Robin and Kristen Levins live in Austin, Texas with their seven year old daughter. I met them at BGG.Con in Dallas this year, where I found out that their attendance is an annual tradition 11 years running! They’ve got my humble four years doubled and then some!
Impressed with their streak, I asked a little about their gaming initiation, and their stories were in line with many modern initiation tales:
“I always played board games when I was younger – whatever we could find at a garage sales or at my grandmother’s house.” Robin explained.
He was first introduced to Settlers of Catan by a friend in college, and knew that tabletop was a hobby he wanted to become more involved in once they started building up a shared collection of games to play as a group.
Kristen, who is originally from Mississippi – played a lot of Mall Madness and Scategories growing up, like many of us.
“My Junior year of college, I walked in on a group of people playing a modified game of Risk (over two boards) and immediately felt like I had found my people.” She explains.
A web developer at a security company, Robin has successfully introduced elements of the hobby to his peers at work through social gaming, and fun activities like their fantasy movie league, in which players draft upcoming productions based on group viewing of the trailers, and eventually compete comparing box office success of their picks.
Kristen, an Attorney, works to ensure that the low-income population of Texas have access to the court system. Something that she is tremendously proud of is the creation of a modular, interactive 126-person poverty simulation that guides attorneys through several scenarios spanning a month in the shoes of a person with low-income. The simulation was created as a re-imagining of similar national-scale programs, but was designed specifically to reflect local laws and conditions, and to be used as a training and professional development tool at law schools and bar associations state-wide. It was developed in large part based on her knowledge and experiences with decision making in modern gaming.
“Imagine you have to go to work, but you have a court appearance at the same time. Or, you’re at work and your kid gets sick, but you don’t have a job with flexible hours. If you don’t stay at work, your paycheck will be cut… so there are a lot of real-world decisions to be made. It’s my favorite thing that I do at work.”
In addition to introducing gaming to their workplaces, the Levins host a weekly board game night for 12-14 people that is typically spread over three tables. Not everyone is a traditional gamer, but they do a fantastic job of providing a good experience for even casual players.
“Just about anybody who is half-way interested in games will play a Spiel des Jahres winner. It seems to me that this hobby is one that is kind of unique, in that it drives such an intense passion that people travel around the country to conventions, set up weekly meetups, and the like.” Robin explains.
“I am married to the person who is the most amazing game-master and rules explainer in the history of the world!” Kristen states emphatically.
It’s true that Robin usually describes rules to their friends and family, and has DM’d for the group’s Dungeons & Dragons campaigns in the past.
“I like being able to get everything together and make things happen so others can enjoy games.” He says. “A good crowd with a bad game tends to be better than a bad crowd with a good game. Good friends having a great time around the table overcomes lesser titles more than the inverse.”
In addition to their play sessions at home, the family has started a new “summer kick-off” tradition that involves bringing their seven year old daughter and Kristen’s mother to BGG Spring once school ends.
“We’ve tried to be more intentional with gaming together.”