Tabletop Games Provide Offline Fun Across Generations
Bellaire native Amanda Masciarelli rarely arrives at a party empty handed. But it’s not a bottle of wine, an appetizer or a plate of brownies she’s carrying. It’s a stack of board games.
At family gatherings, when everyone has caught up with each other’s lives and if the conversation begins to lag, out come the games. The next couple hours fly by as guests engage in old-fashioned, good-natured competition.
Whether it’s families unplugging for quality time, Millennials looking for offline entertainment outside the bar scene, or seniors keeping their cognitive skills honed, more and more people are returning to tabletop games for entertainment.
From the more traditional dominos, cards, Life and Monopoly, to the hottest trends such as Exploding Kittens and Speak Out, games continue to bring people together.
For 24-year-old Masciarelli, an Ohio State University graduate student in health administration, there are two reasons for the draw.
“Board games are nostalgic for me,” she said in an interview via Facebook Messenger.
“My mom’s side of the family is really close. Every Friday we would get together at my great-great-grandmother’s house, and most of the time it would end up with us playing some sort of board game.”
Her peers also enjoy a good game, and Masciarelli has a theory for why.
“Aside from the nostalgia, having grown up in a time period before technology absorbed our life, I believe that individuals in their 20s and 30s are more likely pulled toward this form of entertainment for that face-to-face interaction that most of our daily activity lacks.”
No matter the reason, the object is the same: “It’s a way to unwind and have fun,” she said.
Masciarelli’s not alone.
At a Christmas party last year held at the home of Ted and Ami Dodd in Wheeling, a fast-and-furious game similar to Pictionary got underway. The Dodds, both 40, had a white board on an easel, a 3-minute egg timer and a mound of paper scraps with Christmas-related words submitted by participants. Everyone at the party got a turn drawing while the whole room shouted guesses.
It’s a popular family game night activity for the Dodds and their three children, ages 8, 10 and 12, Ami Dodd said, but it’s also a great form of entertainment for adults.
Ami, a chef, and Ted, a pastor, entertain at home a fair amount. Games serve to keep larger groups from splintering off into private conversations.
“It’s just something that kind of brings a whole group of people together. There’s a kind of a commonality there, and it can inspire a good group conversation,” Ami Dodd said. In addition, “sometimes it takes pressure off you as the host so you don’t have to be the glue person that holds all the conversations together.”
Party guests included Preston and Sarah Smith and Donnie and Corey Kidd, all of Wheeling and all of whom are game enthusiasts.
“I love board games and Preston is a good sport,” said Sarah, 31, an Iowa native. “We love Loaded Questions. We also like Settlers of Catan,” which is a complicated German-made strategy game along the lines of Risk. “We play in the evenings after kids go to bed,” Sarah Smith said.
They are the parents of two children, ages 2 and 5 months.
Corey Kidd, 35, said she grew up playing board games and cards on vacations and at every family gathering.
Now she and Donnie, 29, along with her parents play cards or Mexican Train Wreck, a dominos game, after their 6-year-old and 1-year-old go to sleep.
“I’d rather spend time with my parents than sit and stare at the TV,” Corey said.
As for playing with friends, it’s a lot more enjoyable — not to mention safer and less expensive — to have dinner and drinks at home and play a few games. “It’s a lot more intimate than yelling over someone at a bar,” she noted.
Some of the new games on the market are geared to adults only, such as Telestrations After Dark, which Ami Dodd described as Telephone meets Pictionary, and Cards Against Humanity, a sort-of naughty Apples to Apples. A group of about 12 friends, including the Dodds and Kidds, recently rented a local hotel suite for a party, and Telestrations was a big hit.
Picking up on the trend, entrepreneurs have opened board game cafes in some of the larger cities. There’s GameHaus Cafe in Los Angeles, Brooklyn Strategy in New York and Thirsty Meeples in Oxford, U.K., all of which offer large libraries of hundreds games, comforable seating and snacks and beverages for sale. Accomplished gamers are employed to teach newbies.
Games are big business. Retail sales of games and puzzles grew faster than any other segment of the U.S. toy industry in 2016, according to The NDP Group, a retail tracking service. Sales grew 21 percent last year, or $307 million.
“Within games and puzzles, every type of game is fueling growth, from family strategy and board games, to brainteasers and adult games, as well as preschool games,” the NDP said in November.
A new game holds the record for the most money ever raised — $9 million — on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website. It was for a card game called Exploding Kittens, which sold 2.5 million copies in the first year.
With the tagline: “A card game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats,” the card game is for two to five players, ages 7 and up.
It is notable that Exploding Kittens was created by a former Xbox game developer, Elan Lee, who told The Guardian newspaper in June that he wanted to design a more social game.
