Pandemic, Gloomhaven, other collaborative board games drawing players

While the popularity of video games is undeniable, the appeal of tabletop games remains strong, thanks in part to their in-person social aspects and a shift towards more complex games that emphasize collaboration rather than competition.

Two east Bloomington locations offer a variety of board games not only to buy or borrow, but also a space to play in, as well as tips.

Old standbys such as Monopoly, sorry! and Chutes & Ladders, while still played, gave way to games such as Initiative, Dungeons & Dragons, and Dollars to Donuts. Tabletop games, playing board-type games on a table, are only slightly less popular than video games (especially those played on PC and consoles). The main difference is; you are not playing alone.

Actor Wil Wheaton may be at least partially responsible for the current abundance of tabletop games in the world. The former “Star Trek: The Next Generation” regular hosted and co-developed “Tabletop,” a YouTube series about board games. He has also narrated audiobooks, such as Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One,” a New York Times bestseller about a global virtual reality game.

According to University of Pittsburgh Assistant Professor of English Zachary Horton in “Pittwire,” recreational tabletop games, in particular, have been on the rise. One of the reasons is that these games are cooperative. While players must rely on strategy, like in chess, these complex games require people to play and make decisions together – playing to beat the game, not each other.

For example, in Initiative, players solve a puzzle by looking for clues. They decide, as a group, when enough information has been gathered to solve the puzzle.

The game reserve

The Game Preserve has been in Bloomington for three decades and last year moved to College Mall. It offers free play, except when a tournament is scheduled.

Bruce Colston, Director of Operations, is so committed to tabletop games that he lends his own personal games for events. Recently, he took parts of his extensive library on the road to help people play at Function Brewing, Monroe County Public Library, Hopscotch Coffee, and Cup & Kettle Teahouse.

Game Preserve store manager Auston Schrougham, left, poses with operations manager Bruce Colston.

“My stepson actually gave up video games for board games,” Colston said. “And my grandson is still talking about something that happened while we were playing a board game three years ago!”

Brad McMullen, Senior Sales Associate, agreed, “Board games create the best experiences.”

On Thursday nights, Colston hosts a free board game night at the Game Preserve from 6 to 9 p.m., usually attracting 20 to 30 people. Come in, bring a game if you like, or play from Game Preserve’s game library. The staff will help you if you need help.

A store favorite is always the easy-to-learn pandemic. Even more popular is the more complicated version of this cooperative board game, Pandemic Legacy.

Pandemic is easy to learn and a favorite of The Game Preserve store.  The more complicated version of the cooperative board game, Pandemic Legacy, is even more popular.

Manager Auston Schrougham welcomes players to the store anytime to browse, buy or play. He had hoped to set up a snack-café-beer station by now, but the pandemic has caused delays. It comes though.

Game Preserve is at 2894 E. Third St. Suite 108, a short walk south of Fresh Thyme Market; 812-332-6602; [email protected] All are welcome, and it’s free. Bring your own game or borrow one of theirs.

The common room

About half a mile to the north is The Common Room, owned by Phil Eskew III. This tabletop gaming and retail space opened in 2014. It’s $5 per person per day to play, or $25 per year.

Owner and manager Phil Eskew III stands in the common room.

“I don’t want to play Monopoly anymore and Sorry!” Eskew said. He noted how effective board games have become in bringing people together and reducing competition among players.

“Since 2010, it’s been the golden age of gaming.”

Places such as the Game Preserve and the Eskew Common Room, he said, create “third spaces.” This socio-cultural term designates common spaces, different from home (our first space) or work (our second).

He mentioned the online site. It’s a way for board gamers to access a database of reviews, images, and videos for over 125,600 tabletop games, including European-style games, card games, and war games.

The common room is at 223 S. Pete Ellis Drive, Suite 23; 812-333-4263; Walk-ins are welcome, $5 per person per day to play.

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