Ever since the German game Settlers of Catan gained popularity in North America in the 2000s, there’s been a movement of people putting down their controllers or phones and taking up the die in an effort to test their wits and meet new people, I.R.L. A new way to foster human interaction is organically taking hold right here in Oliver where two board game cafés have opened, Table Top Café (10235 124 St.) and the Gamers’ Lodge (10459 124 St.).
Prior to their openings, the OCL hosted free, all-ages games nights every month, complete with snacks, a table of new titles like Hive—an addictive strategic game akin to chess—and the promise of making new friends. (The league has since cancelled them, now that the needs are met by new businesses.)
Mary McPhail of the OCL says it’s the human touch missing from our digital lives that’s spurring the trend. According to The Guardian, board game purchases have risen by as much as 40 per cent annually since 2010. There’s a constant flow of new games released every year— some of them selling millions of copies.
What’s behind the resurgence? Brian Flowers, owner of Table Top Café, has a theory: “When you enter a competitive atmosphere, everyone’s paying attention to the game, not their phones.” Plus, he says, “It’s a really good icebreaker.”
Flowers’ friend and self-admitted boardgame aficionado Rudy Janvier agrees. In fact it’s how he met Flowers. “It began as just a regular thing on Sundays with some friends. And then when I moved to Oliver I started going to the community league’s nights to find more people who wanted to learn about new games.”
Another reason for this revival might just be that the games are getting better. Some of the most funded Kickstarter campaigns are games dreamed up by highly creative people. Janvier also points to massive conferences, like SPIEL in Germany, that allow players to contribute to the creation process. In other words, designers have learned that we want something more engaging than crib, Chinese checkers or backgammon.
But with a constant rotation of new titles to sample at Table Top and the Gamers’ Lodge, where does one even start? If you’re really up for a challenge, Janvier recommends Pandemic Legacy, an apocalyptic campaign game giving you a chance to command an imaginary centre for disease control.
Looking for something more general? McPhail loves Dixit, a story-building card game made for the word nerds among us.
Of course, if you prefer the classics, they’re easy to come by. “I remember a retiree coming in with her Chinese checkers board,” recalls McPhail. “She kicked my butt!”