Taft Troopers: Board game night at Exile

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Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly, Cluedo – these were the games we played growing up. But as school, the Internet, and television came along, somewhere along the way, most people stopped playing.

In the meantime, the games evolved, new games emerged, and a few others kept to it. And recently in come places, tabletop games, as they’re now called, have boomed.

So when we heard that some people were holding a weekly board game night at Exile on Main St., we decided to head on over and check it out.


Games, games, games

By the time we get to Exile, the place is nearly full. Most of the tables have people playing some board game or card game variations that are unfamiliar to us.

Juancho Saldana, one of the guys behind Taft Troopers, spots us and calls us over for a game called Say Anything.  The game is simple enough: one person picks a random question, say, ‘who would you not want to sit beside on a plane?’ and the others provide answers. The asker then picks the answer he likes best, and the others have to guess which that is to get points. By the end of one round, all the awkwardness of playing with strangers is gone, and we’ve gotten to know that at least one of us has a fondness for tentacles and another a penchant for hilarious but racist jokes.

The next game we play is Smash Up, a card game where we combine two factions—choosing from ninjas, pirates, zombies, steampunk, soldier bears, laser-wielding dinosaurs, wizards, and more—to smash up bases and earn points (needless to say, ninjas beat pirates any day). Unlike Say Anything, it does take some time to get the hang of it (which is also why we can’t fully explain the mechanics in writing), but it’s a fun card game we could see ourselves playing over and over again just trying different faction combinations. And did we mention the laser-wielding dinosaurs?

After Smash Up, it starts to crowd up, so we’re introduced to The Resistance: Avalon, a bluffing game perfect for large groups. The game basically divides us into two factions: Arthurian knights or evil spies; however, everyone’s identity is a secret. Each round, a handful of people are selected to go on a mission, where the mission-goers will secretly cast their votes to either pass or fail the mission. The Arthurian knights, who get points for each successful mission, may only vote to pass, while spies, who get points for each failed mission, may pass the mission to mask their identity or fail it. Only a third of the players are spies, but the catch is, only one vote of failure is required for a mission to fail. The first faction to take three missions wins the game.

Avalon is a simple game that can take as fast as ten minutes or as long as thirty, depending on how the game pans out. It’s our personal pick for “funnest” game of the night, though it’s probably a game that could also break a friendship or two.


Taft Troopers

“We wanted to make it a really geeky name, and what’s more geeky than Star Wars, right?” says Juancho on the origins of the name.

“[It started] around summer, we were just playing around in a friend’s condo, and we started inviting more and more people, and we were just thinking ‘man, we can’t fit in the condo anymore.’” So Juancho and his friends decided that it was time to look for a bigger venue.

After briefly considering coffee shops, they eventually settled down on Exile, and now they hold their board game nights every Saturday from 6-10 p.m. “But [since the] Exile people are really nice, they let us stay until 12 if we’re playing a really big board game.”

Aside from letting them stay extra hours, Exile does not charge them for use of the venue. “Normally, Saturday’s a dead time for Exile… Initially they were supposed to charge us ₱5,000 per event, but I was like, ‘we’re just bringing people and it’s not for our profit,’ so they just let us do it [for free].”


Favorite board games

“It depends on who I’m playing with,” says Juancho. “If I’m playing with a bunch of competitive people, people who like being in intense situations, I like to play Avalon [to] find the traitor. If you want something lighthearted, you play Dixit. It’s not the board game that’s fun, it’s the people you are playing with.”

“Another big game we like to play is called King of Tokyo.” He recommends it to people who enjoy rolling a lot of dice. “[In the game], you’re playing a Godzilla, a kaiju, and you’re trying to destroy Tokyo and kill other people.”

“Usually, we only set one big board game per day, called the big board game of the night. So we have a game called Zombicide where a bunch of people work together and they try to survive the zombie apocalypse. We have Click Clack Lumberjack which is like Jenga with an axe.”

“[There’s] the Game of Thrones board game where you’re all trying to conquer Westeros, and you’re trying to stab other people in the back.” It’s an appropriate time to note that the Lannisters are indeed playable characters in a game that once took them six hours to finish.

“We have a big range of games.”


BYOBG (Bring Your Own Board Game)

According to Juancho, around 60% of the games are brought by his group, while 40% are brought by other people. He encourages others to bring their own board games so that others can help facilitate the games. “We kind of want to play too,” he adds with a laugh.

When asked about where they buy their games, he cites a Facebook group called Philippine Game Traders, an online shop called Gaming Library (which has its own retail store), and Neutral Grounds. He also mentions winning a game once from the Ludo Boardgame Bar & Café.


A success

One big dream for the group is to one day open up their own place, but achieving that isn’t their priority. “As long as even one person comes, as long as we play, it’s a success. Especially when new people come, that’s a big thing for us.  [When] people are laughing, people are having fun, that’s a success,” says Juancho.

For something that began as a group of six friends who just liked to play games to become a weekly event that has people from as far as UST and even UP coming to play, it does seem as though Juancho and his friends have become successful. And as Juancho says, “Everyone’s welcome.”

John Sarao

By John Sarao

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