Fingerprints

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The four of us sat across the kitchen table from one another in a circle of six friendships that now spanned three decades (regardless of whether you counted cumulatively or individually). Nick and I met in seventh grade and collectively met Sagar in San Luis during that brief furlough that amounted to the freshman year of college. Brian’s introduction came not long after, and eventually we all worked together at the company. As if those two experiences could be untangled from one another. We no longer all worked for the company, as if that mattered.

This was also the same kitchen in which the name of the company was first stumbled upon. Very casually. Today — more than twenty years later — Nick was explaining the demo of his board game to the three of us. This was the third major revision he’d shown me, and I couldn’t have been more proud and in admiration of both his process and its content.

The first sharing had been a virtual demo he’d written in Javascript to play-test the mechanics. Break it; balance it; break it again; iterate — without printing an ounce of ink on an inch of paper.

The second sharing was full printed sheets scotch-taped together when he needed more than 11 inches and were weighted upon the table with poker chips and die and cubes and was far too complicated for me to fully understand in the half hour we’d had to review, but I’d somehow managed a few notes and was by the intersections and opportunities of metaphorically playing the very few other versions of games in my head that it resembled.

This third iteration, still nameless, had clearly been improved by the crucible of its first real play test and a beckoning call to be published by those play testers.

But that was the thing about board games. Even in full regale across a table, explained by the maker or instructions read through — it was only in the direct experience of playing the game itself that you would begin to understand if it was fun, or challenging, or infuriating, or if you liked it all. It was, like all things, another secret personality test in which you had to examine yourself and others only the during and the after, in order to exact the real knowledge of its design. The before was all conjecture and half-blind speculation. You didn’t even need to play to win — you just had to play.

And, for which, there was not enough time to begin this Sunday afternoon. Brian and Sagar were both competitive gamers, and brilliant thinkers, too. Brian’s library of games was eclipsed I think only by Nick’s. It was bizarre renaissance of gaming, the means of production somehow much more democratized. Like with television, somehow this was also the golden age of tabletop gaming. The next time we sat down, it was promised, we would play the game to see it and us for what we might really be. A plotting coven of vampires.

But what I could intuit, as I had in each of those iterations, and a decade spent in that kitchen in our youth building and dreaming and talking and listening and recording —  was just how much the game itself bore his fingerprint as a designer and a thinker and a human. As much as his daughter was so clearly and succinctly a thing created by him, this game — even in its unfinished, raw and fluid state — expressed his aesthetic craft. Perhaps all things did from all creators. I don’t quite know what to call that perception other than a fingerprint, but it was evidence I doubt TouchID would be able to convert into a cryptographically stored signature.

Back in that kitchen, the afternoon was a destination unlike any I could have predicted, and yet it far exceeded the expectations of what and how and where and when and in what ways it all came to pass. (I have this thought so much lately it’s almost like saying nothing at all).

Not that anything else was given, but I could not be more genuinely curious for what might happen next.

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