“I just had an overwhelming feeling the games I had been building for such a long time were very isolating. They might be playing multi-player games (over the Internet), but they are sitting alone and staring at a screen.”
Kristen Sikorsky, a West Liberty University senior and president of the WLU Gaming Club, believes video games and tabletop games are equally attractive to college students. She met her boyfriend through World of Warcraft, a multi-player online role-playing game, and ended up moving here from Rhode Island to be with him.
While the Gaming Club used to be mostly a bunch of guys sitting around playing the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing card game, the club recently added more board games and video games and has seen the membership explode to about 70, both males and females.
Whatever kind of game they’re playing, it’s a fun form of escapism, Sikorsky said.
“You’re not thinking about the stresses of school or work or home life.” In Dungeons & Dragons, for example, if you want to be a monster slayer, you can be one, she said. “Even with board games, you’re thinking about another goal rather than the things that stress you out in everyday life.”
Helping boost sales are hybrid games that combine board games with smartphones, iPads or other technology, a concept Masciarelli said appeals to younger generations.
“For example, you can download the Game of Life on your iPad and use a Chromecast to cast the game to your TV. Then each player uses the iPad to spin the wheel, make decisions, etc. Some of my favorite games include the classics like Monopoly, the Game of Life and Clue. More modern games include MadGab, Logos and SceneIt.”
These are the types of games that interest Andrew and Patricia Croft of Wheeling, who like Sikorsky are Rhode Island natives. When asked to participate in a story about the resurgence of board games, 39-year-old Andrew’s typed response on Messenger was: “Resurgence?!? It never unsurged for us!”
He and Patricia, 35, will play traditional games such as Scrabble, Boggle, Pictionary and Scattergories, but they play them using Apple TV and their phones. “It’s just a way to get together with close friends and have fun. I enjoy the interactions, laughs and concentration on something enjoyable,” Andrew said.
Mike Yeso, owner of the 60-year-old Deluxe Novelty independent toy store in Martins Ferry, said he devotes more “real estate to games than almost any other category.”
He intentionally steers clear of video games and games that use online technology. It’s more a philosophy than a business model.
“So many kids are very involved in the TV. We would rather them play games the old-school way. Don’t text the person next to you, talk to them, generate a conversation. That’s what we’re all about,” Yeso said.
He said he hasn’t noticed an uptick in board game sales, but there has been a huge number of new games hitting the market over the past few years.
Jigsaw puzzles also are big sellers, and Yeso noted some regular customers buy three or four at a time. Research published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Neurology, found that doing puzzles, among other activities, helped seniors stave off dementia.
“If we can be a part of helping people along those lines, we’re all for it,” Yeso said.
Of course, family game night continues to be alive and well. Mattel made a huge marketing push in the 1990s and 2000s promoting their family-friendly forms of entertainment to get kids off technology and engaging with each other. The result could be a contributing factor to Millennials’ continued interest in games, Yeso pointed out.
Local mom of two Renee McFadden said her kids — in fourth and sixth grade — like to play Apples to Apples and Harry Potter trivia games.
“They enjoy an epic game of Monopoly from time to time, and Jack has this old-school football game called Battle Ball that he enjoys,” she said, referring to her sixth-grader.
Jamie O’Hare of Wheeling said her family likes to play games, but it’s difficult to find a game that appeals to or is appropriate for all four of her children, who range in age from 5 to 13 and who also vary in developmental abilities. They may play in pairs, however, and all can play certain games, such as Connect Four. Games, she said, aren’t just fun but help teach social-emotional skills.
“Games are so important for our kids because they help our less developmentally typical kids engage others in play, help them to follow directions and learn to communicate better. My oldest with Autism Spectrum Disorder has been teaching the others to play chess,” she said via Messenger.
Big on strategy games, Wheeling’s Clutch Gaming on the corner of Market and 10th streets, has a few chess sets on hand that anyone is welcome to drop in and play.
Opened in June 2015 by Devin Harrison, a former WLU Gaming Club member, the primary purpose of the space is to host players of the card games Magic the Gathering and, more recently, Yu-Gi-Oh, but Harrison also has a handful of board games available. There is no charge to play.
It’s nothing like those big-city game cafes, but he believes there’s potential for that in Wheeling.
“People around here will come into the shop and will look around and ask if we have board games. We know there’s a decent amount of people who would come in and play,” Harrison said.
Ami Dodd, for one, would love to see something like that here.
“What if there was a place with a really cool atmosphere, comfortable seats and really nice lighting, where you could order snacks and drinks and play games?
“That,” she said, “would be awesome.”