Welcome to Another Board Family! This feature takes a look at board gaming through the lens of different families around the world.
Let us introduce you to Derek and Elizabeth Funkhouser. For their family, board games have become more than just a hobby. What started off with the occasional game night has transitioned into writing about games and sharing their passion for gaming with communities online. In this interview, we chat with this couple about what got them into the hobby, what it’s like being new parents and hear about the games that they enjoy most.
As a couple, what role has board gaming played in your relationship over the years?
Derek: Lizzy and I didn’t officially enter the hobby until late 2014. We, (I) had asked for 7 Wonders for Christmas, and that was the game that opened our eyes to the wonderful world of board games. We both grew up playing your typical Scrabble, Monopoly, Catchphrase, etc. but it wasn’t until that year, when we actually dove headfirst into the world of hobby board games.
In the beginning, we had games nights with friends about once or twice a month, and it was very casual. I would research new games between game nights, and I was very active in various Facebook groups. As our love for board games grew, so did our collection, and tastes.
Nearly 4 years later, our collection has grown from a handful of titles, to a modest 250+ games. There are many games that Lizzy and I enjoy playing together, but there are also many she isn’t very fond of. Board games have allowed us to bond and strengthen our relationship away from our screens, and the busyness of life.
We often play games, just the two of us, so our collection centers mostly on games that play well for 2, but we have a few friends that join our group. Being in the military, it’s difficult to find a group when you’re moving around. We know we will always have each other, and so our game time and collection revolves mostly around that.
Lizzy: It’s definitely been something that has allowed us to grow closer together. The time we spend gaming is mostly free of cell phones and other distractions, besides Seb, of course. It’s fun because we both have such different interests when it comes to what kind of games we like so we end up playing a little bit of everything and trying things we might not have on our own. I think that’s the best part, trying a game you wouldn’t have on your own and realizing you love it.
You have a degree in English and History, how are you putting your education into practice in the hobby of board games?
Derek: For me, I’ve always loved being creative. Writing, drawing, etc. Out of college, I didn’t put any of my writing to practical application. It lay dormant for nearly 4 years until I was approached with an incredible opportunity to work for Druid City Games. James was looking to expand his review side of the company, and a friend of mine dropped my name in the bucket. I worked trial for a few months, writing about games I had in my collection, until I was offered a part-time job. Now, nearly a year later, Lizzy and I will exit Active duty military life and we will begin a new chapter in our crazy adventure thus far.
Outside of writing, I’ve also started to keep a design journal. In September of 2016, I started working on a game design. It started to blossom, and I looked for an artist. Long story short, the artist became a friend, and we’ve been working together as co-designers on our upcoming board game; Fate of the West.
Most of the designs I have in my head are tied to history in some form or facet, and Fate of the West will be my first test in the design industry. I have two other games currently being developed with another handful written and sketched in various phases in my journal. There’s no telling if they will become reality, but it’s a good way to keep my brain occupied; as if I didn’t have enough to multi-task already!
When you are playing a game for review or preview, what are some things you are focusing on?
Derek: One of the hardest parts of my current position, is that previewing and reviewing games are very different. Our previews are sponsored by the publisher, and we are helping market that game for them. It’s important that when I preview a game, I remove my reviewer hat, because I’m not giving “Derek’s opinion” on the game. Instead, I have to look at the game from a holistic viewpoint and understand which audience and what market this game serves. I need to break down the game both mechanically and thematically and help our audience find out if it’s a game that will resonate with them. It’s a tough task, but it’s a blast and Lizzy and I have had a lot of fun with the Board Game Spotlight Kickstarter promotions.
When I review a game, I dive much further into it. On top of giving a wider audience suggestion, I also talk about what I did and did not like. I throw in my personal opinion when needed. I believe what sets my reviews apart is that I try to get into the mind of gamers. Instead of throwing out blanket statements like, “I didn’t like this game,” I try to explain who might like it and why you would or wouldn’t enjoy it. In the end, games are meant to be fun and enjoyed. While not every game is critically acclaimed, I firmly believe that every game has an audience and that’s my job; to find that audience.
Both yourself and your wife Elizabeth enjoy gaming. What kind of games do the two of you love to play as a couple?
Lizzy: Our styles are so different that we end up taking turns picking the games. He enjoys worker placement, obviously, and more strategic games. I like games that are quick and keep you involved the whole time. There’s nothing worse to me than sitting and waiting for the other person to take their turn, but I’ve gotten better! Kingdomino, Ticket to Ride, Century Spice Road, and Godfather are a few of the ones we keep reaching for, but with Derek’s job there are always a stack of games in the corner waiting for us.
In 2017 you all had your first little one. How has your time around the game table changed with the new responsibilities of parenthood?
Derek: Lizzy can attest to this, and she will say that I have no idea how blessed we are, but our little one, Sebastian Storm is such a great baby. Of course, babies need a lot of attention and care, but he loves to sit on our laps, and watch us play games. I think he enjoys seeing all the moving bits, and the colorful illustrations. He loves when we play card games because he can try to grab them out of our hands. He’s teething now, so of course everything goes straight to the mouth! He picked up a fantastic sleep schedule early on, and for the last ~2 months he sleeps from 7pm – 7am. That gives Lizzy and I the opportunity to play, preview, and enjoy board games together.
Lizzy: He really is the best baby, but he doesn’t always cooperate. There are a lot of times that Derek will have to move the meeples or play cards for both of us because I’m trying to feed him or keep him entertained. Thankfully he loves his bouncer and playing on the floor so as long as he can see us he’ll play by himself. What’s most difficult is being able to get a group of friends together to play, it’s not the easiest play cart him around and our current apartment only fits so many people, but we make it work.
If you had to pick one game of 2017 to introduce to your child, what game would it be and what age would you do that?
Derek: This is a tough question! I think if I had to pick one game it would be Dinosaur Island. It’s so reminiscent of my childhood, with the colors, Jurassic Park vibe, slap bracelet, etc. but it’s also an incredibly well designed game! It’s light enough that I think I could teach him around ~10 years old and worker placement is my favorite mechanic, so imparting that love to him would be great. Of course, if he doesn’t like it, I’ll be heartbroken, but it won’t be the end of the world. As a follow-up, I would absolutely love to teach him Lisboa, which topped my list of best games of 2017. I would have to wait a few more years to teach him, which is why I would choose Dinosaur Island first. Plus, who doesn’t like dinosaurs?!
Lizzy: I can’t wait to play Werewords with him. I love the loud, talking party games and can’t wait for him to start talking. I have images of him and his friends having sleepovers and playing those kinds of games together. Like Derek said, I want him to have a love of board games, but hope he finds his own voice with them.
What was one of your first games you remember from your childhood? Would you still sit down and play it today?
Derek: There are two games that stand out to me. Candyland, and The American Girls game. Yes, I’m sure everyone is laughing! I would be too. The two reasons these stand out to me are because I would play them with my little sister. She adored everything American Girl growing up, and so I was often asked to play. However, I quit playing Candyland with her, because she would stack the deck against me when I wasn’t paying attention or when she set it up! She was quite devious. I can’t say that I would ask to play either of these today, but if she brought them out of the closet, and asked, I would probably oblige for nostalgia sake.
Lizzy: My family loved to play Catchphrase so I still have a soft spot for it. There were 6 of us so it was very easy to break into teams and since it was portable we would take it with us on vacation or while we waited for fireworks on the 4th of July. I definitely would love to play that again!