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Are Board Games Making a Comeback?

Are Board Games Making a Comeback?
Monopoly is old hat; Parcheesi is boring. The new generation of board games features debates, co-operative planning and decision-making and are as interesting to parents as to their children.

Monopoly is old hat; Parcheesi is boring. Such board games as Ticket To Ride, Pandemic, Apples to Apples and St. Petersburg, among the new generation of board games, feature debates, co-operative planning, conflict resolution and decision-making and are as interesting to parents as to their children.

Guest: Clifford Robbins, owner, Game Empire, 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ALISON ST. JOHN: You're back on These Days with me of course Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. So okay, you've got family, maybe, coming in for the holidays sore perhaps you're going to visit friends and sometimes when you're done catching up on the latest gossip, the best way to get along is to play a game. Believe it or not, board games are having a resurgence, and there are numerous new ones that you might not never have heard of. [[[[CHECK]]]] so our guest in studio over this segment is Clifford Robbins who is the owner of Game Empire in Clairemont Mesa. Clifford, thanks so much for coming.


ROBBINS: Hi. How are you?

ALISON ST. JOHN: So you started selling games a long time ago, right? And things have really changed since then. [CHECK].

ROBBINS: Well, I started at Kobe's Swap Meet. And what I did was I went around and started [CHECK] and putting them together to make complete sets and then selling them at discount to customers of I also sold retail games at the swap meet for about two years. After that, I was able to build enough of a business plan to actually open my shop, and I've been doing that for over 16 years.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Now, apparently, according to you, there's a resurgence in board games. What evidence do you have for that.

ROBBINS: Well, what's happened is, there's a lot of interaction that goes on with family act test and board games.



ROBBINS: And it's becoming more and more popular, because it's harder to get more of a social interaction with the family at home with the modern Internet and all of that.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Computer games [CHECK].

ROBBINS: Where you learn a lot of skill sets. So what's happened is is a large number of companies started in Germany started making social board games for people to play in communities, and some American companies got together and they bought the licenses and started importing over in the United States over the last 6 or 7 years, and they have been developing very, very well. There's been quite a large following of -- there's a particular game that started this called Settlers of Catan. And that has done super well in bringing families together. And it's very positive response.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So has your volume of sales gone up in the last few years.

ROBBINS: Absolutely. Of board games initially for us were about -- about ten or -- percent of our business. And it's grownup to about 30 to 40 percent. It's doing outstanding.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Huh. Okay. So now, what would you say about board games compared to video games? What are the skills that people are using, you know, and what are the differences between the two?

ROBBINS: Well, the best way to describe it is we work with the YMCA camp, it's a children's camp, and they come over [CHECK] to our facility, and we teach them board games. And the reason the YMCA encourages this and runs this with us is because it teaches children conflict resolution in a peaceful manner, it also teaches how to be good winners and good losers. And the way that works is the kids come in, we sit down, we play with them, we teach them all the different game mechanics. And then they learn that it's okay to lose sometimes as long as, you know, and they learn from the loss, and then they play again and get better. And the most important thing to realize is that when you play with other people, it's to have fun. And winning and losing is important as part of a game, it always is.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Part of the American culture in a way.

ROBBINS: Exactly. And something that's very interesting about that is American games usually have absolute winners and absolute losers.


ROBBINS: The European model that is new moving in, that is becoming stronger in the U.S. for game play is either co-op game, which means all [CHECK] to defeat the game, or it's very easy to be second place in the European games, it's hard to be the first place winner, but there's always a chance that anyone could be a first place winner by the end of the game. So it's always very close in the end [CHECK] you kind of know who's gonna win and who's gonna lose at that point. In the European games, the final decision isn't resolved until the last 15 minutes of the game.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I mean, presumably, by the time you're sell them, it doesn't matter if they're European games or not, right? They're not? German or anything.

ROBBINS: No, no, they're all in English. [CHECK].

ALISON ST. JOHN: And just to talk a lot bit more about what you were describing, but how it helps develop skills in kids, you know, why are they better than -- do you have something against video games.

ROBBINS: No, I actually -- I enjoy playing video games myself. The problem with video games is they are very single player oriented. They don't stimulate interaction between the players as far as discussion and talk of subject. The competition is usually action reflex based, not intellectually stimulating. And board games do the opposite. They will stimulate you to read, reading application, reading comprehension, you will be in a competitive environment with another person. You believe socialize with them as you do so sitting at a table, sitting with a family. You have a much larger interaction between players as far as age and social strata. We have at our facility we have a game room where people come in and play, and we have anyone from fry cooks sitting with CEOs of multinational corporations playing at the same [CHECK].

