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A New Level of Nerdiness

Last night, I reached a new level of nerdiness. In my defense, I was led to this new level of nerdiness somewhat unwittingly. I’m still going to pretend that I am somewhat less nerdy than the graduate students surrounding me. It’s a self-delusion, but it keeps me sane.

After finishing up my labwork last night, I ended up going out to dinner with my advisor and a few other professors and graduate students. As we were leaving, Chris, another of my advisor’s graduate students, asked what my plans were for the evening. I told him that I was just going to go home to my apartment and do some reading.

“No, you’re not,” Chris informed me.

“I’m not?” I replied.

“No, you’re coming with me.”

“What do you possibly have to do on a Friday night, Chris? Labwork?” another grad student teased.

“Where are you taking her? A wild party?” my advisor joked.

At this point, my advisor and the other graduate students were laughing. Chris is a nice guy, but he’s not the sort to have a crazy social life. Neither am I, honestly.

“Yes, Chris, where are you taking me?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” he replied. “I can’t tell you. Go get your bag.”

I turned to my advisor, saying, “Will you come rescue me if your graduate student abducts me?”

“No,” my advisor answered, still laughing. “You’re on your own!”

Chris and I said goodbye to everyone and then walked to his car. As we were driving, I pestered him.

“Really, Chris, where are we going? What are we doing?”

Finally, he answered, “We’re going to play a board game with some other students.”

A board game. That didn’t sound too bad. I mean, I like a good game of scrabble or monopoly. I could stay and play for an hour or two and then still go home and read my book about meteorites or a paper on Iceland. Clearly, I misinterpreted the definition of the word “boardgame.”

Last night, I spent five– yes, five– hours playing the game Heroscape with some other oceanography graduate students in my program. This game is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. Designed for ten-year-olds, this game was played last night by twenty and thirty-something graduate students. Walking into the room, seeing a giant landscape laid out and hundreds of little action figures, I knew I was in for a very nerdy experience. I knew that I was about to descend down (or climb up, depending on your perspective) into a new level of nerdiness.

Basically, one starts the game by constructing a giant, table-sized landscape out of little hexagon-shaped plastic pieces as well as from plastic trees, ice shelves, castle walls, roads, and bridges. The game is played with little figurines called “heroes.” The heroes are a random mixture of fun and very anachronistic characters. Last night, there were vikings, dinosaurs, secret agents, cowboys, samari warriors, ninjas, armored monkey warriors, dragons, exploding robots, giant serpents, World War II style fighters, and many other figures on the board.

The game is somewhat flexible in its structure. At times, I had to break out laughing at some of the conversations and debates in the game. There were questions such as, “So, do you think my dragon warrior can make it to kill the cowboys off before the secret agent encounters the scuba men?” The characters all have real names, but many of them have nicknames, too. Such as “mittens” for a giant serpent/lobster/dragon (I’m not sure what it is, actually!) that looks as if it’s wearing a pair of boxing gloves. Or “chompasuar” for a giant dinosaur that can eat other characters very easily.

The stucture of the game is somewhat flexible. The game is played either individually or in teams. The goal is either to kill off all the other teams’ characters and often some other task, such as moving small disks called “glyphs” back and forth. Even when moving glyphs, however, a primary goal is battling other characters and killing them off. The teams were fairly evenly matched last night, which is why the game took awhile. Three or four hours is not unusual for a game of Heroscape, though, Chris informed me.

I had heard of Heroscape before, actually. Another graduate student friend of mine up in Boston recently acquired the game. I was over at his apartment one day, and he had some landscape pieces as well as some figures out on the countertop in the kitchen. I asked about the game, and he described it. He tried to convince me to play sometime.

“No, thanks,” I had replied. “Sounds far too complex and nerdy for me.”

Now, I think he has a much better chance of convincing me to play. Despite my worries that I am on a nerdy downward spiral from which I can never return, I had a great time playing Heroscape last night. Largely, it was the good company: a bunch of overworked, smart graduate students reverting to childhood, in a way. A bunch of students playing with plastic dragons and ninjas, playing a sort of strange, overglorified game of capture-the-flag. Capture-the-flag played with little figurines that do their best to shoot, beat up, or eat their opponents, that is. All in all, a good time. I have to be sure not to play Heroscape too often. First of all, I need to salvage whatever is left of my image of non-nerdy coolness. Second, if I play too often I’m sure I’ll never obtain my Ph.D.


Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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  1. Last night, there were vikings, dinosaurs, secret agents, cowboys, samari warriors, ninjas, armored monkey warriors, dragons, exploding robots, giant serpents, World War II style fighters, and many other figures on the board.

    Hmm, throw in space elves and assault hovercrafts, and you'll come awfully close to some of the Dungeons and Dragons campaigns I've designed (and boy were those hovercrafts a hit). To parody Jeff Foxworthy:

    If you're most important goal in life is to level up so you can put skill points into Riding (Assault Hovercraft), you might be a nerd.

