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 meetup group called Denver game 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 game night celebrated its four-year anniversary on Jan. 21 at Beryl’s Beer Company 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 Company on Jan. 25. There were more than 50 people there to play board games and drink 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,” says McAnally, who has been a regular for most of the group’s 4-year run and originally joined to make new friends when he moved to Denver. He has only missed 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,” says Richardson. “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,” says Richardson. “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 agrees. “One thing that’s nice is that a lot of us have become friends outside of the group because of this,” he says.

Friendships are great, but groups dominated by a strong core of friends are often intimidating for new players. Denver game 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,” says Richardson. “We made the transition from longer, heavier games to shorter, more social games.”

This strategy has 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,” says Richardson. “My collection of games is about 60 now and Zach – you’re over 100, right?”

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

The crowd at Fiction Brewing Company is near-capacity. A wide range of players of all ages is 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 count of the players reveals a very diverse group.

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

Another long-time player, Jeff Jackson, is eager to play a new “abstract game” called Santorini, which just came out Jan. 25.

Jackson explains 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 are excited to play a round of Santorini and invite me to join in on the fun. Jackson quickly explains the rules as we divide into teams and start. Two turns in, and I am sold. The game moves quickly and feels very intuitive. “A moment to learn and a lifetime to master,” says Jackson. A big part of the fun is the team-aspect, which allows one of us to set up the other to potentially make a winning move on our next turn. I understand immediately how Santorini plays compared to Chess, but the social aspect of team-based play adds a whole new dimension.

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

It turns out, 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 a play something new.

From left, Steve Castner, Dan Woods, Nancy Bernudez and Karl Uschold play The Labrynth, a fun maze game with moving squares and pathways. Many follow the r/Denver Game Night, for upcoming events and access to the Reddit page where they post locations of meet-ups.

From left, Steve Castner, Dan Woods, Nancy Bernudez and Karl Uschold play The Labrynth, a fun maze game with moving squares and pathways. Many follow the r/Denver Game Night, for upcoming events and access to the Reddit page where they post locations of meet-ups.

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