ALISON ST. JOHN: Ordinary care great.

ROBBINS: And they cross the age [CHECK] in that environment, and it's really fun to watch that happen.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And in this day and age, we all have such interesting families, don't we? I mean, sometimes there are families which are not the traditional family at all. And I can imagine a board game, I know our producer was just saying it's a wonderful way to get to know different parts of his family.

ROBBINS: Oh, absolutely. And you learn quite a bit about people when you play board games with them.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So let's get down to some specifics, and by the way, if you're listening and you've got a board game you would like to [CHECK] here in Clairemont Mesa. You're talking about some games from Europe, can you give us some examples of ones that are being pretty successful.

ROBBINS: Well, the first one that I mentioned was Settlers of Catan.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Settlers --

ROBBINS: Of catan. Each player plays a group of settlers on an island, and they are attempting to -- [CHECK] the interesting thing about that game is there's a lot of trade interaction, each player decides to basically develop a different type of industry, either sheep or they make bricks or they grow wheat or they get lumber. And the players have to trade with each other, because no single player can develop all the resources. So the players have to learn Bartering and play trading with each other, to allow them to build their settlement as they're playing. And the goal of the game is to be the most successful trader on the table [CHECK] so there's a lot of interaction, a lot of fun of that's one of my favorite games.

ALISON ST. JOHN: I mean, it has something in common with monopoly, right?

ROBBINS: A little bit. In monopoly, you obtain properties and then you charge rents and things like that. And attempt to bankrupt the opposing players.

ALISON ST. JOHN: That's right.

ROBBINS: In Settlers of Catan, you actually trade resources so that both places can develop. But you're just trying to develop a little bit better than they do. So when you reach, you know, most Settlers of Catan games end with most players around eight points and the winner has 9 or 10 and clicks off thea ten and wins.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So for someone who's highly competitive, that one may be -- you know, there's different aspects to games. This one is more using your cooperate -- your negotiating skills, isn't it?

ROBBINS: [CHECK] another one I like is called Carcassone. Plays in less than 30 minutes. The premise of the game is there's a large stack of puzzle pieces in front of the players, each player, actually. [CHECK] and they can fit it into the puzzle any way they want the piece to fit, because they're rectangles,ing and what they're doing is they're building a kingdom. And as they build the kingdom, they score nobility points. Each player is basically a lord or a lady building this medieval kingdom. You can place the piece to make your nobility better. Or you can make it more difficult for the other play ares to get more nobility. When the entire puzzle is finished, you have an entire picture of the [CHECK] becomes king or known of the kingdom. And you can play that with a five-year-old. And it's very exciting, you know, for parents to play these games with their children because it's interactive, and it's something that they can do together, which we really encourage.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And the name of that one is?

ROBBINS: Carcassone.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And so what kind of age of kids? You say a five-year-old can play it.

ROBBINS: Yeah, I'm very much into games myself. I started teaching my son at four. But about a five-year-old with parent super vision can play no problem of it's a very easy came for them to play.

ALISON ST. JOHN: 1-888-895-5727 is the number to join us. And we have Russ from Clairemont on the line with us. Russ, thanks for calling.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, thanks for taking my call. [CHECK] I had a comment I wanted to say, and this might be something that some of the listeners may be able to apply and bring a little more interesting differences into some of the games that they play. And that is to, using your imagination, come up with some different ideas to modify a game and kind of morph it into something that would be perhaps a little less mundane than the same old game over and over.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Do you have any examples to give us, Russ?

NEW SPEAKER: Sure, well, I have one right off the bat. I used to have a group of people that we would get together with regularly, and some of the listeners may know of a game called axis and alleys. Axis and allies is a board game that's based on world war two, where the Americans and the British and the French resistance and so forth are fighting against the Germans and the Italians and all of that. Well, what we would do is rather than have the usual same outcome in the same territory countries on the board game map, we would apply the same rules of that game whereby you'd have an economic system that allowed you to purchase tanks and airplanes and things like that to try to defeat your enemy.


NEW SPEAKER: But instead of being the same countries versus the other countries, we would simply apply the rules that they used and take a whole different territory spot.

ALISON ST. JOHN: How interesting, yes.

NEW SPEAKER: And it provided different dynamics because not every game was always the same. Not every game had the U.S. shipping boats across the Atlantic. Sometimes you would have the power house countries, you know, coming out of, say, South Africa.

