Eclectic Autodidact: Night out with board games


I do not imbibe the gift of Bacchus, and thus I struggle with the traditional concept of "going out."

After night falls, the principal options for adult social interaction tend to revolve around fermented liquids. Thus, there isn't a lot for me to do out in the world during the course of an evening. Going out to dinner only lasts until you finish your meal, movies don't lend themselves to social interaction and one can only hang out at Barnes & Noble until 10 p.m.

On a recent trip, Flo and I discovered a board game café. Well, more like we discovered it in the way that Columbus discovered America. There were already people there, but we didn't give anyone small pox. It was the perfect solution to the unathletic teetotaler's dilemma.

The concept is simple: the café has a wall of 1,500 board games, from the old-fashioned standbys like Risk to modern games bristling with clever rules and die cast components. You pay a small cover charge (less than the cost of a single shot of vodka as Flo tells me), and can play all the games you like. There's food and drinks available from the café. You hang out until you run out of steam.

In one evening we escaped a cursed temple, assembled planets out of random parts, saved people from a burning building, built award-winning skyscrapers and conquered empires. At nearby tables medieval cities rose, space ships tore across the void and the knights of Camelot struggled to find the traitor in their midst.

This is exactly the sort of night-out experience I wish I could find closer to home. It takes one of my favorite hobbies and removes the hermit-like isolation that often comes with it.

Board gaming is a hobby that struggles to be taken seriously because most people only remember board games as the crummy activities that were foisted upon them as children. This is due to the unfortunate prevalence of a handful of truly awful games that simply refuse to die. When the average human thinks of board games, they will invariably mention games like Monopoly, a game designed explicitly to be so terrible it will turn you against capitalism (look it up if you don't believe me), and Candyland, not technically a game in that the only effect the players have on the outcome is the order in which they sit around the table. For those of you who have repressed your memories of Candyland, all you do is draw a card and move to the next space of the same color without any actual input on your part.

Board games have come a long way in the last few decades, such that equating modern board gaming to those early efforts is like saying "Video games? You mean like Pong?" or "Movies? What, like Charlie Chaplin?"

Perhaps the greatest strength that board games have is how the cleverer sort take advantage of the players around the board. Anyone who has tried their hand at Risk will eventually realize that the meat of the game isn't played on the board (beyond the strategy of "start in Australia"), but rather in the alliances and betrayals made among the players. This transforms what would otherwise be a rather dull exercise in dice rolling to a brutal game of geopolitics and shattered trust. And Risk is on the lower end of the spectrum for brutality, scoring a measly three out of 12 Caesars on the backstabbing scale. The Game of Thrones board game is supposedly so vicious that any friendships that go into it come out deader than a sympathetic character in the series of the same name.

They aren't all ruthlessly cutthroat though. In Seven Wonders the players compete indirectly, striving to build the greatest city but never come into direct conflict. In Pandemic the players work as a team to halt the spread of a series of diseases around the globe, winning or losing together. In Cards Against Humanity winning is only a house rule because it's just about trying to be the worst person you can in front of your friends and laughing at each other.

Back home I already miss the café. It's a concept I love, both because it represents an entertaining alternative to a night out at the bars and because it suggests that there could be other excellent ideas out there for unconventional nights out. So if anyone has a new idea and is looking for an investor, I'm listening. Just as long as you can accept cardboard money.


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