Illustrations: Joel Burden (@joelburden)
The Board Game Guy – AKA Luke Jackson – is on a quest to remind us that games used to be fun, social activities, not just something to be enjoyed in solitude on a tiny screen during our daily commute. Jackson’s pop-up cafe regularly tours some of your favourite haunts in Leeds, reminding you of the visceral joy of board games from Jenga to Risk and everything in between. For issue ten, the Board Game Guy gave us a unique insight into his life as a master of gaming ceremonies.
Luke Jackson (@theboardgameguy)
The crash of a tumbling Jenga tower is followed by an instance of stunned silence then shrieks of laughter. The culprit stands aghast at the carnage he has just set in motion as his friends whoop and cheer and generally make jokes at his expense. I’m sat in the restaurant area at The Tetley where I host a pop up board game café once a month. I bring along a mix of board games from my ever expanding collection – which might include classics like Scrabble and Guess Who or some newer games, titles such as Pandemic or Ticket to Ride that are leading the board game renaissance across the country – for enthusiastic folk to enjoy whilst they fill up on cakes, coffees and the odd beer.
As usual there’s a real mix of people in attendance. Beyond the Jenga Friends I can see a mum and two children stacking miniature wooden animals one on top of another, a young couple shuffling colourful plastic cubes around a map as they work together fighting to save the world from a series of deadly viruses, and a mixed group of four playing the family classic Buckaroo. A posse of Cards Against Humanity players will soon join the fray. And this is but one event in the patchwork of board game happenings that takes place across Leeds on almost a daily basis. No longer are board games solely the domain of your stereotypical introvert who gets a kick out of painting a miniature goblin.
Undoubtedly, board games have seen an increase in popularity in recent times. Just as vinyl records, instant cameras and Nokia 3310s are all seeing mainstream appeal for a second time, it is easy to conclude how board games too could fit into this retro revival. In response to the endless digital information overload we experience through social media, smartphones and on-demand TV, people are shunning technology in favour of more tactile experiences. Forgetting about the iPhone for an hour or two for any reason is unquestionably refreshing, and board games are, for me at least, one of the best ways to do it.
The retro trend in the context of board games appeals because of the nostalgia element of sitting down to a game of Mouse Trap or Cluedo – it takes you straight back to your childhood. And while an afternoon of nostalgia games would be fun for a few hours, it might not hold your interest for much longer. This is where board games, and board game clubs, come into their own. Because the big secret that the board game community has been keeping is that modern games (and a few older ones) are actually really good. People are coming back to board games for the nostalgia, they are staying because of the myriad of amazing games that are out there to try.
The rise of crowdfunding platforms means that anybody with an idea can now pitch their board game and, if it’s a good one, it will be backed. A global market that allows concepts to raise six-figure funding in just a few hours means quality new games are being produced at an unprecedented rate. And they look incredible too. The comical retro cyclists depicted on the Tour-De-France-inspired Flamme Rouge, the bleak steampunk alternate-1920s reality that Scythe inhabits, and the stunningly colourful translucent dice used to construct stained-glass windows in Sagrada.
And these are being played all across the city. You’ll find card games like Sushi Go! or Dobble in cafés and bars like Sheaf St Cafeteria and Outlaws Yacht Club, people playing retro classics and discovering new favourites at pop up events like ours, and the latest strategy games being played by enthusiastic hobbyists like those at Travelling Man or Headingley Games Club. Further afield, dedicated board game cafes are popping up across the country and, with its thriving board game scene, one day Leeds will have its own too.
Back at The Tetley, the commotion settles back into line with the gentle hum of casual conversation, and as I observe the Jenga tower’s painstaking reconstruction, I reflect that its demise just a few seconds earlier encapsulated why I think board games are great: they represent a common activity that brings people together, talking and laughing with one another. The big strength of board games is that you are sat around a table of people; the game is just a vehicle for social interaction. You are not communicating through screens or instant messages, but face-to-face, spending quality time with people in an age where nobody seems to have any time at all.
Find out when the next Board Game Guy event is over in our What’s On section.