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Board Games Up In Popularity, Due To Affordability, Sociability


March 05, 2010

At the Roberts home in Middletown, Friday means game night at the dining-room table.

The Wii is temporarily out of service, the iPods are silenced, cellphones are stashed and the family, including Mom and Dad (Pat and John) and three children, Rachel, Michael and Kathleen, break out Life or Monopoly or Clue. It's game time.

They are part of a trend fueled by the economy and lifestyle changes that have spurred families and places, including museums, libraries and schools, to turn to classic board games as an inexpensive and engaging way to get people together face-to-face.

"Part of it was finances and part of it was just a long, hard look at how little time we spend doing things together," says Pat Roberts.

"For five us to go to the movies for a couple of hours would cost about $60, and we don't even talk to each other. For $10 worth of snack food or a pizza, we sit, we play, we talk, we have fun, and honestly, I think all five us look forward to that time together."

At Real Art Ways in Hartford, Real Board Games night on the first Tuesday of every month offers a new kind of networking option, free popcorn included.

"Its a nice alternative to bars as far as meeting people," says Karyn Burns, an events planner from Hartford.

"I'm impressed at the variety of games they have here," says Wendy Ribilis, a special-education teacher. She and Burns play a few games of Connect Four and then head into a game of Cranium with Hamden resident Jason Kulas, who arrived alone hoping to find someone to play with.

"I just love the fact that the games are old, I mean really old, like the kind we played when we were kids," says Lucy Hopkins, scanning tables with games ranging from a 1967 version of Yahtzee to the more contemporary board game Apples to Apples. "It's such a simple idea, but you meet strangers and play a game together, you know you are going to talk and it's no pressure."

Those who play insist that board games never really went away, but they acknowledge the comeback in popularity and categorize play as "classically social" in a world consumed with faceless social networking.

"Nowadays people are so into their computers and social networking, they never go out and connect anymore," says Cheryl Livsey, during a Scrabble game at Real Art Ways. "This gives you a chance to exercise some social skills and interact face-to-face."

Then there is the educational component.

"Look at all a board game does when it comes to teaching things like taking turns, being cordial and learning something new," says Pat Riso, a spokesperson for toy and game giant Hasbro, and a Connecticut resident whose own family has regular game nights. "And it is one of those opportunities when the playing field is level for children and adults and it's OK to beat your parents."

Or your grandparents, as the case might be.

"We are not the Waltons, but after our grandson watched 'Akeelah and the Bee' at our house, he was most interested in the Scrabble game," says Patricia Pabich of Simsbury. "I purchased the game and, suffice it to say, it was an immediate win with both grandson and grandfather."

According to toy industry experts, board-game sales have been growing consistently. At the recent American International Toy Fair in New York City, board games were the rage as manufacturers unveiled classic games with contemporary twists such as Monopoly: Revolution featuring a round game board, Scrabble Flash with an electronic component, and a new version of Trivial Pursuit that allows one player to bet on another.

"They are games our grandparents and parents played and are classic with an update," says Riso. "There is always a place for board games."

There always has been at Renbrook School in West Hartford, where once a month the homework for younger students at the private school is a mandatory game night with the family.

"I played games when I was growing up and like what it brings to our house," says Sally Labonte, whose Farmington family likes Apples to Apples and Monopoly. "I like that the girls take the initiative to say 'Let's play a game,' and that we come together as family. It's like being given permission to just have fun together."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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