again, while finding a new job at the beginning of this year. Currently global events are deciding how that will work out.

#5. Hanabi

A cooperative game, where the players attempt to create a fireworks show (that’s what Hanabi means), by playing the cards of different colors in the right order (from 1-5). The catch is, you can’t see your own cards. The game is to provide the other players with hints so that they know what to do, and either play or discard the right card at the right moment. This means you have to remember the hints until you can act upon them. For me it is a relatively new game, I’ve been playing it for 6 months now. What I like about it is the sort of role reversal, I make sure the others know what to do, while being totally dependent on the others to be able to act myself. This is of course an element present in all cooperative games, but I think it’s boiled down to the essence here. I really have to trust my fellow players, and while this takes some getting used to, it is cool when it works. The crux of the game is simple: each round, one player draws a customer card and chooses one of the customers (e.g. graverobber). Then, each other player makes up a product by combining two words from a hand of six cards and pitches that product to the customer. Whomever the customer feels had the best product wins the point (but points don’t really matter). The game rewards creativity, rather than punchlines, and is always funny to play.

When did you first start playing board games?

I don’t know exactly when I started playing board games. I do remember playing things like monopoly and hotel with my brother, Roelof and sisters, Simone and Marlies. (I mostly remember being accused of cheating, can’t remember if I actually did though ;) ). In my student days I started to play Settlers of Catan, probably some Carcassonne (though that never really did it for me, don’t really know why) and a large variety of mostly medium to heavy strategy games with a regular group of friends. We still meet every couple of months. 

#4. Agricola

A classic for me. It is one of the medium heavy worker placer board games I started playing with my regular group of friends after we got tired of Settlers of Catan. It is situated on what I would jokingly like to call a biodynamic farm (in that the game really rewards diversifying into a variety of crops and animals, unlike most modern agricultural companies). A good friend of mine worked on a biodynamic farm, and I always think of this game when I visited that farm and of him when I play the game. Apart from the memories it is just one of those great sandboxes to play in which offers a lot of problems to solve and choices to make while playing.  

Why do you play board games?

I’ve changed a bit in my motivations for playing board games. Originally I think I liked the puzzle a game presents. This is still reflected in my top 5, with the 2 sandboxes. Since I started playing with the Wageningen Board Gamers I’ve had the opportunity to play lots and lots of different games, which has become a bit of a goal in itself. Apart from that for me there are two other great things in playing board games. One is that it can be a hell of a medium for telling stories (I’m about to finish the last episode in time stories, which was a lot of fun) and keeping the best for last, the other players. Whether it’s a game of Secret Hitler (where the very heartwarming discovery can be made that most people need practice to even play at being an evil fascist, while others never really get the hang of it at all (looking at you here, Erik-Jan)), a game of Just One (where the weirdest, obscure, amazing associations can come out of the most unexpected people) or the feeling of sharing the win when the toad-like sleeper is stopped after devouring only half of Arkham (thanks Nienke, a good end to an awesome board game weekend), board games are definitively (to quote our glorious chairman) “an amazing tool to meet people who will become friends”.

#3. Secret Hitler

This is one of the games I discovered when I started to play on the Thursday evenings at Thuis. The game is incredibly simple. You’re a good guy or a bad guy, and you get to say yes or no and (very rarely) enact a policy. I think it is because of this that the game really becomes about the players. Apart from that it is also one of the first games I played with a larger group of people on one of my first board game Thursdays.

What do you do for fun outside of board gaming?

I like sports, I swim, I bike and I run, occasionally combining the three. I play video games, though a bit less than a few years ago, usually real time strategy rather than first person stuff. I’m an active member of a political party (PvdA), where I help out with mostly practical stuff. And of course there’s my family. I am a proud uncle of my niece (Sara) and nephew (Lucas) who I hope will reach the board gaming age quite soon.

#2. Arkham Horror

A Lovecraftian story based cooperative board game. Probably one of the first cooperative games I can remember playing and still one of the best. No matter what monster you play, the codex in the game really talks you through a story no matter if you win or (more likely) lose. It is probably one of the first cooperative games I played (second edition back then), and it was massive. I remember starting around 20.00 and finishing around 04.00 (we won, though we would have slept a bit sooner if we got killed, still, worth it). Third edition is a bit more streamlined. We recently killed this guy on the left in about three hours. It is just a good game: it has strategy, a good story no matter which adversary you pick, it is difficult, and it is a shared experience, win or lose.  

What would you say your boardgaming tastes are?

I’ll probably try anything once, and I’m often surprised by the amount of unexpected fun a game can be. Some games click, others don’t, and you can’t always tell why. While the island chews up our characters and spits out the pieces in Robinson Crusoe I keep coming back for more, while there is a frustrating mismatch between how I think I’m doing and my actual score compared to other people in Wingspan, which makes it a bit of a turnoff. Let me play a game once, then I’ll start to form my opinion, but even then, good games are like playing sports or music, they get better with practice.

#1. Terraforming Mars

Look at this card (Deimos down). We want to terraform a planet, provide it with seas, oxygen and raise the temperature. How to do it? I know, let’s crash an f-ing moon into it. I guess that’s one way to deal with terror. I talked about sandboxes when mentioning Agricola. This is probably the biggest ever (it’s an entire planet!). There are so many directions you can take: going green, building cities, helping scientists, going into space, basic mining and many others, and if you play your cards right, one is not better than the rest. What’s also really cool about this game are the expansions. While some make the sandbox bigger (eg. Colonies, Venus Next), others change the start of the game (prelude, Hellas and Elisium), but by far my favorite is Turmoil. This creates this little corner in the world where everybody has to gather to fight it out every round. It is just an awesome game.  

Finally: Cards, Wood, or Dice?

There’s probably nothing like having some nice wood to class up a game. Pretty much any game can have cards or dice, but using wood instead of paper or plastic is a designer’s choice. The ultimate example is of course Spirit Island, where the good guys are wood, while the bad guys are made of plastic.