by CRAIG COLEY
As the pandemic has shut down activities and narrowed the daily experiences of many people, tabletop games old and new have seen a resurgence. Local retailers are selling more strategy board games, role-playing games, card games, and puzzles.
“I’ve seen a lot of new faces in the store, and it’s been people looking for options of what to do during a pandemic,” says Phil Eskew, who owns The Common Room, 223 S. Pete Ellis Drive. “People are looking for things that they can do at home together.”
Brad McMullen, who works at The Game Preserve, which recently moved from Fountain Square Mall to College Mall, says the growing sophistication of video games has not diminished the appeal of tabletop games. “It’s that human contact,” McMullen says. “People still crave sitting across the table from a group of people.”
Laura Alford, a licensed mental health counselor, says games invite creative interaction, which is healthy for families who might otherwise watch videos or isolate in separate activities. When played through the internet, they can also keep distant relationships fresh. “People don’t have as much going on in their lives, so it’s really hard to have things to talk about,” Alford says. “It can feel like something’s wrong relationally when it’s just the circumstances. Rather than feel pressure to have a conversation, you can create that shared experience through games.”
People who grew up when there were only a few board games may have missed the explosion in game design that has resulted in “a game for every flavor,” as McMullen says. Cooperative games are especially popular. The antithesis of classic cutthroat games like Monopoly or Sorry, these challenge players to work together to “beat the board.” One in particular seems to have been made for this moment: Pandemic, originally released in 2008, has players containing disease outbreaks and discovering cures.
For many serious game players, though, the real pandemic has been a major disruption. Bloomington’s game stores used to host casual play, tournaments, and product release events. “Every night we had gaming in here,” says Eskew of The Common Room. “The store’s going to be packed once we reopen.”