First, there was Pandemic and then there was THE PANDEMIC. Pandemic is a board game where players cooperate to solve a global health crisis. THE PANDEMIC is, well, an actual global health crisis that could probably use some more cooperation among world leaders.
(Maybe the U.N. should host a game night?) COVID-19 lockdowns have created new interest in intricate games, like Pandemic, that require creativity and concentration. The surfeit of Zoom calls and pallid digital substitutes for actual interaction has given rise to small pods of quarantine buddies who gather for an old-fashioned activity, made new again by next-gen board games and returns to classic cards and dice. People are seeking out the best games to play in quarantine. The board game renaissance hit Utah a while ago, appealing to our nerdy, clean-cut side, but the forced and self-imposed lockdowns that have emptied out bars, shut down concerts and festivals left a vacuum of answers to the eternal question, “what do you want to do tonight?” easily filled by games. And, in an uncomfortable world, full of uncertainty and unknowns, huddling around a game that presents problems that can be solved and overcome, is soothing and grounding. Call it game therapy, a positive way to pass time and forget about the world beyond the edges of the game board. Welcome to the Pandemic Parlor, a safe and tidy place where you can fix everything with just one dice roll, card draw, or for you Settlers of Catan, a fresh supply of wool.
First One’s Free Kid: A Guide to Gateway Games We asked Game Night Games’ Manager Derek McNab to dip into his savant-level knowledge to share with us the best games to play in quarantine, including of course Pandemic. And while, yes, you can buy these on online platforms we encourage you to buy direct from Game Night Games, which has a really swell no-contact ordering system in place.
- Getting Started: Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Azul, Codenames, Pandemic, Small World Carcassonne
- Getting Serious: Seven Wonders, Wingspan, Pandemic Legacy, Exit
- Games Good for Two: Carcassonne, Azul, Century: Spice Road, Pandemic, Lost Cities, Star Realms, Dominion
- Games for Small Pandemic Pods: Wits and Wagers Codenames, Monikers, Telestrations, Exploding Kittens
Old is New: The Return of Club Games While the new era of board games are surely not “your grandmother’s games,” there are plenty of games that are assuredly your grandparents’ games. All easy to learn but difficult to master, the clubhouse games can also be the best games to play in quarantine, the same ones that passed time for the Greatest Generation around the club pool or at the table at the family cabin are back.
- Cribbage: Ideal for two players, but playable by four, cribbage is a complex of card combinations scored on its signature board with wooden pegs. Perfect for: Couples who have run out of things to watch on Netflix and things to say to each other.
- Backgammon: One of the oldest board games, backgammon is a fast and easy game to learn, lending itself to an evening of head-to-head competition. Perfect for: Competitive couples who like to fight.
- Yahtzee: A dice game of probability and some strategy, players score different combinations of dice rolls and hope for the elusive Yahtzee! (always shouted) the perfect roll of five matching numbers. Perfect for: COVID pods who like to drink and just can’t handle all the math in Cribbage.
- Gin Rummy: A more complicated variation of Rummy, that adds more strategy and thought. Also betting. Perfect for: COVID buddies who like neat and tidy sets and runs and a way to gamble that isn’t mean like poker.
- Pinochle: A game for up to four players, the object is to win points on various combos of cards on the table. Perfect for: People who are afraid of Bridge.
- Bridge: A partnering game played by four, in two teams, that requires team tactics, poker-faced communication, long-game strategy. Perfect for: Telepaths and those perfect couples who can complete each other’s sentences.
GAMER PROFILE: The Age of the Introvert Alex Blackburn and Amanda Jones
Games They Love: 7 wonders, Root, Caverna, Settlers of Catan, Love Letter, Sushi Go!
Alex Blackburn and Amanda Jones are 24-year-old creatures of their time who have easily adapted to lockdown life. This is a young couple who shrugs when asked “how you holding up?” They’ve always preferred small groups to giant raging parties, a night in over a night out. We have arrived at the Age of the Introvert. “We’ve always been homebodies,” Amanda says. “We’d mostly rather stay in anyway. Social distance is fine with us.”
This is not to say that A&A are a pair of basement-dwelling trolls. Alex is a musician and a snowboarder and they both love climbing, slack-lining and camping. And, sure, they like a Red Butte show or an afternoon at the ballpark as much as anyone, they just don’t care as much that the crowded aspects of life have been diminished. However, Amanda says: “It gets really old to watch Netflix. Once you’ve watched every episode of The Office three times, it’s like what now?”
The duo has always loved games together and more and more they’ve been turning off the tube and settling into a regular pattern of friendly collaboration across a wide range of popular two-person, modern games.
“The games today aren’t like Risk where the object is to literally wipe your opponent off the map,” Alex says. “The games we play are more like safe spaces where we work together to analyze our moves and strategy, it’s more of a positive experience.”
Kind of gives you hope for the future right?
GAMER PROFILE: The Gamekeepers Tim Hall and Derrek McNab, owner and manager Game Night Games Games They Love: Cosmic Encounter, Gaia Project, Agricola, Love Letter
Tim Hall opened his store in 2004, out of sheer love of games and, puzzlingly, at a time when he honestly thought board games were on the way out. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, board games were on the ropes,” Hall says. “We kind of thought they were done with the popularity of video games.”
So, umm, opening a store devoted to board games was perhaps not the shrewdest business move. But Hall loves games, he calls them little boxes of “pure potential fun.” He figured if he built it, maybe, hopefully, people like him would come. And then something amazing happened. The Settlers of Catan invaded America.
“There were all these games coming out of Germany,” Hall says. “That game was a breath of fresh air. It was non-linear, not like the games we grew up with that are basically roll and move and essentially about luck. Catan is fun because of the number of interesting decisions you have.”
Catan and its descendants became loosely known as “Eurogames.” They took off, bringing Tim’s store along for the ride. Game Night Game’s manager, Derek McNab, cheekily calls them “Gateway Games” because once you play, you’re hooked.
“Modern games aren’t confrontational,” McNab says. “In classic board games, you take pieces, conqueror or steal land, bankrupt your opponents with hotels on Boardwalk. New games are friendlier, they’re more about blocking an opponent than crushing them.”
Basically losing doesn’t feel like losing, it feels like learning, McNab says, and because modern games offer non-linear paths to success, every game is different, changing and interesting.
The lockdown has forced Hall to shut down his popular eponymous in-store Game Nights for the foreseeable future but McNab says business is still brisk as the regular crowd feeds its game habit and newbies discover board games as a way to pass the time.
“We’re stuck inside, might as well have some fun,” he says.
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