29 June 2017

Board game mania sweeps Canberra

| Glynis Quinlan
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Board game mania is sweeping the nation’s capital as Canberrans take to the revamped recreational activity in droves.

The growing popularity of the new breed of board games is sparking a strong gaming business industry in the city as well as providing a focus for thriving community activities and groups.

From its mega specialist board game stores to the city’s board game restaurants and pubs, Canberra is developing a reputation as a board game business hub.

Added to that are the city’s board game conventions, community board game fundraising events, university gaming societies, library open gaming groups, and the various board game meetup groups with their thousands of members in total.

Convenor & Event Operations Manager for the GAMMA.CON pop culture event, Daniel Davis, said that board games have increased in popularity worldwide but have really taken off in Canberra in the last two to three years.

“There has always been gaming in Canberra – university gaming societies and events such as Cancon have demonstrated that gaming is popular. But recently several gaming stores have popped up around town that provide the space and facilities for people to get together and play games,” said Mr Davis.

“Another factor is that a number of local restaurants/pubs now have their own games library to allow people to enjoy gaming with friends over a good meal. Even our local libraries, such as Kippax and Gungahlin, host gaming events,” he said.

“Perhaps the popularity is the social nature of board games – you get together with family, friends and strangers to have fun and adventure.”

Canberra ahead of the pack

The manager of The Games Capital in Civic, Glenn Doyle, credits European strategy games for the massive increase in popularity of board games.

He said that on a per capita basis he believes board games are more popular in Canberra than in other parts of Australia, even though they have grown in popularity everywhere.

“Canberra is ahead of the pack,” he said. “Per capita, we’d easily be one of the best performers in the country in terms of games stores.”

Mr Doyle attributes the increased popularity of board games in Canberra to the large numbers of public servants, many young families, great universities and the fact that the city has no beaches.

“Canberra has a lot of public servants who have more time on their hands and more disposable income,” he explained.

Mr Doyle said that The Games Capital has operated under its current name for the past five years but the business has actually been around since the 1980s – changing names and locations in that time.

European strategy games among top sellers

He said that the four most popular board games in recent times have been Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride and Codenames.

“Each of these four games in their own way has revolutionised the gaming industry as they were released,” he said. “It dragged the games into a more commercial environment.”

Mr Doyle said that the games are all European strategy games and are so successful that they would still be in the top ten board games.

He said that children’s cards games are also “hugely popular”, particularly Sushi Go and Sleeping Queens.

Mr Doyle said that every year representatives from The Games Capital travel to the International Spieltage convention in Essen, Germany, which is attended by more than 150,000 people and where new board games are released. The store representatives then choose the ones they think will be of most interest to Canberrans, buy them and bring them back here.

20-30 new board games a week

The co-owner of Three D6 store and Loaded Dice pub in Greenway, Luke Cox said that the popularity of board games in Canberra has really gone ahead in the past two years.

“Board games have come back into being a social norm activity in the last five years but certainly around this end of the last five years,” Mr Cox said.

“It’s a really booming industry and every week easily 20-30 board games are released.

“I would say the board gaming industry is a successful one and it certainly sees a good amount of profit turnover.”

The Three D6 store has been operating in Greenway in Canberra’s South for the past three years, but originally was located in Lanyon and operated under a different name. The store moved to Greenway because more space was needed to cater for all the customers.

In March last year, Mr Cox and fellow owner Brad Scott responded to demand by using crowdfunding to help build and open the Loaded Dice gaming pub in the unit next door to the store. It proved a great success with patrons enjoying the opportunity to grab a beer and even a spot of food as they played board games.

In January last year, the Guild board games restaurant also opened in Civic, serving up pizza, light meals and cocktails while patrons play board games.

Mr Cox said that a large proportion of Canberrans are playing board games and, relative to the city’s size, there are a vast amount of opportunities for buying and playing games.

“Proportionally there is a larger percentage of people playing games than not,” he said.

“I can’t think of any one of my friends that doesn’t own a collection of board games.”

“When people get together to have a meal, having a board game on the table is a convenient way to carry a conversation.”

Mr Cox said that in the past five years there has been a trend towards playing board games that are more social than competitive.

He said that the popularity of the game Cards Against Humanity helped to open the door for playing games. He listed other popular games as including Werewolf, Salem and Catan.

Enjoying the intellectual challenge

Peter Kelley from Gungahlin is one of the many Canberra residents who love playing board games. His favourite board game is Eclipse and he loves the strategic challenge and social interaction that comes with playing board games.

For the past five years, he has been playing board games every Thursday or Friday night with a group of six people he originally met at a gaming event.

On top of that he plays board games with his family, visits library board game groups, and recently started hosting a monthly ‘Family Fun Board Games’ community event on behalf of Cornerstone Christian Church in Gungahlin.

“I played board games as a kid and went away from it for a while and then have been back for 15 years,” said Mr Kelley who works in the computing industry.

“I like the intellectual challenge of trying to think up a strategy to beat people,” he said.

Mr Kelley believes Canberra offers more opportunities to buy and play board games than ever before. He can detail a long list of Canberra stores, businesses and groups associated with playing board games that have started up in recent years.

“That’s telling me there’s more and more of a market,” he said.

Mr Kelley brings an array of board games and some fellow instructors to the free community event he runs from 3-5 pm on the first Saturday of every month at the Salvation Army Church building on The Valley Avenue, Gungahlin.

The event is pitched at giving families the opportunity to get away from screen time and play the latest board games together. Email Mr Kelley for more details at: Yellekau@gmail.com

Festival board games arena to be bigger and better
Mr Davis from GAMMA.CON believes that despite the popularity of small board game groups, Canberrans would like to see more public events.

“This can be seen with both Guild and Reload seeing increased use of board games in their venues by both casual and hardcore board gamers,” he said.

Mr Davis said that this year’s GAMMA.CON event in early August will respond to the strong interest in board games by making the board games arena bigger and better than ever.

“We have partnered with Guild, LFG (Looking For Gamers), Three D6, Jolt and Games Workshop this year to bring you the best and latest games and competitions,” he said.

“We will also have Indie board games from up and coming games developers.”

GAMMA.CON 2017 will be held on August 5 and 6 this year at the AIS Arena in Bruce and run from 10 am to 5 pm both days. Individual Saturday and Sunday passes cost $25 and a pass for the whole weekend is $40.

Tickets can be purchased at https://www.eventopia.co/event/GAMMACON-2017/342473 or are available at the door.

Top photo: A crowd of customers at The Games Capital (photo supplied by The Games Capital). Second photo: On the field of (card) battle at GAMMA.CON 2016 (photo owned and supplied by GAMMA.CON). Third photo: Manager of The Games Capital, Glenn Doyle, in front of the store’s Spiel Des Jahres wall. The wall includes a copy of every game that has won the prestigious award since 1979. (Photo supplied by The Games Capital).
Fourth photo: Patrons playing board games at the Loaded Dice pub (photo supplied by the Loaded Dice). Fifth photo: Co-owners of Three D6 and the Loaded Dice, Brad Scott (left) and Luke Cox (photo supplied by the Loaded Dice). Sixth photo: Gungahlin resident Peter Kelley playing a board game at the Family Fun Board Games event in Gungahlin. Photo by Glynis Quinlan.
Last photo: Indie board game Warzone (photo owned and supplied by GAMMA.CON).

Do you enjoy playing board games? Which are your favourite games and why? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Boardgames are definitely dominated by men. Memories of going to several Cancon and smelling the sweat — mmmmmmm

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