    Bah, I just wish I could find a group to get into up here. I've had terrible luck finding people to nerd with at university (which seems odd when you note that I go to the nerd capital of Canada (University of Waterloo), but makes sense when you remember my horrible skills at initiating social interactions. Man, I really need to level up so I can put some skill points into that).

  2. Poor Evelyn. Beware, lest you find yourself sucked into the black hole of wargaming and roleplaying…

    Seriously though, I'm glad you had fun. And since you're already comfortable with your Inner Nerd, enjoy another aspect of her!

  3. The great thing about group games is all the banter that goes on while playing them. As you said, when you get a group of smart creative people together it can get pretty funny. Games are good icebreakers that allow one to get a good glimpse of people's personalities no matter what the game is. And it's just fun. Ok, this one may qualify as an especially nerdy game, but I remember in high school "Dark Tower" being the premise for a date with my then-much older boyfriend. (We actually never played until months after the fact).

    We had a high school German exchange student who made my father play endless hours of Monopoly – always losing to my Dad. It was hysterical. He was a Trekkie, too. (I mean, a serious Trekkie.) He is now a surgeon.

    Rebecca posted about a guy who chose what I thought was the most cicuitous route to drawing the word "limbo" in a game of Pictionary. That cracked me up – I love Pictionary.

    We played the newest version of Trivial Pursuit on this past Xmas Day for 5 1/2 hours, maybe 6. I was yelling out, "Give me ping pong! – curling! – anything but obscure baseball trivia!!" It was fun. (I liked showing off the astronomy tidbits I've learned, too.)

    Also, the instructor used Jenga in a class at work not long ago (yeah, it was a whole teamwork/building metaphor, but everybody got a go at it). I know 50+ year olds in Connecticut who are totally into Geocaching. Scavenger hunts are fun also. I knew an architect who used to be part of a group in Houston that would have these annual scavenger hunts of a sophisticated kind (these were lawyers, architects, anybody). They would get a difficult list of things they needed to find in Houston – everything from ticket stubs, to old records, certain kinds of rocks or bugs – you name it. They'd be knocking on people's doors if they needed something badly enough.

    So, yeah, embrace the occasional foray into nerdiness. Who can resist a chompasaur?

    Hmm…that's another good idea for a SkepShake outing/party – go to Blake's house and play a game, and video some of the banter while you're at it. :-)

    (Ok, I'm totally pimping out Blake's house – it may soon look like a bar scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with odd creatures milling about if people figure out where he lives…lol.)

  4. Wow…that game sounds like it could be extremely amusing. I'm always a big fan of absurdity and of things that are not what they are supposed to be…and having ninjas and dinos battling cowboys and 'spacemen' sounds like it involves quite a bit of both.

    Makes me wish I had people to hang out with here in the UK.

  5. I told him that I was just going to go home to my apartment and do some reading.

    “No, you’re not,” Chris informed me.

    “I’m not?” I replied.

    “No, you’re coming with me.”

    Maybe I'm wrong on this, but this sounds like the nerd equivalent of "Hey, wanna go back to my place?". Then again, being as forward as he was, he probably didn't have any alterior motives, or he would have been far less likely to sound so "confident" and commanding. That's typically nerds in my experience: the only time you sound confident is when you don't really mean/need to be.

    Of course, this descent into nerdyness means you now go up another few points in my "perfect girlfriend" scale. As if that score wasn't already high enough anyway :evil:

  6. If you want an awesome board game, look out for Settlers of Catan. Though that may be a little too nerdy just yet. You may need to work your way up to it.


    That's incredible. I mean, you can't throw a rock at UW without hitting at least 3 nerds. I would suggest, if you haven't tried already, heading up to the 3rd floor lounge in MC. That's pretty much Nerd Central. I'm sure you can find people who roleplay or possibly some in the middle of roleplaying.

  7. For nerdy games, here are some suggestions:

    Robo rally. Quite possibly the best board game ever.

    Someone already mentioned Settlers of Catan, but another interesting one is Civilization (like the computer game with the same name). Except it takes forever to finish (think days instead of hours).

    And one that's also quite a blast is Talismangoose, but with some pretty interesting expansions. Once again, a lot of the fun is in the kind of conversation that ensues during the game.

    The one nerdy game I could never really appreciate is card games like Magic though. The only exception that I DO like being Munchkin.

    Anyway, enough nerdyness for now.

  8. And that was suppose to read:

    "And one that's also quite a blast is Talisman, which is basically a fantasy version of the game goose …"

  9. Melusine, I am a big fan of trivia, another nerdy pursuit I've picked up since I entered graduate school. In the basement of one of the graduate dorms here at MIT there's a pub which hosts trivia every Monday night. I was recruited to play on the oceanography team "Team Zissou" because, as my friend Mike put it, "you're a girl. Teams with girls sometimes get extra points just because they have a girl." The grad program here at MIT is something like 80:20 male to female. I do answer many of the questions, though. I'm good with literature and history questions… well, better than the average MIT engineer, anyway.

