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Saturday July 2, 2011

Games you can grasp

When you say games, people think iPhone, iPad, Playstation, the works – not good oldfashioned board games anymore. But there are those who believe that cardboard games are really more interactive than their electronic counterparts.

YOUR heart is racing. A shotgun is at your disposal, but you’re almost out of bullets. Zombies – pallid figures with sunken cheeks and skeletal eyes – are catching up to you, slowly but surely. Over the wall, 20 steps ahead of you, you are sure, is the helipad.

Do you go for it? Well, you’ll just have to roll the die and see.

Zombies!!! is an award-winning strategy board game – just one of the many that you can try, if you’re willing to give your iPhone or iPad a break. But if you’d rather not fork out RM169 for something that needs three to six players to jumpstart, you can hang out at Boardgame Depot, a book rental-turned-board games café in Bangsar, KL.

Interactive: Unlike the days of Monopoly, when players could grow bored waiting for their turns, the modern games of today encourage more involvement.

“Games on iPad are only US$3.99 or US$4.99 (RM15); if it’s crap, you can just discard it,” says tax consultant Yeo Eng Ping, 40. “Board games are almost RM200 to RM300 each. I would never buy one unless I knew for sure that it was fun.”

The board games café, it seems, offers Yeo access “to all kinds of games without the cost.” Previously known as City Book Rental – when it was located just a few blocks away from its current location – the store reopened to a new name and concept in March, boasting over 800 titles in American and European board games, in addition to their library of books.

According to co-director Lucas Tho, 26, the change took place in light of the extra space available. “And I knew a lot of friends who were into board games,” he says.

Boardgame Depot exudes a homey atmosphere – housed on the second floor of a corner shophouse lot, the café offers simple snacks and food cooked by Tho’s mother, Irene Siow, who has been operating the book rental for the past 18 years. Colourful boxes of board games take up one full corner of the room; the rest is occupied by wooden tables and stools.

To be a Boardgame Depot “member”, you just have to pay a RM30 annual fee, which comes with six hours of free game play, and subsequently RM2.50 per hour for each session; non-members are charged RM4 an hour.

Having been a devotee of City Book Rental for years, Yeo started bringing her children to Boardgame Depot two months ago – after concerns that Sebastian Tan, eight, and Maria, six, were spending “too much time on the iPad”.

“During my time, we had board games, but not computers. Now it’s the other way around. I’m lucky that my kids find board games just as interesting,” she says.

Stefan Dawson (left) and friends playing a game of Stone Age in Boardgame Depot.

Mind you, she’s not referring to old-school gems like Scrabble or Uno; her children have just finished establishing colonies and building roads on The Settlers Of Catan, one of the most popular games in Boardgame Depot. Published in 1995, the German resource-collecting strategy game has sold over five million copies worldwide; Washington Post calls it “the board game of our time”.

“I didn’t realise that board games had moved on so much since I played Monopoly 30 years ago – they’re now really, really clever,” Yeo enthuses.

Just take a look at the game Wasabi!, which lets you compete against other sushi master hopefuls in whipping up a storm with wasabi cubes, sashimi tiles, oriental bowls and a real sushi-rolling bamboo mat. And then there’s Niagara, where players race to collect rainbow-hued jewels, just as their “canoes” dip over the waterfall.

Other titles are a flurry of fancy names: Hey, That’s my Fish!, Kill Doctor Lucky, Feed The Kitty, City Of Thieves, Ultimate Werewolf and Slamwich – to name a few.

Monopoly, you say? “Do not pass go”, a popular phrase in the 20th century classic, hasn’t been uttered (much) for years.

“Games like The Settlers Of Catan aren’t your mainstream run-around-the-board-collecting-money type of game,” says Stefan Dawson, general manager in a company offering aerospace education services.

The 25-year-old, who discovered Boardgame Depot through a friend, visits on a weekly basis, staying on for four hours at a time. Board games aren’t as dull as they’re perceived to be, he says.

Boardgame Depot boasts over 800 titles in American and European board games.

