Cheers, beers and boardgames

Lovers of board games, card games and craft beer who live in the Denver area are in great company. A social meet-up group called Denver Boardgame Night meets weekly to explore these passions at various breweries throughout the metro area and the turnout is something that must be experienced to truly appreciate. Having gone myself, it is easy to understand why.

Denver Boardgame Night celebrated its four-year anniversary on Jan. 21 at Beryl’s Beer Co. in Denver. They have met every Wednesday since the group began, even on holidays.

I met with organizer, Adrian Richardson, and longtime player Zach McAnally at Fiction Beer Co. on Jan. 25. More than 50 people played board games and drank beer. The group dominated nearly every table in the house.

Beer and board games is a near-perfect combination for a Wednesday night social event. Denver is well known for its craft breweries and artisan beer-making. Board games have experienced a resurgence in popularity over the past several years and are now bigger than ever. A mid-week break from the demands of work or school is a terrific way to get over the hump.

“I think that is one of the reasons why it’s lasted so long,” McAnally said, who has been a regular for most of the group’s four-year run and originally joined to make new friends when he moved to Denver. He has missed only one Wednesday since he discovered the group on the r/Denver subreddit.

The group is tremendously popular with both the players and the local breweries. They have seen steady growth in regular participation since its one-year anniversary. “We went from having the challenge of finding places that would be willing to have our group,” Richardson said. “Now, we’re trying to find places that can accommodate our group.”

It’s a great problem to have, but during the first year, the situation was a bit dicier.

“There were times when I thought about dropping it that first year, or cutting back to once a month, but we weathered the storm,” Richardson said. “We did our first-year anniversary and it’s been nothing but growth ever since. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t meet four or five new people.”

McAnally agreed. “One thing that’s nice is that a lot of us have become friends outside of the group because of this,” he said.

Friendships are great, but groups dominated by a strong core of friends are often intimidating for new players. Denver Boardgame Night recognized this danger early on and took steps to make the group more welcoming to curious newcomers.

“One of the biggest transitions we made, right around that first-year mark, was to make a very conscious effort to be less cliquey,” Richardson said. “We made the transition from longer, heavier games to shorter, more social games.”

This strategy helped expand the group’s repertoire. Like many dedicated players, the group has members who enjoy longer, strategic games that require more of a time commitment to learn and play well. Being part of a group that focuses on shorter, more social games has helped these players network and meet others who enjoy the heavier games, outside of the group.

“We’re always trying to introduce new games to people,” Richardson said. “My collection of games is about 60 now, and Zach – you’re over 100, right?”

“I’m at about 150 now,” McAnally said.

The crowd at Fiction Brewing Co. is near-capacity. Players of all ages are represented at the tables and there is a nice mix of participants who eat from the food truck, parked just outside the door. The bartenders are busy filling drink orders. A quick glance at the players reveals a very diverse group.

“We’ve got LGBT members, people of various races and ages,” Richardson said. “We are very inclusive.”

Another longtime player, Jeff Jackson, was eager to play a new “abstract game” called Santorini, which just came out Jan. 25.

Jackson explained that abstract board games are a type of game with no randomness. A good example is Chess, where two players who represent generals, direct their armies to capture or eliminate the other player’s “king.” The theme is largely irrelevant to the game play itself and can be enjoyed – even competitively – without referring to its battlefield theme.

Richardson and McAnally were excited to play a round of Santorini and invited me to join in on the fun. Jackson quickly explained the rules as we divided into teams. Two turns in, I was sold. The game moves quickly and felt very intuitive. “A moment to learn and a lifetime to master,” Jackson said. A big part of the fun is the team aspect, which allowed one of us to set up the other to potentially make a winning move on our next turn. I understood immediately how Santorini plays compared with chess, but the social aspect of team-based play added a whole new dimension.

Fortunately, the three were good sports, taking care to explain how each turn moved the game forward for my team, or blocked the other team from winning on their next move.

It turns out that this type of analysis comes naturally to the trio for a good reason: They are co-host on a weekly podcast they’ve created called “Mile High Game Guys,” which they started in June 2016. Jackson is particularly passionate about a segment he calls “The Bloody Minute,” which focuses on a game called “Blood Bowl” – a game he describes as “fantasy fantasy-football or Lord of the Rings Rugby.” They are particularly proud of their fast turnaround time for each episode. They record on Mondays, edit on Tuesdays and release each Wednesday. This allows them to cover some of the more ephemeral aspects of the board gaming hobby, such as Kickstarter news about new games and projects, while it’s still possible for listeners to explore and “back” them.

Denver enthusiasts of board games and lovers of great-tasting beer are always welcome to join in on the fun, meet others who share their passion and enjoy a mid-week break from the daily grind. The group is dedicated to sharing their hobby with both new and veteran players alike and with multiple tables running a wide variety of games each week, there has never been a better time to jump in and play something new.

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