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Take advantage of board games’ new day in the sun

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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Board games line a wall on the second floor of S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes downtown on Jan. 16, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Board games line a wall on the second floor of S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes downtown on Jan. 16, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Board games line a wall on the second floor of S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes downtown on Jan. 16, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Kendamas line a shelf inside of S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes downtown on Jan. 16, 2018.
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Board games families have played for generations, including 'Life,' remain popular today, according to sales staff at S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes in Pittsburgh.
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Sweets Kendamas makes a popular seller for people looking for a skills' challenge, and parents looking to direct their children away from 'screens,' according to S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes in Pittsburgh.
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Maclain Eardley may have one of the most fun job descriptions imaginable.

Manager and buyer for S.W. Randall Toyes and Giftes in Pittsburgh, he tries out new games, stocks those he believes will appeal to customers, and demonstrates some toys/games to shoppers who buy them on the spot.

The store has hundreds of board games for sale, and Eardley is reluctant to name single popular selections.

“There are so many small publishers getting games out there. Game conventions are growing in size,” he says, and expanding the market.

“By our calculations, we are in the golden age of board games,” Kyle Engen, founder and steward of operations at the Interactive Museum of Gaming and Puzzlery, told the Washington Post.

Matthew Hudak, toys and games analyst with Euromonitor International, agrees, citing a recent market report that sales of games and puzzles grew by 15 percent in 2016.

“It’s something that has been bubbling up for years now, but 2016 was the most influential year for board games,” he told the Washington Post. “It’s massive. There were more than 5,000 board games introduced into the U.S. market last year.”

According to Hudak, traditional board games are still the bulk of the market, but hobby board games, catered for adults, pushed the category’s growth to the next level. “It’s become a new go-to social activity,” he adds.

There’s plenty of speculation about who or what is driving the boom — video games, the internet, millennials preferring to socialize at home — but Barry “BJ” Rozas, a lawyer from Louisiana who moonlights as a board game reviewer, says it comes down to one thing: “Today’s games are better.”

Rozas, a veteran gamer who created the blog Board Game Gumbo to share his passion for hobby games, credits creative game designers with getting people excited about board games again. Some of his favorites for beginners include Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Pandemic.

Classic, strategic games many baby boomers and their children grew up with, like Clue, variations on Monopoly, Life, Stratego, even Chutes and Ladders, remain popular at S.W. Randall Toyes.

And people are still bending themselves into pretzel shapes on Twister mats, Eardley says.

“I’ve been saying for years there will be sort of a revolt against electronics, with families saying they need to have more family time,” he says.

Newer, hip strategy games cater to teens and college students, while adults like party games or intense strategy games, he says.

“One new game I actually rushed to order one week before Christmas is ‘What do you meme? ‘” Eardley says.

The card game, meant for adults, involves competing to create the funniest meme by pairing caption cards with the photo card in play. A rotating judge picks the best combination each round, according to the game’s website.

“Memes (a humorous image, video, piece of text) are really popular with people right now. That was a game I knew would do well and we sold tons of it. People seemed to know about it already. I think it had huge social media exposure,” he says.

DropMix, an interactive card game that plays music through an app, was not the hot seller Eardley hoped it might be, but the $100-plus price tag might have been a big factor, he says.

Games that invite others to join in and challenge skill levels remain popular.

“I sell a lot of travel (chess) sets. They have vinyl boards and plastic pieces. People play in Market Square,” Eardley says.

One toy that requires hand/eye coordination and offers a balancing challenge that sells well in his store is the Kendama.

The Japanese skill toy has three cups and a spike that may remind many adults of an upgraded paddle, string and ball game they played as kids.

“It’s a ball and cup type of toy. The ball is attached to the handle and you try to get it onto the spike,” he says.

“When I’m playing with it in the store and people see what is. … They say, ‘That’s just like wood and string.’ It builds hand/eye coordination. Kids film themselves and post each other (on social media). It’s funny to think that toys like that are classics. It’s not a screen. It’s mobile. You can play with groups and try to master tricks,” he says.

Eardley has some thoughts about the resurgence in competitive toys and board games.

“I think it’s a combination of people knowing kids spend too much time on electronics. It’s very social to play some of the games, especially party games. Some people who haven’t been exposed (to board games) don’t think they will like it. Then they try it and think, ‘That wasn’t so bad,’” he says.

And then there is the nostalgia factor, says Eardley, who spent New Year’s Eve playing board games with family members.

Parents and grandparents enjoy introducing children to rainy day and snowy day games they played as youngsters and with their own families, he says.

Hosting a game night

If you’re ready to hang out with friends in a casual, laid-back atmosphere and play some games, we have some tips for you from hgtv.com and everygirl.com. It’s easy to plan – all you need are some games and snacks.

The Games

Choose those based on the guest list.

• Simple word games, board games and card games are great for small groups.

• For gatherings of more than six, avoid games with individual written responses or lots of moving pieces.

• Interactive team games like charades or an electronic trivia game are great crowd-pleasers.

