Mandan game master teaches board strategies at local bar

MANDAN (AP) — Trampas Johnson is the game master of Mandan.

The Spielmeister, German for game master, can be found every Wednesday teaching Mandan Bier Hall patrons how to play the board game of the week.

Some of Johnson’s earliest memories involve playing board games with his aunt and uncle. They played classics, such as Scattergories and Monopoly.

“They also had more exotic games,” Johnson said, such as Hotels, which was similar to Monopoly but played with 3-D cardboard cutouts allowing players to build resorts.

His favorite was Nightmare. As players tried to collect keys in the escape-type game, a VHS played in which the “Gatekeeper” would stop game play to reward or penalize various players.

It was 2003 when Johnson got heavily involved in teaching others to play board games. He was assistant manager at a board game store in Pennsylvania and would conduct demonstrations of new games each week, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

“I’ve loved board games forever so I was really excited when Trampas said he was going to start doing regular game nights,” said Erin Pringle, a friend of Johnson’s and a regular Bier Hall game night attendee.

Pringle said almost every game Johnson has brought to game night has been a new experience for her. One of her favorites is Sagrada.

“I kind of love rolling dice and you’re rolling to create a stained glass window,” she said. “You have to follow a certain pattern . On the surface, it’s simple, but it can be super strategic, too.”

Last month, for International Talk Like a Pirate Day, the group played Dead Men Tell No Tales, a cooperative game in which the players worked together to try to loot a burning ship in the middle of the sea.

“My all-time favorite is called Puerto Rico,” Johnson said, a game that involves managing a plantation on the island to grow resources for building or selling back to the mainland. “When it’s one person’s turn, what they do everybody does so everyone is engaged the whole time. There’s no down time, no sitting waiting for your turn. There’s always something interesting to do.”

Pringle said being game master fits Johnson’s character.

“He loves the social aspects of games and bringing people together,” she said. “That spending time together strategizing is fun for him, but really he’s not that person who plays because he wants to win. He wants to share his love of games with others.”

Pringle said she’s seen Johnson approach countless people, even those who may be hesitant about playing, and ease them into it.

“He’s really good at it,” she said. “He excels at teaching them, too. He expresses the rules so they’re easy to pick up and answers questions along the way. … I’m glad he’s found a way to share that with others.”

Johnson has curated a library of about 40 games at the Bier Hall, with titles such as Catan and Love Letter. Bier Hall owner Edgar Oliveira told the Tribune when he opened that the game night fits into the hall’s community atmosphere.

“I think there’s a lot to be said for the analog experience, spending time with friends . experiencing something as a group in person,” Johnson said.

And unlike video games that are only in style as long as the most recent console, Johnson said a board game can last for a lifetime.

Just last week he brought home a bunch of games from his parents’ basement. Inside he found Splish Splash, which he said is like the game Mouse Trap but played with water.

“You had to play with it in the bathtub because water went everywhere,” Johnson said. “Even just putting it together was a real take back to that time sitting around the bathtub with my cousins rolling dice into the tub.”

In addition to the Bier Hall game night, Johnson said he knows of game night groups at Parallax and at Panera in Bismarck. The Bismarck Public Library also has games residents can check out.

“It’s becoming a lot more well-known,” he said.


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