Board games are cool now.
I don’t mean the mass-market games that are recognizable to most Americans — the ones you see on the shelves at Wal-Mart, Target and Fred Meyer. While family and party games like Pictionary, Clue, Life and Scrabble are venerable classics, these aren’t the games I’m talking about.
I’m talking about the American specialty and European (mainly German) tabletop games or “hobby games” that are seeing a boom in popularity, so much so that there are now board game bars and tabletop gaming YouTube channels with thousands of subscribers.
Sales of board, card, dice, role-playing and miniature games have been on the rise every year for the past decade to become a billion-dollar industry in the U.S. and Canada, according to estimates by the market research firm ICv2. Hundreds of new board games and card games are released each year.
We might be in the age of video games, but the popularity of tabletop games has surged as players have grown jaded with digital screens: They’re less interested in online games and more interested in face-to-face interaction.
“While you can get more socialization playing video games than you did 20 years ago, with board games, you’re playing with a person who is right across from you,” said Steve Hobbs, a proud board game geek who also is the state senator representing the 44th Legislative District covering the cities of Lake Stevens, Snohomish and Mill Creek, plus parts of Marysville and Everett. “You can laugh and cry with them. It’s a better experience when you’re all unplugged, playing together at a table.”
While tabletop games are nothing new — Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering have had strong cult followings since the 1980s and 1990s, respectively, spawning all kinds of clubs, meet-ups and tournaments — more and more are playing “gateway games” at fairs and expos and getting hooked.
If you love to play Monopoly and you’d like to get into the gaming hobby, you gotta try this gateway game: Catan.
Formerly Settlers of Catan, it was one of the first German board games to gain popularity outside of Europe. Since it was first published in 1995, more than 22 million copies of the game in 30 languages have been sold.
Hobbs and I agree that it’s a great gateway game because it involves a lot of strategy, while still being fairly easy to learn. Fun fact: It was the first hobby game I played back in 2009 before I got hooked.
The players in the game assume the roles of settlers, each working to establish colonies on the island of Catan. Players trade and spend resources to build settlements, cities and the roads to connect them. Players are awarded points as their settlements grow; the first to reach 10 points is the winner.
A local example of the rise in board games are gaming conventions such as OrcaCon, the only tabletop games convention in Snohomish County.
More than 1,000 gamers showed up at the second OrcaCon, a three-day convention held at the Holiday Inn in downtown Everett just this past weekend. Of those who attended, 885 of them were visiting Snohomish County and 285 of them were from out of state.
“Our state needs to realize that the board game industry is not only large, but it also is important to the state economy,” said Hobbs, an OrcaCon founder. “I’m a legislator, so I’m always talking about airplanes and agriculture in Washington, but guess what? We also export fun.”
Fun fact: The company that publishes Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering is right here in Washington state.
There are also many board game stores, bars and cafes in Washington, several of which are in and around Snohomish County. My favorites are AFK Tavern in Everett, Around the Table in Lynnwood and Café Mox in Ballard.
“Everyone knows about D and D and Magic: The Gathering because they’ve been around for a long time,” Hobbs said, “but gaming has become much more than that. It’s a network. It’s just so exciting that it’s starting to grow.”
Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @sarabruestle.
Try board games at these hangouts
If you don’t own a copy of Catan or you don’t know who to play with, pop into one of these board game bars.
1510 41st St., Everett
AFK is an internet acronym for “away from keyboard,” commonly used in multiplayer games and chat rooms. This geeky bar and grill pairs video, board and card games with gamer-themed drinks and eats — but it’s first and foremost a community center for geeks and gamers. Stay as long as you want to hang out and play games. Get your game on 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Special events include ultra-nerdy trivia on Monday nights and karaoke Thursday and Friday nights.
Around the Table Game Pub
7600 196th St. SW, Suite 300, Lynnwood
Around the Table is a hub for local board gamers. The store has a large selection of board games for sale, both popular and niche, new and used. Hang out and play games at the gamer pub 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Knock back an IPA or treat the kid in you to a scoop of locally crafted ice cream while you play. Root beer, organic soda, cider, beer and mead on tap. Other snacks include baked pretzels, cookies, chips and popcorn. Its calendar includes Magic tournaments, beer tastings, learn-to-play gaming events and trivia nights.
Zulu’s Board Game Cafe
10234 Main St., Bothell
Zulu’s is all about tabletop games, including board, card and pen-and-paper games. It is a game store with a full kitchen, indoor seating for large groups, tournaments and smaller tabletops for 2 to 4 players. There also is space available in the basement to rent for private events/games, a covered deck and an uncovered patio. The cafe is open noon to midnight Monday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. Visit its community forum online to find and meet up with others who play games at Zulu’s.
Card Kingdom/Café Mox
5105 Leary Ave. NW, Seattle
Card Kingdom in Ballard is an award-winning game store and restaurant with a large tournament space, miniatures tables and two private rooms. It is home to Café Mox, where you can eat good food and have a cold beer as you play games. Get your game on 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday. Its calendar includes weekly Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder Society and Beer & Battles events.