Board games making a comeback – some new, some old but all very entertaining
GROWING up, everyone in my family received a board game for Christmas. We’d spend the lazy days that followed jumping in and out of mysterious worlds, word puzzles and intricate versions of charades. But, as we grew up, the fading stacks of cardboard began collecting dust and Netflix took over as our new post-holiday ritual. That was, until a few years ago.
Inspired by an excuse to indulge in spiced rum cocktails and bored with our streaming queue, my siblings and I invited out-of-town cousins over to our parents’ house, broke out some of the old standbys, and started a new holiday tradition that resulted in us adding a few games to our adult Christmas lists. Apparently, we’re not alone. Matthew Hudak, toys and games analyst with Euromonitor International, agrees, citing a recent market report that sales of games and puzzles grew by 15% in 2016. “It’s massive. There were more than 5 000 new board games introduced to the US market last year.”
There’s plenty of speculation about who or what is driving the boom – video games, the internet, millennials preferring to socialise at home – but Barry BJ Rozas, a lawyer from Louisiana who moonlights as a board game reviewer, says it comes down to one thing: “Today’s games are better.”
Rozas, a veteran gamer who created the blog Board Game Gumbo to share his passion for hobby games, credits creative game designers with getting people excited about board games again. Some of his favourites for beginners include Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Pandemic.
“Very few people ask me for Candy Land anymore,” says Kathleen Donahue, owner of popular game shop Labyrinth in Washington DC. “People come in and say, ‘I’ve been playing Pandemic lately and I love it. Do you have any other recommendations?’
“Games give a framework to interact with people in an easy manner,” Donahue says. “The rules have already been set up, so you can be in a social situation and relate to people on a non-superficial level without being too serious.”
And that is something entertaining experts have been preaching for a long time.
“We have a library of gamerelated books, including six or seven that are from the ’30s and ’40s, on how to throw a party,” says Kyle Engen, founder and steward of operations at the Interactive Museum of Gaming and Puzzlery of his collection.
“They have instructions for social ‘games,’ such as everyone putting each other’s coat away or having everyone sit back-to-back and say something about themselves.”
Although old-school ice breakers may feel a little awkward, a board game can still be the perfect thing to bring everyone together in a fun way– especially when you’re inviting friends from different circles or co-workers, says Amanda Saiontz Gluck, creator of the blog Fashionable Hostess.
Gluck recommends setting the stage for your game night in the family room with a laidback atmosphere around comfy couches. Her number one tip? Bring everything you need for the party to the coffee table and have everything accessible, so people aren’t disengaging to go to the kitchen or to the bar.
During winter, Gluck loves having extra pillows and throw blankets ready, especially ones with warm textures. Alternatively, she says, you can also incorporate a board game or two alongside a cozy drink display at the end of a more formal dinner party.
“If you or your guests haven’t opened a game box since middle school, there are a few common pitfalls to avoid,” Rozas says.
“Have a set time,” he says. “I remember the first time I planned a game night, some of the participants were worried. They pictured the old Dungeons & Dragons days when we played for 12 hours.
“Don’t overwhelm people with a giant stack of games you don’t know the rules to,” he adds. “Pick a couple and learn the rules ahead of game night. There are plenty of YouTube videos and tutorials on Punchboard Media.”
And, who knows: Once you get going, you might just make it a regular occurrence.
“Every Thursday night, I play games and it’s a time I don’t have to think or worry about anything,” Donahue says. “Once people start that, they don’t want to give it up.”
Looking to spice up your game night? Try one of these expert picks:
“It’s a modern-day, really cool, artsy Jenga. It’s easy for people to jump in and out.”
New gamers. – Kathleen Donahue, Labyrinth.
“It’s a co-operative storybased game where you act as CDC workers.”
New gamers. – Kathleen Donahue.
A tough crowd. It’s one of the most popular games in the country. – Kathleen Donahue.
“One person knows a secret word, and they’re trying to get everyone to guess the word. The werewolf is trying to get people not to guess it.”Best for: Good friends. “Anyone who enjoys the party game Mafia. There’s a lot of communication and a lot of laughs.” – BJ Rozas, Board Game Gumbo
“It’s a good bonding game. You’re put in a strange scenario.”
People who are getting to know one another. – Kyle Engen, Interactive Museum of Gaming and Puzzlery.
“It’s a co-operative game, so everyone is working to win together. You work as firefighters out in the wilderness. Everybody has a unique role and works together to beat back fires.”
Mixed age groups, noncompetitive crowds. – BJ Rozas, Board Game Gumbo.
“Clue was invented as a pastime during the blackout in the Second World War. Now Kill Doctor Lucky is a game in which we’re all invited back to the house, but we can’t have anyone else see us. It’s a game that happens before the game of Clue. What if we’re the ones who do the murder?”
Best for: Nostalgic gamers, “if you’re okay with the moral ambiguity.” – Kyle Engen, Interactive Museum of Gaming and Puzzlery. – Washington Post
Board games are a great way to bond with your friends.