Board games back in with Portsmouth gaming group

(l-r) Ed James and Hannah Lewthwaite play Age of Steam. Picture: Allan Hutchings (141874-374)
(l-r) Ed James and Hannah Lewthwaite play Age of Steam. Picture: Allan Hutchings (141874-374)
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Proverbs 16:31 says ‘we may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall’ – and many people have suddenly found faith while making that all-important roll to land on Mayfair in Monopoly or trying to bring home their last counter in a game of backgammon.

Since time immemorial (3500BC in fact with the Ancient Egyptian game, Senet)board games have been a staple source of entertainment – dusted off at Christmas and on rainy caravan holidays to provide an intergenerational focal point for family gatherings.

But following numerous argumentative games of Monopoly and rounds of Trivial Pursuit that alienated the grandkids, board games fell out of favour, relegated to dusty bookshelves and cobwebbed attics the world over.

But today, a new generation of board games have re-awoken the nation’s love affair with the sound of rolling dice and shuffling cards.

Gone are the stuffy themes and boring game mechanics of old. Modern games let you take part in Wild West shoot outs, explore outer space and watch dinosaurs rampage through cities.

Slick mechanics make the games accessible for all and modern game players are discovering a new and affordable way to spend time with friends and family.

These new developments have seen an explosion in gaming, with more than a 50 percent increase in sales across the industry in the past couple of years. Games have become socially acceptable once again and as a result gaming groups are booming.

Ed James is riding the wave of this new passion for gaming. As organiser of Portsmouth On Board – one of the city’s largest board gaming groups – he has seen a wide growth in the club’s membership.

He says: ‘I started POB in 2006 with two friends. The first meeting was about 12 people with three games going on and we started meeting once a month.

‘We changed how we organised events from Google Groups to Meetup.Com and there was a massive growth. We are seeing three to four people joining each month and we meet fortnightly now by popular demand.

‘Only a year ago I knew every POB member by name, but now we have more than 100 registered members and a few unregistered members too.

‘I was surprised by how quickly it grew, but the board games market has been expanding for about a decade now with more and more people discovering modern board games.’

Ed adds: ‘The first modern board game that I played was Settlers of Catan. I played it with friends about 12 years ago and that was the beginning of the hobby for me.

‘It was refreshing to play a game that was seemingly well balanced, kept everyone involved until the end and played in about an hour.

‘Many people have bad memories from games like Risk, Monopoly and Game of Life. Player elimination was a big problem with those, if your friends are still playing and you’re knocked out what are you going to do?

‘Monopoly can run for three to four hours and usually the last hour is just two people trying to bankrupt each other.

‘Modern games have evolved to be quick playing, approachable yet thoughtful games that can be learned and played within an evening while keeping all players competitive until the very end.’

Ed continues: ‘A normal night at POB typically sees us break into small groups to play a varied selection of modern board games. Members bring their own games and we collectively decide which games to play, making sure everyone is involved and it’s common for each group of players to complete two or three games in a single evening.

‘We try to make POB as friendly and approachable as possible. We are always on the lookout for people who turn up and don’t know what to do. I like to hang back, let the keen gamers get started and wait with reserve games for people who come later.’

The success of POB has also led to growth in the club’s yearly convention, POB Con which takes place today at the Portsmouth Guildhall.

‘POBCON is POB’s annual all-day games event. This year we are at the Guildhall from 10am until 10pm. There will be a library of games available for people to try and plenty of experienced POB members will be on hand to teach and play the games.

‘At POB Con you get to meet lots of new friends as people generally come from further away for a full day of games. This year we have people coming down from north Hampshire, Crawley, Sussex and Southampton.

‘People enjoy games because they provide a common ground for social interaction. Even if you are not the most extrovert person you can sit down with strangers and have common ground. You can have conversations with people you wouldn’t have met otherwise and playing games is a good way to get to know people because you get to see so much of their personality.’

One person who certainly agrees with this is Ed’s partner, POB assistant organiser Hannah Lethwaite.

‘Ed and I played games together before we started going out,’ says Hannah. ‘I got to know him a bit through playing games with him - it was a great way of getting to know him and finding out that we had a lot in common.

‘We have quite different tastes in games. I get along well with abstract games and pick them up quite quickly but Ed really loves epic four hour-long games.

‘If it’s an abstract game I usually win but in other games Ed normally beats me hands down!’

Ed can’t win all the time but he thinks it takes more than that to be a good gamer.

‘Prolific game designer Reiner Knizia once wrote: “The goal of the game is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning”. A good gamer will always compete as best they can to win the game, despite any misfortune, and be gracious in victory and defeat.

‘I never sit down at the table so focused on winning that I forget to have fun.’