• It’s also OK to have guests bring their favorite board game.

Looking to spice up your game night? Try one of these expert picks.

Junk Art: “It’s a modern-day, really cool, artsy Jenga.” — Kathleen Donahue, owner of game shop Labyrinth in Washington, D.C.

Pandemic: “It’s a cooperative story-based game where you act as CDC workers.” — Kathleen Donahue

Werewords: “One person knows a secret word, and they’re trying to get everyone to guess the word. The werewolf is trying to get people not to guess it.” — BJ Rozas, Board Game Gumbo

Hotshots: “It’s a cooperative game, so everyone is working to win together. You work as firefighters out in the wilderness. Everybody has a unique role and works together to beat back fires.” — BJ Rozas

The Setting

• Give guests a comfy spot to settle in. For board games, line the coffee table with floor cushions. For larger groups, move furniture into a semi-circle so everyone can have a seat and enjoy the fun. If you live in a small space, throw pillows on the floor if you don’t have enough seating.

• Set the mood with candlelight. Use pillar candles over candlesticks as they last much longer.

• Have a playlist made and ready to go, and make sure it has at least three hours worth of tunes queued up so that you’re not scrambling for new music halfway through the evening.

What to eat

Keep it simple. Hummus, vegetables and pita are fan favorites. Presentation is key so remove the hummus from its plastic container and place it into a nice glass bowl.

Plan for small bites that guests can grab between turns. Creating a potato chip bar with a variety of chips, dips and toppings, allows guests to make a custom blend.

Add small bowls of snacks to the game table to allow guests to munch as they play. Roasted nuts are another delicious table snack that guests won’t be able to resist.

For a more substantial snack, try individually-sized pizza pies – pocket shapes make them easy to eat with one hand. Stuff with sauce, pepperoni and cheese. Add your favorite toppings or serve a mix to accommodate different tastes.

Don’t forget dessert. Offer at least one sweet food. Fresh baked cookies or chocolate covered pretzels are great options .

What to drink

Punch is perfect for a crowd. You can make a big batch before the party to avoid playing bartender all night, and putting the alcohol on the side makes it perfect for non-drinkers too. Sparkling cranberry-lemon juice is great with a splash of vodka or without.

It’s also OK to asks guests to bring their favorite drinks to share the expense.

Game-themed snacks

Why not try some game-themed snacks to go along with your game night?

Domino brownies

Prepare and bake favorite brownie recipe from boxed mix or scratch. Allow brownies to cool completely in the pan.

For the icing: Combine 1½ cups confectioners’ sugar, one large egg white and ½ teaspoon lemon juice in a mixing bowl. Beat with electric mixer on medium speed to the consistency of meringue. This will take about 5 minutes. Put the icing into a disposable plastic bag or use a pastry bag with a fine tip. Carefully cut off a tiny piece of the corner, making a tiny hole.

To decorate the brownies: Once completely cool, cut the brownies into domino-size pieces, about 1-by-2-inches. Lay the brownies in a domino game pattern on a serving platter. Carefully pipe small white dots and a line across the middle of each brownie so it looks like a domino piece.

From Foodnetwork.com

Garlic herb checkers crackers

In a medium bowl, combine 8 ounces cream cheese, ¼ cup butter, 1¾ tablespoons Garlic Garlic Seasoning and 1 tablespoon Rustic Herb Seasoning. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, mix until light and fluffy. Refrigerate.

Before serving, bring garlic herb spread to room temperature; spread on buttery round crackers. Top half the crackers with cherry tomato halves and half the crackers with salami slices cut in half.

To serve, cover a checker board with plastic wrap and place crackers on the board.

From tastefullysimple.com

Cheese fondue with bread puzzle pieces

Preheat oven to 425. Cut ½-inch thick slices of bread into puzzle piece shapes (four per slice of bread, or cut each slice into triangles). Place on a large greased baking sheet sprayed with olive oil. Spray tops of bread with additional olive oil. Bake 10 minutes or until crispy.

Meanwhile prepare artichoke-spinach dip: Boil 1 cup thawed, frozen spinach and 1½ cups thawed, frozen, chopped artichoke hearts in 1 cup of water until tender, drain. Discard liquid. Heat 6 ounces cream cheese in microwave for 1 minute or until hot and soft. Stir in ¼ cup sour cream, ¼ cup mayonnaise, 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon garlic powder.

Transfer to a small slow cooker, keep warm. Serve with bread puzzle pieces.

Adapted from tastefullysimple.com and foodnetwork.com

Tic-tac-toe smokies and meatballs

Combine one-half of a 32-ounce package of frozen bite-size meatballs, two 14-ounce packages of little smoked sausages and one 12-ounce bottle of smoky barbecue sauce in a slow cooker. Cook on LOW for 2-3 hours.

When ready to serve, push toothpicks through two sausages in an X pattern. Push a toothpick through each meatball. Place in tic-tac-toe patterns on a serving platter.

From tastefullysimple.com

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