The summer is always a little tough on me. See, when I was a kid my parents (and thankfully so) went out of their way to steer me clear of electronic amusement and play outside, a view that these days gets CPS called on you. Now I’m glad my parents made me get up and go play. In all honesty, those days I spent outside falling out of trees and into blackberry brambles are some of my favorites, but today it leaves me with a bit of a quandary. I, like a fair few of you, am a gamer, and as much as I REALLY want to be outside, direct sun isn’t very conducive to several gaming prerequisites, such as being able to see the screen. Even most handhelds turn into little more then expensive mirrors emanating the terrible death throes of your character, unseen beneath the reflective sheen of that fiery celestial ball, laughing at you from on high.
So again, a quandry. How do I sate my childhood need to play outside with my need to enjoy engaging, interactive entertainment that has nothing to do with the skins of pigs or grids made of iron (unless I’m racing some sort of mechanical death machine across it) or generally any activity having to do with traditional organized sports. Well, in an effort to help those facing the same sort of conundrum (as well as the ones who feel bad for NOT facing that conundrum. Seriously, get off your ass and go outside) I have compiled a brief (and cheap) list of some time tried options that should suit your needs.
You may have heard of this little gem before, spoken of in hallowed tones by geeks and gamers alike, and for good reason. Settlers of Catan is one of the greatest games ever invented. It’s infinitely re-playable, adaptable, and allows for great skill. It has strategy, resource management, negotiations with other players, and even expansion sets to add things like naval scenarios and combat elements. Basically if Sid Meyers had created a board game, it would be Settlers of Catan.
At first glance, the price tag on SoC can be a little daunting, but that’s the best part. This game is so universal and widespread, it’s damn near a sure thing that you’ll be able to find some, or even a group of someones, to play with. My local chain bookstore hosts a group of a dozen or more every Sunday who bring boards and play pickup games of SoC with whoever shows up. With a little footwork and some followup, throwing a post on your local Craigslist or leaving something on the bulletin board of the local bookstore, coffeehouse or community college will very likely net you a group of Catan players who are eager to add more to the fold.
While board games aren’t necessarily an outdoor activity, I can feel okay with substituting the words “engaging social” for “outdoor”. And no, yelling at some teamkilling 11 year old on Xbox Live doesn’t count as a social activity, but I’d imagine playing a rather high brow board game with a couple of strangers could turn out to be engaging indeed. And at the end of the day, you can still take a board game outside.
I love Cheapass games. Not only are they, in fact, dirt cheap (or flat out free), but their games are damn entertaining, and incredibly portable. I have a copy of one of their older titles, Bleeding Sherwood, in an envelope in my desk drawer. With such titles as “Unexploded Cow”, “Falling” (which is, in fact, about falling and plays in about 90 seconds) and “Devil Bunny Needs A Ham”, you’re sure to find something to entertain you. Most of the free games require, at most, 20 minutes of printing and scissor work. Some don’t even require that. All you need for “Take-Back-Toe”, for example, is some poker chips and a 6 sided die. Their paid titles, especially the ones picked up by Steve Jackson games, are solid gold. There was one summer where dice and a copy of “Lord of the Fries” went everywhere with me. Never underestimate the power of zombies making fast food.
Again, while it may not be an “outdoor” activity it counts as a social activity for sure, and one that, by virtue of it’s genesis, can prove to be a unique experience.
Do you ever wish that there was a dude standing on the corner willing to offer you a myriad of rewards for going and performing some task, like recovering his lunch or killing spiders somewhere? Do you wish life had more action and meaningful content? Do you wish life were more like the games we enjoy? Brother have I got a deal for you.
It’s called Morton’s List, and it is epic in the truest sense of the word. It’s built around the concept of “random reality” where in players get together to complete any number of a multitude of quests, randomly generated for the group (called the Inner Circle) spanning nearly everything you can imagine. Some of the quests are simple and benign, like visit a park or write someone a letter. Some require you to step outside your comfort zone, such as the quests requiring your Inner Circle to dumpster dive or create some form of art glorifying the nude human form. Others still are way out there, or even borderline illegal, such as sneaking into a private or ticked event, or going out and being vigilante neighborhood defenders. Whats more is you are provided with a plethora of “mutations”, ways in which the quests change to make them more challenging or interesting, such has having to wear a certain thing or speak a certain way (let me tell you about the time I rolled the “dress like an asshole” mutation on the sleep with someone quest).
Need more? Not only are there ML communities where you can find other players, there is an entire second book with new mutations and new quests, as well as achievements, perks, and a leveling system for use within the game. Don’t want to spend any money? There is a free, abbreviated version of Morton’s List available on their website so you can get a taste of this unique and out there way to get out and do something. Or someone. Or both. Ah, Morton’s List.
- The Scavenger Hunt
Not only is this one of the most entertaining activities you can engage in, it is also incredibly easy. All you need are friends and a list of stuff, anything you can imagine. Bunch of tomatoes? Cool. Tweed waistcoat? Fair game. Midget in a fireman’s hat? Good luck, but fair game. Make sure everyone has a copy of the list, then set a time and a place to meet and you’re good to go! Some stipulations might be useful, depending on the size and relative level of idiocy of your friends. For example, if your friends have a penchant for larceny and giant cajones, perhaps you should limit your group to taking cell phone pictures of your objectives, let you wind up with a car full of stolen goods and a kidnapped midget. Too tame for you? You can also take a page from Morton’s List and make things interesting by imposing limits or stipulations on yourself (imagine how interesting a mute scavenger hunt would be). Why not kick it up even further? Maybe you all arm yourselves with Nerf or squirt guns, and getting the drop on another player or team entitles you to one of their finds? Really, the key here is creativity, something at least one person in your cadre should be more then capable of.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Capture the Flag is dangerously close to “sports”. While there is certainly a “sporty” way to play, you don’t have to get all runny about it. The urban version actually encourages more stealth then speed. The setup is similar. People are placed on teams, and given a flag to hide somewhere within a predetermined game area. The teams then are tasked with recovering and returning the other team’s flag. Sounds simple enough. As above, the key here is to spice it up. Are vehicles allowed, for example? How do you tag a flag carrier? What happens when you do? Is there a safe zone?
Again, the sky and your creativity are the limits. Try not to do anything illegal or get anyone hurt, but have fun! I’ve included a link to some other forms of urban gaming that you might find interesting. And remember, the whole key here is to give you and your friends ideas about how to get your ass outside and do something fun. So why not grab some friends, grab your favorite Am-Hi-Co incense, and start brainstorming your next adventure.