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Your turn at the board

Gaming group at Festival 56 shows future may not be so digital

PRINCETON — Board games, as with many things these days, could justifiably be thought of as relics of the past, forgotten on a closet shelf while fiddling with a downloaded game on a phone. A group of local gamers has another idea though; they’ve started a popular board game group that’s highlighting the latest in game designs.

Meeting in the lobby of the Festival 56 building from 7 to 9:30 p.m. every Friday during which no theater performances are scheduled, the Princeton, Illinois Board Game Group has been attracting new players to their tables. The events are free and open to the public, and each of the 10 prior meetings has seen an average of about 15 people.

The three tables set up in the lobby each host a different game, although sometimes the groups are joined for one larger game. To begin the evening, an intro game is played to familiarize players with rules and game mechanics.

Co-founder Ron McCutchan said, “The strange thing is we’ve had different first-time players at each event. If we could get everyone to come on the same night, we’d have a very large group.”

Throughout the summer, McCutchan and fellow co-founders Jim Gassen and Brandon and Emily Stover had all been independently talking about starting a game group. McCutchan, head of Youth Services at the Princeton Public Library, had started one there as a way to help draw junior high students to the book club, but it was the board game events generating the most interest.

“We realized we were all interested in doing the same thing; so once we got the venue, we worked together to make it happen. We’ve had players from eighth-grade up to 80 years old,” Brandon said.

While there’s been talk of doing a retro-night with more classic board games, the group has been focused on introducing players to the new Euro-style or designer games which have become increasingly popular worldwide. Surprisingly, it’s been millennials, the most plugged in generation, who have been driving the success of this new style of game play.

“It’s been fun introducing people to games they’ve never experienced before. People hear ‘board games’ and think Monopoly or Parcheesi. It’s also been a great way to get more people to see the inside of the theater,” Gassen said.

While American-style games typically involve a lot of luck and conflict, Euro-games downplay luck and encourage more strategic play and are more likely to have economic themes. They’re also designed to keep all players in the game, as losing players are contrary to the social nature of game play.

Designed for international audiences, these games aren’t word based and usually don’t contain much text, other than the rules which strive to be simple and to help keep game play short. Symbols are often used, reducing the amount of translation needed between different editions. Play tends to minimize or even eliminate verbal communication as a game element. As long as players know the rules, they can play together, even if they don’t speak a common language.

The Internet hasn’t replaced board games; instead, it’s exposed players to new games and helped them connect with other local players. It’s also helped designers, whose names are often featured on the cover of the box, to help raise funds to develop their newest ideas.

Players are welcome to bring their own games and a nice selection of other board games are also on hand at each event. Families are welcome; snacks are provided; and the lobby bar is open for cash. For more information visit the group’s Facebook page. The Festival 56 Theater is located at 316 S. Main St. in Princeton.

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