ALISON ST. JOHN: That's a really -- that's a very creative suggestion, Russ. Clifford are you familiar with that game.

ROBBINS: Yeah, the game is based on a risk style game where you control different forces to basically simulate World War II. I think what our listener is attempting to clearly state to everybody is that any game you have, you can use your imagination to modify to make more interactive. Even a simple game like monopoly, don't be limited by the rules that are fixed by the game set. And I believe that's what he's trying to tell you is that you can take even old games that you may have and make them more exciting and more dynamic for you and your other players.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Well, I can imagination you get some good discussions going over the rules. I mean, some families are sticklers for the rules.

ROBBINS: Absolutely. Oh, my gosh, that's the truth.

ALISON ST. JOHN: And some are probably willing to create new ones, and stay by the rules that you've created.

ROBBINS: That [CHECK] and others go, hey, let's change this, let's change that. And I always suggest that you play the box out of the rules first.


ROBBINS: For a wheel, and then and there you start modifying them afterwards.

ALISON ST. JOHN: We have a call now from John in Encinitas. John, thanks for calling, what's your suggestion?


NEW SPEAKER: Thanks for taking my call. The game I want to ask your game if he's familiar with is much more simplistic, it's a game called quarto.

ROBBINS: Oh, I love that game. That's a great game.

NEW SPEAKER: I don't know if you'd like me to describe it or --

ROBBINS: Let me give it a pitch because that's kind of what I do. The way quarto works, you have a number of different shapes, objects, [CHECK] also shaped as rectangles and cylinders, and they also have different heights, they are short and tall, in addition, some have holes drilled into them, some do not. Of the object of the game is that a four by four board that has basically like a ticktacktoe board but it's four by four. And what you'll do is you'll pick up a piece and hand the piece to your opponent, they will fake the piece and place it on the game board. The oct of the game is to get four items in a row that have something in common. So the trick is to if pick up pieces and give them to your opponent that have nothing in common so they can't win the game. [CHECK] so you pick up a piece, hand it to the person, they place it on the game board, and your goal is to be able to pick a piece that cannot allow them to win the game, because you have to hand it to them.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So it's sort of like rummy except that you can see the other person's hand.

ROBBINS: Exactly. And so you've gotta pick pieces to disrupt their play. It's very, very easy. And it's an excellent game.

ALISON ST. JOHN: John, thanks so much for the suggestion. Anything you wanted to add about that game.

NEW SPEAKER: No, I was just such a big fan that all these games about World War II, and kings and queens, and the hyper simplicity of this game. [CHECK].

ROBBINS: It is an excellent game for patients to play with their children. So the parents will not get bored. The biggest drawback we've seen is parents don't play with their kids because they don't want to sit down and be stuck in a candy land game and become bored. [CHECK] and other family members and keep an entertainment value. So when the child or the other family member says, hey, I want to play a game, they're more excited about it. They're more prone to go play than come up with an excuse going, no, I gotta go do this, I gotta do that. [CHECK].

ALISON ST. JOHN: Can you give us another example of one of these co-op games.

ROBBINS: Well, there's a different between a co-op game and an age building game. I'll give check check and the premise of the game, it is another ticktacktoe style game, you're trying to get four items in a row, like in ticktacktoe, you're trying to get the three Xs in a row. The interesting thing about this game is, and the interesting thing [CHECK] on your turn you can place your stack of cylinders on the game board,er you can take one of why your large are cylinders and cover one of the opposing players' smaller cylinders. The fun thing about this game is, once you touch a piece, you must move it. So if you forget that your opponent's cylinder is underneath one of yours on the game board, and you suddenly go to lift it and [CHECK] you lose.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So you have to have quite a bit of retention.

ROBBINS: Exactly. And the goal of those style games is you want to cater to the strength of the younger players which tends to be memory and shape recognition.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Oh, yes, that's so true. [CHECK].

ROBBINS: Oh, my wife goes crazy because my six-year-old beats her continually at that game. Upon but it's fun because they will play it repeatedly because it's fun and neither gets bored at it.

ALISON ST. JOHN: You called it age building.

ROBBINS: It's an age building -- as far as a generational gap, jumping between the two ages. [CHECK] and they try and defeat the game and the game is trying to beat them. So far either everybody wins or everybody loses. Of and the poverty example of a co-op game is called pandemic. Of the premise of the game, and there's basically a plague spreading across the world and it's going to kill everybody. All of the mayers play specialists in field, other doctors or technicians or scientists or whatever. And they have to work together to stop the plague, either quarantining certain areas, working on cures, working on vaccines, everything and that goes along with the game. It's a very quick paced game. And either all the players save the world or they all die.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So there is no one winner.

