Board game nights in the US far from boring

A trendy board game to play is Pandemic, in which one's mission is to treat diseases and find cures.
A trendy board game to play is Pandemic, in which one's mission is to treat diseases and find cures.PHOTO: #PANDEMIC/INSTAGRAM

NEW YORK • Who is not glued to Netflix entertainment or playing games on the smartphone these days?

Apparently, quite a number of people, at least in the United States.

"By our calculations, we are in the golden age of board games," said Mr Kyle Engen, founder and steward of operations at the Interactive Museum of Gaming and Puzzlery in Oregon in America.

Mr Matthew Hudak, toys and games analyst with Euromonitor International, agrees, citing a recent market report that sales of games and puzzles grew by 15 per cent in 2016.

"It's something that has been bubbling up for years now, but 2016 was the most influential year for board games," he added.

More players are coming on board now, with companies rolling out more than 5,000 new board games in the US market last year.

According to Mr Hudak, traditional board games still comprise the bulk of market sales, but hobby board games, catered for adults, have pushed the category's growth to the next level.

"It's become a new go-to social activity," he added.

There is plenty of speculation about who or what is driving the boom. Are millennials preferring to socialise at home, for example?

Ask Mr Barry Rozas, a lawyer from Louisiana who moonlights as a board game reviewer, and he will tell you that it comes down to one thing: "Today's games are better."

The veteran gamer, who created the blog Board Game Gumbo to share his passion for hobby games, credits creative designers with getting people excited about board games again.

Some of his favourites for beginners include Ticket To Ride (a cross-country train adventure), Carcassonne (players fill in the countryside around the fortified city) and Pandemic (the mission is to treat diseases and find cures).

Ms Kathleen Donahue, owner of popular game shop Labyrinth in Washington, DC, said: "People come in and say, 'I've been playing Pandemic lately and I love it. Do you have any other recommendations?'

"One of this year's biggest sellers, Codenames, is a perfect party game," she added.

In Codenames, players vie to see who can make contact with all their agents first.

"Games give that framework to interact with people in an easy manner. 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," she added.

And that is something entertaining experts have been preaching for a long time.

"We have a library of game-related books, including six or seven that are from the 1930s and 1940s, on how to throw a party," Mr Engen said of his collection at the museum.

"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 forced or awkward, a board game can still be the perfect thing to bring everyone together in a fun way - especially when you are inviting friends from different circles or co-workers, said Ms Amanda Saiontz Gluck, creator of the blog Fashionable Hostess.

If you or your guests have not opened a game box since school days, there are a few common pitfalls to avoid, Mr Rozas said.

"Have a set time," he added. "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."

He advised: "Don't overwhelm people with a giant stack of games you don't know the rules to. 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 board game night a regular occurrence.

"Every Thursday night, I play games and it's a time I don't have to think or worry about anything," Ms Donahue said.

"Once people start that, they don't want to give it up."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2018, with the headline 'Board game nights in the US far from boring'. Subscribe