There are a select few games that are satisfying enough to absorb all of a person's gaming energy. Common examples are chess, go, bridge, poker, Advanced Squad Leader, Diplomacy and Magic:The Gathering. It's hard for casual gamers like myself to really be competitive in games such as these because there's such an enormous gap between the skill level a casual gamer can reach and what most serious players (even rather poor ones) will have in their favored games.
There's some hope, on the other hand, of playing other casual gamers in some of these games when they're part of a shared cultural background. So, for example, I can expect to occasionally play a casual game of chess or poker.
But getting a chance to play a game such as go or Chinese chess (xiang qi) is much more difficult. Presumably it'd be easier in Japan or China to find casual players, but here if you do find someone who plays, they're most likely pretty serious about the game.
Fortunately the Internet comes to the rescue and it's possible to play go and Chinese chess online. I discovered the Chinese chess site the other day at http://www.clubxiangqi.com/?rand=56180
I've gotten a couple of games in, (losses, natch) and there's some hope I can play enough over the next year or so to become a competent beginner.
The Chinese version of chess does have a different feel to it that western chess. The pieces are generally less powerful and it seems a little harder to coordinate the pieces. I expect that more experience will help me see better how they can support each other, but chess-like pawn walls and the like are hard to see right now.
Adding to the steep learning curve is the use of chines characters on the pieces. With experience I expect that will stop being a problem too, but I think it makes the entry barrier a little higher. For example, I think it would deter me from trying to teach the game to someone else.
Still, it is one of my goals to become reasonably able in the classic games of the world such as chess, go and xiang qi. Time will tell if that's possible without exhaustive study.