ROBBINS: There is no one winner. It's the players versus the games. [CHECK].

ALISON ST. JOHN: Initial the motivation it to work together.


ALISON ST. JOHN: Otherwise you lose.

ROBBINS: That's right.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Interesting. Now you also have something called debate games. What are those.

ROBBINS: Okay, the way a debate game works is it's basically how to have organized arguments while scoring points kind of like a debate team. And they're actually very fun. One is called apples to apples. [CHECK] adjective such as shocking. Each player is given seven cards, the seven cards are effectively nouns, different things. When the green card is played up, it says shocking, each player looks at the seven cards in their hand, and they pick up who they believe of the seven cards is the most shocking card in their hand, it could be my first kiss or getting struck by lightning, or I number of different things, and they place it in the middle of the play, one player plays the judge, they scoop up the selection by the other players, they pick out what they think is the most shocking card. And they said, I think my 50 kiss is the most shocking thing. Then each player gets 15 seconds to try and change the mind of the judge by explaining why their card is more shocking than the one the judge selected. Once that time is done, the judge makes the final decision, picks the most shocking card or whatever is for that one, and then scores the point to the person that submitted that card, and they are the judge for the next round. And then you play for a number of points of the game is very fast, and very exciting.

ALISON ST. JOHN: So if you're a family that loves to talk and argue and push me, pull you, that could be a perfect way of doing it in a safe environment where, you know --

ROBBINS: Oh, it is.

ALISON ST. JOHN: It's permission to go ahead and convince everybody of your way of seeing things, yeah. Are there some games in your store that just sort of fly off the shelves like this time of year, that are good for families who are coming together this time of year.

ROBBINS: There is. There's this one game called banana grams. It is a Scrabble based games. If you've ever played Scrabble, [CHECK]. . That is placed in front of all the players, each player draws a small selection of the letters, and then you begin the game by saying split. When you say that, they flip the tiles up so that they can see what tiles were drawn from the middle of the letter pool. [CHECK] then each player quickly attempts to building their own cross word as fast as they can, using the letters that they have. If they use all the letters in their possession, they can say peel. When they do that, they draw an additional letter from the pool, and all the other players must draw an additional letter from the 3508.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Uh-huh. So this is different from Scrabble. Of obviously a close relative to Scrabble.

ROBBINS: Right, it is. But it's definitely different. And the exciting thing is, if you have a letter that you can't fit into your crossword, you say dump, you throw it into the letter pool and you have to draw three replacement tiles as a penalty. You can rearrange your cross word at any time, but you cannot force peels or dumps until you have used everything in your pool. At the end of the game, when there's less tiles in the pool than [CHECK].

ALISON ST. JOHN: So if you're someone who loves Scrabble, but maybe you've played it to the end of its life, this would be another way, another variation on this idea of creating words out of letters.

ROBBINS: Oh, absolutely. And it's a lot of fun, and it's a really good 2 to 5 player.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Good. And what's your favorite game? What do you like to play?

ROBBINS: Oh, my gosh. I -- I actually play, we sell a lot of things like including board games, roleplaying games, strategy games, I play a lot of games like that. One of the games I like is called space alert. And basically, you're the crew of a starship, and you're trying to go through space, and there's all sorts of adventures that happen to you guys as you play. And it is a board game, and you either defeat the adventures or your spaceship gets blown up. And that one's fun too.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay. Clifford Robbins issue your definitely putting some ideas into my head, and maybe some of our listeners are thinking, well, maybe this might be worth exploring. [CHECK].

ROBBINS: Oh, absolutely. Board games are definitely strong family buildings [CHECK].

ALISON ST. JOHN: We have this particular challenge in our family? What's a good game?

ROBBINS: Oh, my gosh. Every day. We have people coming in, we have this type of person and this type of person, and how -- we need a game that all of us work in. Of and that's what we specialize in. We specialize in fitting a game for your family.

ALISON ST. JOHN: Yeah, interesting, it's a whole new aspect on games that I had never thought of. So thank you so much for coming in. That's Clifford Robbins, owner of game empire in Clairemont Mesa. So have fun in the holidays and thanks so much for listening to These Days. I'm Alison St. John, in for Maureen Cavanaugh.