Today’s sophisticated gamers tend to roll their eyes at Monopoly, the classic exercise in random, dice-driven ups and downs in the world of real estate. Monopoly must have been designed to accustom players to boredom and complacency, they figure.
“It teaches you that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” said Ryan Garringer, the general manager at Bat Cave Games in east Vancouver. “It does that very well.”
Want to try a more realistic, less random economic challenge while still having fun with friends? Garringer suggests a board game called Viticulture. It’s set in historical Tuscany, Italy, where you try to develop the greatest winery of them all by managing your land, facilities, crops, workers and customers. What you can’t manage are the changing seasons, which affect your bottom line.
Garringer has lots of recommendations about contemporary board games. The lifelong gamer said he now spends less time playing old favorites than researching new arrivals in order to figure out what to stock and recommend to his increasingly choosy customers.
There’s certainly no shortage of options. Recent media buzz has hailed a new Golden Age of board gaming. “Thousands of ‘designer’ board games are coming out every year. There is a real explosion in the board game industry,” said Gabe Elliott, a gaming community booster and industry watcher who lives in Washougal.
Games for grown-ups
Many game nights are aimed at youthful superfans of cult classics such as Pokemon, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. Check your favorite game shop or library branch for those schedules. You won’t be disappointed.
The following social board-game nights are intended more for adults and families. Games and snacks are usually provided, but it’s nice to bring your own, too.
• Bat Cave Games: 5 p.m. every Saturday, 13215 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., No. C9, Vancouver.
• Camas Public Library: 6:30 p.m., usually the second Friday of the month but sometimes the third, 625 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas.
• Dice Age Games: 6 p.m. every Friday (with beer on tap) and noon every Sunday, 5107 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., No. 105, Vancouver.
• East Park Church: 6 p.m. every Tuesday, at 15815 N.E. 18th St., Vancouver.
• First Evangelical Church Vancouver: 7 p.m. first Friday of the month, 4120 N.E. St. Johns Road, Vancouver.
• Mannahouse Church (formerly City Bible/Mountain View Ice Rink): 7 p.m. second Friday of the month, 14311 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver.
• Ridgefield Public Library: Mahjong, 1 to 3 p.m. every Thursday, 210 N. Main Ave., Ridgefield.
• Vancouver Church: 7 p.m., third Friday of the month, 3300 N.E. 78th St., Hazel Dell.
• Vancouver Community Library: Vancouver Chess Club, 4 p.m. every Monday, 901 C. St., Vancouver.
• Washougal Community Library: 2 to 4 p.m. every Saturday, 1661 C St.
Garringer said he remembers feeling welcome to hang out and play games with friends at Bat Cave, Vancouver’s oldest and gaming shop, when he was boy. Now he works there and strives to ensure that Bat Cave makes a point of staying “very community-oriented. We want to make sure there’s the same availability as when we were kids.”
So Bat Cave hosts free, open board gaming at 5 p.m. Saturday nights; you can buy a game there or bring your own to share. (If you’re already a dedicated gamer, you probably already knew that Bat Cave also hosts an all-ages Pokemon league, frequent Dungeons & Dragons sessions, and many Magic: The Gathering gatherings, sometimes for a fee.)
Check the accompanying busy schedule for a rundown of many game shops and volunteer venues that host free board game nights. Newbies are always welcome; experienced and friendly gamers are happy to gauge your interest and teach you something you never imagined before.
In a game called Shakespeare, you race to put on a play that’ll please the queen. In Dice Hospital, you roll those bones and build a reputation for excellence by caring for as many patients as possible. In Cosmic Encounter, you compete to spread your civilization across the whole galaxy.
“We sit around a table and it’s friendly, and then you get to go places and do things you never knew existed,” Elliott said.
Any stigma about following your childhood gaming devotion into adulthood is long gone, Garringer added. The people who show up for game nights are all ages, all types, all interests. Some are addicted to gaming itself; others are more interested in making friends and eating pizza.
“Every month, it’s two-thirds regulars and one-third people who are brand new who are looking to do something different and meet people,” Elliot said about the second-Friday game night he hosts at Manahouse Church (formerly City Bible and the Mountain View Ice Arena), which The Columbian attended in January.
Powered by people
The biggest surprise for this newbie: nothing electronic was beeping, flashing or demanding a password to proceed. Maybe there’s overlap between board and video or online gaming, but this board game night was strictly people-powered and socially minded.
“I used to host them myself” at college, said Kristina Moses, who graduated from San Francisco State University and moved to Vancouver just before Christmas. Her top social priority as a newcomer was attending local game nights, she said, because “It’s the best way to find friends.”
“I’m here because my husband will not play games,” Nancy Jennings said. “When my 11-year-old grandson visits, we can play games for three days straight.” Jennings has been attending second-Friday board game night for about six months now; on Jan. 11 she greeted new friends and settled into Glass Road, another historical resource-management game, which lands you in 15th century Germany and tasks you with developing your glass-making business.
Elliott, the host, said he was that rare kid who grew up craving more together time than his family could afford. “I loved playing with my family, and so many new games were coming out, I just wanted to play all the time. My family didn’t want to play all the time,” he said. So he went hunting for fellow gamers, and found them easily. First he discovered the long-running first-Friday board game night at Vancouver’s First Evangelical Church, which is still going strong after 30 years.
“There were 30 people playing games I’d never heard of,” he said, and it felt like coming home. Eventually Elliot launched his own second-Friday night about three years ago; meanwhile his friend Jacob Smith launched an every-Tuesday game night “in my spare bedroom,” Smith said, that quickly graduated to East Park Church. Smith said he’s now looking for dollars and real estate to launch a permanent gaming cafe in Vancouver that’s already named The Tabletop Tortoise.
“I’m the father of five kids,” Elliot said. “As a father you have more self-awareness, you see your kids’ behavior with their phones all the time and you think, that’s me sometimes. Something has to happen to get the kids off this track. There has to be something we can do together.”
That even extends to date night with his wife, he added. “Our date nights are board game nights at home,” he said. “When it’s gaming for three hours, instead of a movie — I’ll take that every time.”
Ironically, Garringer of Bat Cave suggested the opposite angle: “You can get away from your family on a Friday night, but you don’t have to hang out at a bar. It’s so much healthier.”
Strategy and savvy
One table over from Glass Road, a group of newbies was poring over a simpler game called Ticket To Ride. That’s not a Beatles game — it involves building railways across the United States. Another table over, a bunch of experienced gamers were plotting their escape from a prison via the elusive Room 25. Room 25 is a different sort of game — it’s really about people savvy — trust, cooperation and betrayal — as you negotiate a maze with two secret turncoats in your midst.
“It’s more of a social game than a strategy game,” Elliot said. Games that foreground the social experience do exist, and that’s good news for people who love games but aren’t natural-born captains of industry or wartime commanders.
But nine-year-old Jamison Maguire is natural-born captain of industry and wartime commander. He prevailed over a group of adult competitors, including his gamer dad, Christopher, at something called Seven Wonders, which involves either building one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — or seizing your neighbor’s Wonder through military might.
Exercising his big brain is definitely what Maguire likes about gaming, he said. “I like not knowing who’s going to win and what’s going to happen.”