“They’re extremely exciting. And things can get very competitive,” Dawson adds.

Yeo can attest to this, explaining that board games (as compared to their virtual counterparts) give her children “the right competitive spirit”. “They not only get to play together, they also get to play against each other,” she adds.

“Many people think board games are slow – probably because they can’t be bothered to read the rules,” Yeo continues. “But what I really like about this place is that Lucas helps the kids learn how to play. They tried a new game today, Wasabi!, and within half an hour, they got it.”

Forgotten fun

Aviation charter co-ordinator, Nik Harris Nik Ahmad Huzlan, who frequents Boardgame Depot three times a week, describes his newfound hobby as “a great change of pace”.

“I followed my girlfriend here once, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” says the 22-year-old. “When you say board games, people automatically think Monopoly and Risk. But there’s so much more to it. Some games are about economics. Then there’s the theme of deception, like in Shadow Hunters. You’re given a role to play and you’re supposed to kill off your opposing team – but you don’t know who is who. So there’s always this fun, poker-face factor going on.”

Tho reveals that complex games laced with themes of war and destruction could take up to six hours to finish, while a quick card game barely lasts 15 minutes. So depending on what you play, there’s no such thing as a game that goes on for “too long”. The frustrating bits that come with learning a new game are all a part of the challenge (and fun).

“Some of the games are really simple; you can pick them up just like that. Some are more complex, like this one right here,” says Nik Harris, gesturing towards a group of players, intensely huddled over a game of World Of Warcraft (WoW).

“It’s based on the online role playing game. But the way they’ve transitioned the concept into a board game is just amazing – they’ve crafted it to cater to those who play the original game as well,” he adds.

Nik Harris calls it “unfair” that people usually associate board games with “nerds”. “People assume that if you play board games, you have no life,” he says. “I am an avid video game freak – I’ve been playing since I was 13. I used to play video games to a point where I didn’t leave the house – it was that bad. But now, I actually spend more time here.”

As it were, the advent of modern board games may just be the answer to the problem of virtual gaming addiction.

“With computer games, you only interact with the screen; you can’t think out of the box because everything has already been programmed. It’s like watching TV – you just sit down and let the computer do all the work for you,” says Tho. “With board games, you get to use your critical thinking skills and even go around the rules if you want. Basically, you get to be creative.”

As Dawson puts it: “In board games, you actually have a chance – even at the end of the game – to make a comeback.”

That’s not to say that the paper-and-plastic alternatives can’t be addictive in their own rights – “though you can always put it in a box and keep it away,” Dawson suggests. Tho calls the passion for these board games a “controlled addiction”.

“They can be addictive, but it’s not an unhealthy addiction. Plus, you need a group of players for it – when someone gets tired and wants to go home, you’ll have to go home too.”

To Nik Harris, computer games, especially Internet-based ones, lack the essential warmth of human interaction.

“You don’t get to see the rest of the players face-to-face so strategising among your team members would always be held before, not during, the game. In a board game, you get to strategise along the way and make the best moves. And then, of course, when someone screws up, there’s the verbal jousting, which is always entertaining. Every time you play a game, even if it’s the same one, it feels different.”

Amidst the iPads and iPhones, people have forgotten that board games can be fun too, Nik Harris suggests.

“With the current generation, it’s all about clubs and going out – everyone wants to be ‘happening’. And then there’s Facebook. Technology is the size of our pockets now, and you can carry it anywhere you go. With such distractions, it’s very hard for people to pick up something as unassuming as a board game,” he adds.

In Dawson’s opinion, board games build camaraderie – hilarious moments and laughter are all part and parcel of the experience.

“The human touch in entertainment is still very real and quite necessary for people,” he says. “Life is more than Whatsapp (a mobile messaging application),” he concludes.

Boardgame Depot
16A, Lorong Ara Kiri 3, Lucky Garden, 59100 Bangsar, KL.
Tel: (03) 2094 1692
Opening hours: 12pm to 1am (Tues – Sun). Closed on Mondays.
Find Boardgame Depot on Facebook

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