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December 09, 2016
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Gamers paradise

Pennell Whitney, left, and Dave Harvey, one of the facilitators of Family Game Night at The Cooperage, play a board game called Carcassonne.
TRR photos by Jane Bollinger

HONESDALE, PA — When I decided to attend last Thursday’s Family Game Night at The Cooperage in Honesdale, I was expecting to experience a blast from the past—a chance to play Monopoly, Clue, Sorry, Risk, or any number of classic board games. What I found, however, were about 20 people playing a selection of popular, new-fangled board games with names I’d never heard of: Carcassonne, The Settlers of Catan, Trajan, Terra Mystica and Tokaido, to name just a few of the board games available that night.

“There has been a real Renaissance in board gaming,” explained Pennell Whitney, who was playing Carcassonne with Dave Harvey. He is one of the facilitators of game night, happy to teach anyone a new game. “I got caught up in playing these kinds of games in the 1990s,” he said by way of explanation. He confesses to owning around 100 different board games himself.

Spread out on the floor nearby, a large-scale version of Carcassonne with five players was unfolding.

According to boardgamegeek.com, the committed board gamer’s top online resource, Carcassonne is a tile-placement game. Players draw and place tiles to build a landscape of southern France, and then “people” it (with playing pieces called “meeples”) to claim ownership of fields, roads and cities, etc. When an area is completed, a meeple scores points for its owner.

I was curious to know what drew these gamers to game night.

“Board games are expensive,” explained Sandor Csontos, and the number of games offered at game night allows the chance to play a wide variety of them.

His brother, Cahir Csontos, added, “I love to learn new games, and besides, you get to meet new people.”

The draw for Courtney Dowling is that “you get to be part of a community instead of just playing games online.”

Carcassonne (first published in 2000) and The Settlers of Catan (released in 1995) are considered among the great-granddaddies of the current movement, “singularly responsible for the resurgence of board games all over the world,” Harvey said. There are now many variations, add-ons and/or alternate rules for both of these games.

Gamers on this night include a tableful mostly of high school players, as well as two men who drove in from Eldred, NY to play “Trajan” (a game far too complicated for my feeble brain). Trajan (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trajan), set in ancient Rome, “is a game in which players try to increase their influence and power in various areas of Roman life such as political influence, trading, military dominion and other important parts of Roman culture…. [The goal is to] acquire victory points.” (Again, see boardgamegeek.com)

Joshua Glantz of Eldred, reportedly the proud owner of 150 board games and a two-time winner of a major tournament at the premier national board gaming convention in Indianapolis, explained, “There are beer and pretzel games, and then there are the more strategic games that rely on involved decision-making processes.” These are games with little randomness or luck. The games often have many pieces and many rules. “The first time you play one of these, you’re usually working through the rules,” Glantz added.

Nearly all of the games in play this night are so-called Eurogames or designer-style board games. (Many, though not all Eurogames come from Europe.) In Eurogames “player conflict is indirect and usually involves competition over resources or points. Combat is extremely rare [and] players are never eliminated from the game, [i.e.] all are still playing when the game ends.”

Glantz and his gamer colleague, Nick Wyman, also from Eldred, are working to design their own board game, which they are crowd-funding through Kickstarter. Their working title is “Grimm’s Bakery.”

This summer, Glantz and Harvey plan to travel to Indianapolis for the Gen Con Convention, which claims to be the longest-running gaming convention in the world. Last year’s Gen Con broke a record with 49,000 attendees (topped only by the Essen gaming convention in Germany that attracts three times that number).

“What’s especially interesting to me about the new gaming movement,” Harvey observed, “is that in the middle of this high-tech era, all of these tech-oriented kids are attracted to playing board games.”

Family Game Night continues year round on the third Thursday of every month, 6 to 9 p.m. The Cooperage is located at 1030 Main St., Honesdale. PA.

“This is always what we hoped The Cooperage would build—a place for people to gather and enjoy a sense of community,” said Whitney, turning back to her game of Carcassonne.

[To see a portion of Joshua Glantz’s board game collection visit wfbarmory.com/Board%20Game%20Collection.htm]