Game night is no longer just for kids
Adults gathering for a night of card games isn't anything new, but more and more, board games have become the draw for grown-up get-togethers.
It's part of a shifting demographic in the sale of board games, largely thanks to the influx of European-created games that require more than the luck of the dice and a game piece moving around a board.
Mary Redstone of North Adams was already an avid board game player by the time she hit college, and that has continued into adult life, with a number of friends walking the same path and gathering with her for regular game nights.
"I had played a lot of different games with a lot of people in college," she said, "and when I came back here it was friends that I had already who were like, 'Oh you play games too? We might as well pool our resources and our games and do it together.' It was finding people here and there and it's like, 'Oh, wow, you play that game too? Cool! You should come play with us.'"
Sometimes the draw is the general get-together, with the game being chosen in the moment, but other times Redstone has found the desire among her friends to play a specific game is the motivation for the gathering. For Tara Abrams Jacobs and her husband Ross Jacobs, also from North Adams, a regular game night began four years ago for exactly that reason.
"We were probably hanging around friends and they were talking about Munchkin, so we thought let's all get together and play Munchkin," said Ross. "Tara and I weren't exactly big new game players, it just hadn't really entered our atmosphere for some reason. These guys introduced us to the idea of collaborative board gaming, so we started playing Pandemic as well, which we got a real charge out of, and then we expanded to a few others, Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert."
That tradition still continues, with games functioning as a reason for the group to gather, and with specific choices of games offering maximum enjoyment for the evening.
"We keep it pretty much with the same crowd and usually it's pretty casual," Tara said. "We do play collaborative games, so you're competing with the board game instead of each other, so good feelings tend to be higher and you're working with each other. It breeds lots of laughter."
Games can be used as a get-to-know-you activity, but sometimes it might be best shared with those closest to you — for an evening at home, you do like to be yourself.
"We play with people who are close enough friends that if somebody loses they're not actually going to get upset and they're not actually going to think of us differently," Redstone said. "If you're playing a board game and the object is to annihilate everyone else in the game, we probably wouldn't play with people we don't know super well, because they might come out of it like, wow, those guys are jerks."
Redstone said that her crowd drifts toward what she calls "nerdy games," which tend to be more intricate with bigger rule books. Their current favorite is Betrayal At House On The Hill.
"Everybody explores this haunted house and you get to the point where somebody becomes the traitor," she said, "and there are all these different end-game scenarios and your job is to win the game somehow, like you have to kill the other players or you have to achieve something in the game. We'll play intricate nerdy ones like that, but sometimes it's let's just play an easier game that we might not want to think so hard about."
Sometimes, even unlikely games prove to be big crowd pleasers.
"The last time we played, we actually had a blast playing what is technically a kid's game called Suspend," said Tara. "We had the best time playing it. It's this game with a metal stand and all these metal rods that you have to hang from each other. It's kind of like Jenga."
Tom Compter has been a board game nut all his life, and recently teamed with his dance-instructor wife, Jeannie, to make her dance studio in Dalton, 2 Flights Up, a dual purpose space that brought game night out into the open for anybody to join in. At 6 p.m. every Thursday, the studio hosts a free game night, as well as a monthly All Day Game Day — the next one takes place Saturday, Nov. 21, and will feature UnPub, the organization for unpublished game creators.
On both days there's a crew of regulars that have been built up from years of involvement with other groups.
"Most of the people who come will bring their own games as well, games that they bought and they enjoy playing, and they know they'll find some other people who will be willing to play them with them," Compter said. "I think the niche we fill there is having a venue where people can come and know that they can probably find somebody to play that game that they really want to play, but don't have friends in the immediate area that they can play with."
Compter says that the games made in Europe that came to prominence over a decade ago and seized the U.S. market are big favorites at their gatherings, offering more for players to sink their teeth into than many of games more traditionally familiar in the U.S.
"These are mostly games that have some sort of strategy element to them, it's not just a chance thing," Compter said. "There's just a huge spectrum of themes and mechanics that are used in these games that are designed in different ways to make them all very interesting. We have some games that are played in five minutes and some games that are played in five hours, and everything in between."
He says that typically on a Thursday night, there will be four table set up, with various games of various styles being played, including one guaranteed game hosted by Compter or his wife, chosen from their library of 175 games. His current favorites include a Star Trek game called Federation Commander and Brewcrafters, which allows players to run a microbrewery.
Compter has tapped into a quiet revolution, one that often hides behind the closed doors of houses and apartments, though sometimes might lurk quietly in public places. Part of its success has been the maturity of the offerings, as well as the intellectual skill they can require. The realm of the board game has never been just about children, but now it's especially not dominated by the children's market, and that's created a whole new social movement that people are embracing.
"Board games are becoming something other than Candy Land and Monopoly," said Redstone. "They're being marketed more to older people and people in college. A lot of the games I'm playing now I would not have played when I was a kid, because they're geared toward a totally different generation."
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