Ed Note: Boingboing's current guest blogger Gareth Branwyn writes on technology, pop and fringe culture. He is currently a Contributing Editor at Maker Media. Recent projects have included co-creating The Maker's Notebook and editing The Best of MAKE and The Best of Instructables collections.
For all of my writing about role-playing and tabletop wargaming (I used to host a sci-fi tabletop modeling site), I've actually not spent that much time heavy-duty gaming, at least not since I was a teen/20-something. Most of my gaming time in adulthood, and definitely my most enjoyable time, has been playing various light-duty card games. Since a lot of my friends are not as deeply geeky as I am, it's often hard to get them to sit still long enough to learn rules for an RPG or tabletop game, and by the time they've created a character or an army, the little lightweights are tired (many of them have these bizarre constructs I don't understand called "day jobs") and they need to head home. Card games usually have easier rules, quicker play times, and tend to be more social/less serious (proverbial beer and pretzel games). I've never played a game of Steve Jackson's Chez Geek without everyone involved, regardless of how into such games they are, not coming away having had a ball. I can't recommend that game, and its spin-offs (Chez Goth, Chez Guevara — for all your leftie-commie friends, etc), highly enough. And for the anarcho-libertarians in the chez, there's always Illuminati. It's more "medium-duty" than Chez Geek, but still suitable for general play. I've been playing that game since it was one of the infamous "pocket box" games (go Car Wars!).
My most recent attempt at feeding my friends a gateway drug to deeper gaming nerdom is Keith Baker's Gloom, from Atlas Games. I tend to be attracted to games with gimmicks and this has a great one. The cards are printed on clear plastic. As you play your hand, and cover the cards you've laid down with further draws, the cards change values/capabilities, depending on which attributes show through the card stacks. The other thing that attracted me to the game is the objective. As you play, you try to increase the happiness of the other players' characters, while increase the miserable things that happen to yours (you choose from four families of dysfunctional freaks in the core game). You want to end up with the gloomiest family in the end. Gloom good, happy bad. (Does Morrissey know about this?) The artwork on the cards is really lovely, evocative of Gorey, Addams, and Lemony Snicket. The game is designed for 2-4 players and the rules are fairly simple, so even older kids can play. Unfortunately, since I bought it over Christmas, I haven't been able to cajole anybody into playing it with me yet. Pocket-Protector Barbie sez: "Being a geek is HARD."