Too much screen time? Local board game nights offer face time and friendship IRL

  • Game night at The World War II Club. GAZETTE PHOTO/ANDREW GRETO

  • Amanda Picardi and B.J. Camire explaining the rules of the game Noria to players. Picardi is the organizer of a board game night that is held at The World War II Club in Northampton Sundays at 6 p.m. GAZETTE PHOTO/ANDREW GRETO

  • Choosing the right card is part of the game. Below, several turn out for Games Night at The World War II Club in Northampton. GAZETTE PHOTOS/ANDREW GRETO

  • Several turn out for Games Night at The World War II Club in Northampton. GAZETTE PHOTO/ANDREW GRETO

  • Concentration and skill is needed for Games Night at The World War II Club Sunday night in Northampton. GAZETTE PHOTO/ANDREW GRETO

For the Gazette
Published: 8/6/2019 4:19:25 PM

“You want to eat, not get eaten, and try to make it until the end,” said B.J. Camire in the banquet room of the World War II Club Sunday evening. 

Camire was explaining the rules of Ravenous River, a card game where each player is assigned an animal that they have to protect by moving the animals and playing action cards.

A round only takes around 20 minutes, so Camire thought it was a good game to play while waiting for more people to show up to the board game night, which takes place Sundays at 6 p.m. at the WWII Club.

This event is one of several board game nights being held across the Valley, including private ones at people’s homes as well as public ones at venues such as the Brass Cat and Mill 180 Park in Easthampton. Soon, there will even be a board game cafe in Holyoke. 

At the WWII Club Sunday, in the back room, a pile of board games covered a long table. As people arrived, they added games to the pile or sat down, beers in hand from the bar out front, and quietly listened to Camire explain the rules of Ravenous River. 

Meanwhile, Amanda Picardi started up Noria, a strategy game that takes place in a fantasy world of the same name. Picardi started hosting these game nights in 2014 as a way to meet people after graduating from Smith College in 2012. 

“You’re basically handed friends your whole life through school, and after I graduated I found it really hard to make it friends,” Picardi said. “By starting this game night, I met some of my closest friends.” She also found Camire, now her husband, whom she married last year after meeting at a board game night five years ago. 

“I just saw him as a friend at first,” Picardi said. “But one time, my friend Mark didn’t bring him, and I was like, ‘Where is he?’”

The couple used Scrabble pieces in one of their wedding photos to spell out “Forever and Always.” One of their favorite games to play together now is Mystic Vale, in which the players try to lift a curse from a fictional valley.

Board games might seem a bit old-fashioned in the age of smartphones, but that’s precisely their allure to social players like Picardi. They offer a chance for human connection IRL, or in real life.

“Since I’ve started this group, a lot of other organizations are popping up everywhere,” Picardi said. “I think it’s a reaction to the digital world. We don’t have that many opportunities to sit down and actually interact with each other. And you can’t really be on your phone when you’re playing a board game. You need to be engaged with the people around you.”

Melissa Lewis-Gentry of Holyoke, who plans to open a board game cafe there called Avalon Lounge & Game Cafe, pointed out that the board game industry has also been helped by the internet. “A lot of new games are funded by Kickstarter, for example, which helps give some starting capital to board games that may not have been published,” she said. Her cafe will feature both classic board games like Scrabble and modern strategy games like Settlers of Catan. 

Northampton-based independent game developer and editor Joshua Yearsley said that the board game Consentacle, about a human trying to have sex with an alien, is a good example of a unique Kickstarter-funded game.

In recent years, he added, board games have also just gotten better. 

“Board games used to be incredibly irresponsible with the way they did some themes,” he said. “In the ’90s, there was a board game called Puerto Rico where the goal was literally to colonize the island ... But now, people are starting to tackle some similar themes in a more responsible way. Like Infamous Traffic, which is about the Opium Wars and really criticizes British colonialism in China.”

Justin Dowd, a resident advisor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, organizes board game nights at Brass Cat most Wednesdays and Mill 180 Park every other Thursday and said that a person who wants to start playing should just try going to a board game night sometime.

“The trick is to find what kinds of board games you really like and to play with a really good group of people,” he said. 

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