    Wait a minute, didn't Weird Al play trivia in the song/video "White and Nerdy"? It frightens me how much I identify with that song, actually…

    Exarch, you're speaking a foreign language with all those games… you can't overwhelm me too quickly with all these nerdy games or I might run away, quit graduate school, and find a "cooler" profession. Heroscape is a good baby step for now.

  10. "Talisman" was one of the very first fantasy role-playing games I ever played (acknowledging that it's not really a true, full-blown RPG) back in the early-to-mid-80s. Great memories playing that one, indeed! And, yes, it's often the interaction "between turns" that really makes that sort of game such good fun.

  11. Evelyn, I'm not trying to overwhelm you, just telling you that if you kinda liked Heroscape, there's quite a few other games that you will probably like as well.

    As for Talisman, yeah, I suppose it is halfway between board games and table role-playing games. But I'm sure that by the time Evelyn is into those, she'll have fully accepted her inner nerd.

    The slippery slope will do its work as it always does ;)

    (And don't worry, unlike nerdy guys, you can be a nerdy woman and still be cool).

    I was always a nerd, but I only became a roleplaying/wargaming nerd after the first time some friends talked me into joining their game at the age of, hmmm, 21 or something.

  12. Melusine confessed,

    Ok, I’m totally pimping out Blake’s house – it may soon look like a bar scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with odd creatures milling about if people figure out where he lives…lol.

    Actually, it wouldn't take that much extra work. I mean, I live with six other MIT alumni and grad students, who build solid-state polychrome lights for nightclubs and own rare-element collections obtained by [censored].

  13. Oooh! I wanna play that!

    This weekend I spent at a cabin in the mountains with two friends, apart from eating, sleeping and a very short trip cross-country skiing we played games.

    We played Cosmic Encounter, Elfenland, San Juan, Carcasonne, Ticket to Ride: Europe, Settlers of Catan: Catan-Express… yeah I think that's all, except for a few rounds of a regular card game.

  14. Evelyn,

    "I was recruited to play on the oceanography team “Team Zissou” because, as my friend Mike put it, “you’re a girl. Teams with girls sometimes get extra points just because they have a girl.”

    Was he serious? Or I should ask, is that true? Why should there be extra points for having a girl on the team?

    About personalities being revealed by games: I have an old story of a friend of mine. He's a very smart guy – one question wrong on his SATs, Yale, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale for PhD-level smart. Until I played a game of Scrabble with him I never knew how fiercely competitive he was nor what losing ONE game to me would mean to him. Forget that he beat me in all the previous games – as he could see that I might figure out the winning word, he was up pacing around! You could slice the tension in the air. It wasn't just losing to me, also a female, but also me a female with much less education than him. My one glorious game! It was an interesting moment to see him pacing like that.

    I use to get mad at my father if he'd let my younger sister win at games when she was young. I thought that was a bad precedent to set. Some educators have argued otherwise. Unless it's a physical sport, handicaps are insulting, in my book. :-/

    Blake: Rare-element collections obtained by…? Any fluourescent minerals? Those are cool. Ok, Evelyn, if you're walking about Somerville at night and you see strobe and laser lights emanating from a house, you'll know where to go to pilfer some rare-elements. (And they won't be able to report you!) ;-)

  15. Melusine, let's just say that the trivia scoring system isn't so much a system as whatever the host feels like. If there's two teams that are evenly matched, sometimes there's a dance off to determine who gets the beer money for that week. Whenever a girl dances, she usually wins, no matter how badly she dances.

    I'm all for women's rights and whatnot, but I'm very willing to use my feminine wiles to help my trivia team.

  16. Having a girl on your team also means your a tad less nerdy, because you somehow managed to get a girl to play with you without scaring her off.

  17. Oh, I see. They're probably elated to have girls around…..incentives! (Kidding, sort of.)

    80/20 – it doesn't sound like a bad place to be. I looked up the lyrics to "White & Nerdy":

    First in my class here at MIT

    Got skills, I'm a champion at D&D

    M.C. Escher, that's my favorite M.C.

    I'll ace any trivia quiz you bring on

    I'm fluent in JavaScript as well as Klingon

    I been browsin', inspectin' X-Men comics

    You know I collect 'em

    The pens in my pocket, I must protect them

    My ergonomic keyboard never leaves me bored

    Shoppin' online for deals on some writable media

    I edit Wikipedia


  18. What nerdy?

    You were engaging in a healthy social activity. Even if it ment slaughtering cowboys.

    Now let me know once you've made someone cry while playing Diplomacy. :)


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