By Rachael Bogert
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Staying in is the new going out.
The state of the economy seems to worsen daily, so more families are staying at home, trying to find ways to bond without blowing cash.
Enter the board game.
Since the economy began its dive, board game sales have been rising, according to marketing research from NPD Group Inc.
During bad economic times, board games and the family game night start to make a whole lot of sense as a way to entertain everybody on the cheap. In other words, when times are lean, we’re stuck with each other, so we might as well have some fun while we’re at it.
In the Wordelman household there are parents Mira and Gary and kids Danielle, 17; Michael, 15; David, 10; and Madelyn, 9. The family lives in Foresthill, Calif., where it’s chilly after the sun goes down. But on game night, there is a fire going and a broad, empty table in the dining nook. The room smells like the pecan pie and coffee that Mira is making, and if there’s any homework left, it can wait until later.
This is board-game country.
The entertainment tonight is Cranium, a game in which teams race to the center of the board by solving puzzles, answering trivia and performing variations on charades.
Game nights are typical in this house. With six people in the family, Mira says, they’ve always been “frugal even when things were good.”
Gary adds that it’s the best way for everyone in the family to do something together.
“Even if we do go to the movies, we have the teenagers and the little guys, and we usually end up splitting up,” he says. “This way, everyone is playing and everyone is having fun and laughing.”
Also, consider this: A brand-new Cranium set costs $24.99 on Amazon.com. If the Wordelmans played it only once, that’s a few dollars per person for at least an hour of entertainment.
The Wordelmans haven’t been too affected by the economy so far. Mira is the principal at St. Joseph School of Auburn, Calif., where Madelyn and David are students, and Gary is a network operations manager for SureWest Communications. With both jobs, it’s so far, so good.
Danielle, a Loretto High School senior, is sitting at the head of the table reading the rules. She’s thinking of studying in England and she’s also been accepted to New York University.
Michael, a freshman at Jesuit High School, will head off to college in a few years.
Even in a good economy, paying two tuitions can be a challenge.
Those thoughts seem far away though, at least for now. This is game night, and it’s boys against girls.
Catalyst for conversation
As is almost always the case with family game nights, more than just the game is being discussed.
For example, there is a tiny drama with Michael potentially going to Danielle’s senior prom as another girl’s date. Danielle isn’t too keen.
But she’s immediately distracted when the game requires that she perform something known as “Sculptorades.” This means she has to mold clay to represent the word from the card she drew.
Danielle fumbles the clay and the time runs out.
“It’s an atomic bomb, I was trying to make a mushroom cloud,” she says.
Her team doesn’t seem too disappointed; they’re all laughing too much.
Note that at this table the two teenagers are having just as much fun as their younger siblings.
“I could care less about the board game. It’s about sitting here with my family,” says Michael.
Danielle is all about games herself. She usually carries a deck of cards in her purse.
Out in Shingle Springs, Calif., the Spencer family is also big into board games.
Parents Michelle and Andrew and their two daughters, Mediae, 11; and Elizabeth, 9, live amid ranch land about an hour’s drive from downtown Sacramento, Calif. They don’t get cable or cell phone reception, so naturally, the Spencers have mastered the art of entertaining themselves.
When they play board games, they like to play with other families and friends.
For the Spencers, board games, cards and charades are ways to get everybody going and connecting. The fun, they say, is what comes from the players, not the game.
“It’s just a great time. We have friends in San Jose that we play board games with for entire weekends,” says Michelle. “I love seeing which games set people off and really get them competing.”
So far, Michelle is faring well in this economy. She’s the academy administrator for Visions in Education Charter School, which has seen an uptake in enrollment rather than a decline.
When the couple had kids, they decided that one parent would stay home.
Andrew is “Mr. Mom” and takes his role seriously. Elizabeth is still in her dance clothes. She and her sister take dance and piano lessons and are pretty busy kids.
It’s a welcome break for everyone to sit down and play a game together.
Michelle wants to play Blocks, a strategy game. But Elizabeth overrules that one. The family will be playing Whinny, another game by the makers of Cranium.
“See, on game night, picking games and playing, it creates arguments,” says Andrew. “But you know, fun arguments. We’re just mixing it up.”
Some family surprises
In Whinny, players anticipate the likes and dislikes of the other players and score points when their guesses turn out to be accurate.
Elizabeth goes first.
It turns out she likes “pumpkin carving” the most and as a surprise second, she likes “remote controls.” If she has the remote, she can pick the Disney Channel.
“So ‘remote controls’ represent power?” says Michelle. “This is why games are so much fun, it leads to interesting conversation threads where you just get onto other things.”
When it’s Andrew’s turn, you’d think Michelle would have an edge; they’ve been together for about 20 years.
“Hut, I’d have thought you liked checkers more than you liked soccer,” says Michelle.
But no, Andrew likes to run more than he likes to sit.
“Whoonu,” says Michelle.