In August 2011, James Carroll, Jared Wetsel, Kraig Deming, Josiah Hooten and Aaron Trent got together in Oklahoma City with a singular goal: set the Guinness Book of World Records’ high mark for consecutive hours playing a game. That fact alone probably wouldn’t surprise most people; everyone knows guys love playing video games. What some might find surprising is that these five friends weren’t playing a video game. They were playing a board game called Last Night On Earth: The Zombie Game.
Board games aren’t making a comeback; they’ve always been popular. But in an age where the term “gaming” is most readily associated with high-powered video game consoles, board games are actually gaining in popularity.
“The number one thing right now with the economy being not so good is that many times a board game will be a better value,” says Eddie Gist, owner of Tulsa’s Top Deck Games. “A family of four can get several weekends of entertainment for a relatively low price.”
According to Gist, the recent upswing in sales at his store can be attributed somewhat to a down economy, but it isn’t the sole reason.
“Video games are great, but they can be somewhat antisocial,” Gist says. “When you play a board game, you’re face to face. There’s a definite social aspect.”
The social aspect is a huge part of the appeal of board games, but many people have misconceptions about the types of people they’ll encounter when taking up the hobby. One of the goals of Jimmy Jarman, owner of Wizard’s Asylum in Tulsa, is to upend the stereotype.
“The people who come in the store aren’t what you’d typically call the geeks or nerds,” says Jarman. “We get a little bit of everybody. Most of our customers are smart, highly educated people. Many of our games involve a lot more thought than a simple game of Monopoly, although there’s definitely a place for games like that as well.”
Steven Wooley, co-owner and chief creative officer of The Covenant Store in Tulsa, agrees.
“You could probably call a lot of our customers closet nerds,” Wooley says. “They’re not really people you would consider nerdy or socially inept.”
Wooley, who opened The Covenant Store with four friends this past March, says the five of them were typical kids growing up. They were active in sports and other school activities, but they just happened to share a love for board games. Now that shared love has become their profession.
“We only sell games we feel passionate about,” Wooley says. “We want to carry the absolute cream of the crop.”
Wooley says The Covenant Store usually carries only eight or nine games at any particular time in order to ensure that all the employees understand each one well enough to answer any question a customer might have. It’s fairly common among the shops that specialize in face-to-face gaming that the majority of the employees will have a decent handle on the rules and vagaries of the games.
“It can be daunting sometimes, learning some of these games,” says Sam Balaban, manager at Little Shoppe of Games in Oklahoma City. “One might have a rule book a couple of pages thick, and another might be a hundred pages or more. We try to familiarize ourselves with them as much as possible.”
Balaban takes advantage of the store’s demonstration games to better learn new titles. And like most game specialty shops, Little Shop of Games has game nights most evenings to which the public is invited to play board games with like-minded people. In fact, it was Balaban’s store that hosted the five friends in their quest to set a world record.
“They got the record,” Balaban says proudly. “Fifty-three hours and 59 minutes.” One minute short of 54 hours. For face-to-face gamers, that one minute is the only excuse needed to get together and try it all over again.