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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

Who said board games are for just kids? Coloradans know better.

Colorado has a vibrant community of tabletop game enthusiasts serviced by multiple stores across the Denver metro area. In recent months, I have increasingly engaged in that community and been richly rewarded.

I grew up with occasional family and friend board games. Games of Scrabble at family gatherings, Yahtzee and Pass the Pigs during camping trips, and heated Monopoly contests with friends. But like many children of the 1980s and later, soon video games took center stage in my gaming life.

It would not be until after my college years — when Beer Pong was probably the most regular “tabletop game” in my life — that I returned to the world of cardboard contests.

Like a significant number of people, my re-introduction to tabletop gaming came via Catan. Composed of hexagonal pieces randomly aligned next to each other, the goal of the game is to accumulate points by building up settlements across the map. Every game is different, no players are eliminated, and strategy generally trumps random luck. It kicked off a renaissance of “eurogames” across the country over the past two decades.

And it was not just for kids and teens. Catan became the unofficial game of Silicon Valley engineers. No less than Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, called it the “board game of entrepreneurship.” Adults across the country got together to play Catan rather than playing Catan because they were already together.

That consequently led to an abrupt rise in the popularity of similar games: Carcassonne, Agricola, Puerto Rico and others. Catan itself spurred a myriad of expansions and additions to the base game. Board games became a booming industry. I have at least one friend who owns enough to play a different game every day of the year. Even pop culture embraced the culture with Dungeons and Dragons taking a prominent role in the Netflix hit show “Stranger Things.”

That rise created secondary and supportive structures. For example, the website began aggregating information about the growing universe of games. The website created a dynamic ranking system and promoted kickstarter campaigns to help new designers and developers garner funds to bring their ideas to the market.

That was where I found Gloomhaven last year. One of the top-ranked games of all-time, it is a campaign-style game. Each game is one scenario along a long narrative arc. It is basically the difference between a movie and television series, one takes a few hours, the other takes months or years.

I get together with three good friends several times a month (in addition to non-Gloomhaven game nights), pull out the behemoth 20-pound box, get some good junk food and drinks, and spend a few hours playing a scenario. It will probably take us two to three years to finish the entire game. It has been such a good experience, I am sure we will spend another two years on the follow-up game, Frosthaven.

In fact, the only disappointment I found were the blank, gray characters used in gameplay.

I fixed that by learning how to paint the miniatures. Sufficiently bothered, I could have paid someone else to do that. For between $15-$30 per figure, they turn plain gray miniatures into works of art. Tiny details brought out through application of color theory and delicate brush work. It can feel like sacrilege to use them for a “game.”

Despite that option, I decided to paint my own. Given that I am colorblind (I have trouble distinguishing reds from greens and purples from blues), do not have an artistic bone in my body, and my hands would never be mistaken for a surgeon’s, I wanted to give it a try.

I showed up for hobby night at Night Owl Games in Littleton. I walked in with a couple of miniatures and a lot of questions. It was intimidating to see a couple tables of experienced painters surrounded by toolboxes of paint, portable lights and boxes of miniatures. But after a few quick introductions, I found a community of kind people who were elated to share their passion. One person showed me how to put on a coat of primer, another helped me pick out colors.

After a few weeks, I had my own starter set going and a couple completed characters I could feel good about. I also had a new hobby that provided relaxation through concentration; you could almost call it meditative. The best part? Even when you mess it all up, just a little soak in an isopropyl alcohol makes a new blank slate. It is like shaking an Etch-A-Sketch.

Now I am a regular at Night Owl Games (they host monthly Catan tournaments, too!), The Wizard’s Chest (the Broadway store is bigger than the old one in Cherry Creek, even if it doesn’t hold the same nostalgia), Colpar’s Hobby Town off Watdsworth and Warhammer on Colorado Boulevard. They’re all great shops that help fuel my tabletop gaming itch.

So the next time a can’t-miss game hits the shelves or a new character gets released? You’ll probably find me eagerly awaiting my turn to try it out with a few friends.

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