What do a bar, a church, a pizza place and a library have in common? They are all locations of social board game nights. Playing board games – or “gaming,” as the devotees call it – has raged throughout the country, especially, it would seem, in the Vancouver area.
Game Night at Church
The first open board game night was located at the First Evangelical Church 15 years ago. Music Minister Andy Rice, the children’s pastor, the youth minister and two church members were meeting for their own entertainment to play a board game with a World War II theme: “Axis and Allies.” Their wives complained about the noise some nights as they played on into the wee hours, so they moved into the church to play. Before long they had more than 20 members joining them.
One night one of the gamers brought Settlers of Catan (still a popular game), and that “kind of opened up the flood gates,” shares Rice. More people began to come, and more games were unfurled.
Though the group was started as a break from ministering, the gaming is not inconsistent with church doctrine.
“Our church believes in the Five Purposes. One of these is fellowship-ing: spending time together,” says Rice. “We also would invite a non-Christian. A not-religious person might come and realize, ‘oh, my gosh,’ that they are walking through the doors of a church.”
Rice now works for Grace Baptist Church, but continues the group at First Evangelical on the first Friday of the month from 7:00 p.m. – midnight. He purchases the pizza and soda with his own money and greets new people.
“There’s something very soul-satisfying about sitting down and playing a game in a room where you sit across the table and look at the person you’re playing with,” said Rice. He notes that most people who play board games also play computer games.
Rice has noticed the changes in games over the years. “There are more of what they call ‘heavy’ games,” he says. These games have more complex rules. The strategy may not be obvious, or there may be more than one path to victory. There are also new mechanics in the new games, new elements such as area control or worker placement. One game, Agricola, is all about farming, planning crops, crop failures and dealing with the death of characters.
City Bible Church on Mill Plain also hosts a game night on the second Friday of each month from 7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.
Gaming in a Library
In 2014, Karen Nicholson started a gaming group at Camas Public Library to attract young adults into the library. “It’s an underserved crowd,” Nicholson says. Libraries tend to attract moms with kids and older adults.
The games, snacks and space have attracted a base of die-hards, some semi-regulars (such as a librarian from the Fort Vancouver Regional Library), plus new people checking it out. “I’m also surprised at the amount of different games people bring, some I’ve never heard of,” Nicholson says.
A Beer with a Game
Ben Cornell started a group at A Beer at a Time, and recently moved it to Caps n Taps, also in Camas, on Thursday evenings. “I didn’t want anything different,” says Cornell. Instead, he was just looking for more time to play.
“We’re very open on whatever we play,” he says, noting that he learns a new game or two every week. He likes games that have tension where all players are involved. “I like games that decisions you make affect other players, and I’m a big fan of war games.” He says in war games there is a lot of territorial and resource control, making the experience “much more head-to-head with your opponent.”
Cornell notes that someone could possibly game every night of the week at an open game. Many gamers go more than once a month or even more than once a week. “It’s a way for people to connect with a little bit of structure. And it’s a very cheap form of entertainment.”
Board games run $20 to $80 and can be found used for half of their original prices on the internet. Many gamers buy their games, discuss them, and find events online through Board Game Geek.
Though Cornell works for the Department of Ecology, he is also a game master for the Double Exposure, Inc. envoy program. He teaches and represents new games at game stores and at gaming events.
John Rochester is starting a group in Battle Ground at Barrel Mountain Brewing. He attends several groups, but wanted something close to his home.
Rice, who may have helped start the proliferation of board gaming in Vancouver, says he will keep playing as long as he can understand the rules, is playing reasonably well, and is enjoying the people across the table.
Game Nights around Vancouver
Find a game night near you or on a day that is convenient for your schedule.
Monday – Barrel Mountain Brewing, Battle Ground
Tuesday – Round Table Pizza, Mill Plain, Vancouver
Thursday – Caps N’ Taps, Camas
Every Friday – Dice Age Games
First Friday – First Evangelical Church
Second Friday – City Bible Church
Second Friday – Camas Public Library
Third Friday – Vancouver Church
Last Friday – Kessid Church
Various – Bat Cave Games