Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=224681
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Candy Land

Sara Kupper/MEDILL

The dreaded Plumpy card from older Candy Land games. The card sends the player back almost to the very beginning of the game, a punishment removed from newer versions of the game.


In the app era, board games still reign in the fun

by Sara Kupper
Oct 10, 2013


Hasbro Classics

Sara Kupper/MEDILL

Candy Land, Trouble, Monopoly, and Sorry! are still available today and are owned by toy conglomerate Hasbro.

Chicagoland Games

Sara Kupper/MEDILL

At Chicagoland Games in Edgewater, board games aren't just entertainment. They're business.

The iPad and iPhone just can’t replace the shock of picking a card in Candy Land and receiving Plumpy the Troll. Oh, the horror of being so close to the finish, then sent all the way back to the beginning of the game board!

Parents and children of the pre-pad era doubtless recall hours spent playing Candy Land, Sorry!, Monopoly, Trouble and The Game of Life. These games—now owned by Rhode Island-based toy conglomerate Hasbro—still exist, though many have been reinvented in app form or include some sort of computerized component. 

Surprisingly, however, many Chicagoans still acclaim the action of the old-fashioned, cardboard-and-plastic board games.  

“This is the golden age of board games, without question,” said Alex Dunning.

 
Dunning owns Chicagoland Games in Edgewater, a store devoted to selling both adults’ and children’s games. “There are thousands of games coming in from Germany, coming from here in the States, and everybody is super into them.”

Some of the board games Chicagoland Games sells are simply children’s versions of popular adult board games: Catan Junior, for instance, is a kids’ edition of the popular The Settlers of Catan. Others, such as geography game “Ticket To Ride,” are also popular with adults at parties, according to Dunning.

Across town at Michigan Avenue’s Water Tower Place, business is also booming at Marbles: The Brain Store. Headquartered in Chicago, Marbles sells “brain games” intended to improve memory, coordination, word skills, critical thinking and visual perception.

“I think we’re seeing a return to board games. The popularity of the store in itself is a reflection of this,” said Jay, one of the “brain coaches” at the Water Tower Place location who declined to give his last name. 

Marbles has expanded over the past five years from a small experimental kiosk in Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall to a chain store with retail locations in nine states.

The Water Tower Place store’s most popular game is called Quoridor, which Jay described as “a 10-by-10-inch board where you get a pawn and 10 walls and you try to get the pawn across the board.” According to Marbles’ website, the game fosters problem-solving skills.

Marbles’ games range from decidedly low-tech wooden blocks to “some pretty fancy technology”—including a Bluetooth-operated ball called the “Sphero”—but board games are holding their ground. 

“A lot of the stuff here is manual—it gets people away from the computer screen,” Jay said.

Marbles has made a business out of touting its board games’ educational potential, though not necessarily in tthe classroom. 

“In my kindergarten classroom, we don’t use commercial board games,” said Barbara Bruno, a teacher at Central Elementary School in Wilmette. “There are some literacy and math games that children might play with a partner, and some involve a small board and taking turns after rolling the dice or drawing a card from the pile,” but the games are often teacher-created.

For Ann Retzinger, a first grade teacher at Central Elementary, classroom games are “something [teachers] make ourselves and [they] complement any unit we’re studying” including vocabulary, math and science concepts. 

To Dunning, though, board games offer an education in social skills that can’t be underestimated.

“The basic thing that a board game teaches any kid is the mechanics of how to take a turn. That is the real reason you can’t make a game for a two-year-old, but you can for a three-year-old—because they’re physically capable of waiting their turn and watching what somebody else does,” Dunning said.

“These games teach a lot of social mechanics, too; social interactions, putting up with different people’s learning styles, all of these sorts of things. We sell plenty of things that are educational,” he said.