Few Canadian rec rooms in the 1970s and ’80s were without a stack of board games. Kids sprawled on the basement carpet to play Pop-O-Matic Trouble, Operation or Monopoly before the Commodore 64 and videogames such as Radar Rat Race took over and moved play to a screen.
Some games such as Dungeons & Dragons have their own dedicated followers and survived the onslaught of video games, but board games, for the most part, gathered dust on the shelves.
That is until recently. Board games have once again exploded in popularity, as evidenced by the crowded tables at the Terminal City Tabletop Convention this past weekend.
“A lot of people I’ve talked to, who are into games, have day jobs that are spent in front of a computer,” said TCTC founder and organizer Shannon Lentz. “They’re in front of the computer all day and they don’t want to come home and sit in front of a screen. You can have people over, throw a board game down and have some drinks. So board games are really good for the social aspect.”
Lentz, 40, had a passing interest in board games until 2004 when they became a full-blown hobby. He traveled to Victoria six years in a row to attend the now-defunct GottaCon game convention and wondered why there wasn’t something similar in his hometown of Vancouver where the population is far larger.
“So I thought I’d start one,” he said. “I had no idea what I was doing. I’m a chemist by background so this is not my wheelhouse at all so, well, I thought I’d try it and what’s the worst that can happen. In the first year, it wasn’t like this,” he said, nodding towards the packed banquet hall at Burnaby’s Bonsor Recreational Complex where a couple hundred players played. “But I didn’t lose money, people came out and had a good time.”
This year marks the convention’s fourth year, and Lentz remembers the first one mostly because he didn’t know what to expect. He figured it would attract hardcore tabletop enthusiasts and was surprised by how many couples showed up who wanted to learn about board games.
“There were lots of people new to the hobby and wanted to find more out about the games,” he recalled. “It’s like Pandora’s Box — you find out about one game and then…”
Games such as The Settlers of Catan, best described as Monopoly meets Risk, have hooked a new generation on game nights. Others, such as Pandemic Legacy, have enticed countless players around the globe to meet regularly for a game that evolves over time in a mission to stop deadly diseases from wiping out humanity.
While board games are the reason places such as the Storm Crow Tavern — a self-proclaimed “nerd” bar — have a place in Vancouver’s drinking establishment landscape, Lentz is reluctant to use the tired geek/nerd labels because gaming is so mainstream — like it used to be.
“When I was a kid, my cousin and my friends would have Risk and Axis & Allies set up for days in the basement and play them for hours,” he said. “I don’t even know if we played them by the rules correctly, but for us it was amazing and so much fun.”
Lentz wants to show others how much fun games are, and the welcoming spirit of the convention was obvious with a board games library, game stewards to teach people how to play, signs that read “Players Wanted” at the rare empty spot at tables, tournaments for advanced players as well as a silent auction. Part of the fun included Proto-Alley where game designers showed off their unpublished games. (New this year was the Golden Arbutus Award for the best game design won by Calgary’s Adam Wyse for LepreContractors.)
“This is the equivalent of playing cards like our parents did on Friday nights,” Lentz said.