Thursday, December 31, 2015

Americans and locals in Shanghai celebrate the cold winter holiday together with board games


By Yang Lan. Source: Global Times Published: 2015-12-29 19:28:01

Shanghai authorities have canceled the New Year's Eve Countdown to 2016 at the Bund due to the previous year's tragedy. Severe pollution in Shanghai this winter is also being cited as a reason why many locals will be staying in on December 31. But these could not stop people from celebrating the Christmas and the New Year.

As such, the Shanghai American Center recently organized its first-ever board game night, with over 40 local and foreign participants gathered at the center to learn about American gaming culture and try their hand, quite literally, at an old-fashioned board game.

Board games have a very long history, with the earliest forms of board games - xiangqi and shogi - invented in ancient China followed by chess in 7th century India. Evolving across the world throughout the 20th century and peaking in sales and popularity in the 1970s, American board games such as Scrabble and Monopoly have been translated into multiple languages.

In the 1980s and 1990s, European countries including Germany, France and the Netherlands created updated, modernized versions of board games to compete with the rising popularity of video games and computers.

"The newer games were less about luck, more about thinking, planning, strategy and economic management," said Stephen Sanders, Vice Consul of the US Consulate General in Shanghai, who introduced three new-style board games to participants: Dixit, Pandemic and The Settlers of Catan. 

The Settlers of Catan is considered a strategic game, with players establishing colonies on an island. Each player must collect "resources" (cards), trading with each other when necessary, just as in real-world economies. Dixit, on the other hand, allows players to use their imagination to tell stories using cards that they have at hand.

"Board games are still very common in the US, especially when family and friends visit each other for Thanksgiving or Christmas. People open up their board games and play a few rounds when it is cold outside," said Sanders, who added that his current favorite game is Pandemic.

Cooperative gaming

Pandemic differs from the other two games as it requires players to help each other, rather than compete, toward a final goal. The game simulates a situation where humans are threatened by several severe diseases, and players are "experts" who travel the world (presented on the game's map) to treat people, cure diseases and build facilities for further strategies as the diseases continue to spread. 

As a cooperative game, Pandemic bears the philosophy of sharing ideas and working together, very similar to the United Nations. "The better they work together, and the more they share their think+ing and planning, the more they are likely to win. If you just go out yourself and ignore those who are playing with you, you will lose. I think it is an important skill for all people to develop," Sanders told the Global Times.

Local office worker Cai Shizhe played Pandemic for the first time with three other participants during the event and quickly found himself transfixed. "It is an interesting game. Although we have not finished our game yet, we have made some initial results by working out one cure," said Cai, who learned about the event through Weibo.

The Shanghai American Center, a public, free event space from the public affairs section of the US consulate, holds a wide range of people-to-people cultural activities throughout the year. 

"We do cultural activities, everything from lectures and art exhibitions to movie screenings," Andrea Wald, a public diplomacy assistant from the US Consulate General in Shanghai, told the Global Times. "But this one is different, because it is our first interactive activity."

Vice Consul Stephen Sanders explains board game rules at a recent event in Shanghai.



Participants playing board games

Photos: Courtesy of the US Consulate General in Shanghai

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