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Board Games Still Popular, Especially in Public Venues

Phil Glotfelty, owner of Game Masters
Phil Glotfelty, owner of Game Masters

Board games, from chess to checkers to backgammon, date back thousands of years. While they never really went out of fashion, a lot of people rediscovered the joys of good old-fashioned board games during the pandemic.

Remember Parcheesi? Sorry? Clue? Pay Day? Battleship? While those board games are still around, there is a newer generation of games called EuroGames, which are becoming more and more popular. These types of games, which include the well-known Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Carcassonne, are more competitive versus conflict-driven and often require a great deal of strategy.

While you can break out a game at home and play with your family, many people also enjoy playing at a public forum. On any given day, you can find people playing games at Game Masters.

Owner Phil Glotfelty—who knows virtually everything about every game he sells—hosts regular game nights at his 5,000 sq. ft. store in West View, including his popular Tuesday board game evening, which gives people an opportunity to network with other gamers.

“We were one of the first places in Pittsburgh to have in-store gaming. The concept at the time was that people and kids stare at computers and no longer socially interact. This gave people a place to come and sit down, socialize and play games,” he said. Now, the space, which includes a quiet room and a room for nursing mothers, can seat about 125 people.

The store, which last year moved from its original location on Babcock Boulevard, is filled with everything you can think of: party games, card games, EuroGames, chess, and more. “Twenty years ago, when I started doing this, EuroGames were impossible to find,” said Glotfelty of the latest trend. “I had to import them into the country. Now those are mainstream games; that is how popular they’ve become.”

He also has a library of almost 1,000 games that, for a small fee, people can check out and play in the store. While he does not sell many standard games like Candyland, Scattergories and The Game of Life, he does stock those in the library, which also includes strategic games and everything in between. He even welcomes local game developers to test their games at the store.

In addition to board game days and events geared toward specific games (think Pokemon Day or Role Playing Day), Game Masters also offers a selection of tournaments.

Thor Stinson of Ross had his first date with his girlfriend, Lacy Kiger, at Game Masters; now, the two of them are Tuesday night regulars and have made new friends. “It is a judgment-free zone. All people from all walks of life, race, gender or ethnicity are welcome here,” said Kiger.

“Phil is super friendly; he always greets everyone who walks in the door,” added Stinson.

“It’s like speed dating for game night,” joked David Rickman, another player who attends Tuesday networking night.

Glotfelty said that his store attracts everyone from families to retirees. “What’s nice is that when we moved into the big space, I could implement that kind of thing—the idea of community, bringing more people in, being more inclusive and having more events.”

Harold’s Haunt, a haunted theme ‘they’ bar in Millvale that caters to the LGBTQ community, hosts board game nights regularly but recently started a Dungeons and Dragons night.

“We were shocked with how many people came; we pretty much filled the bar,” said owner Athena Flint. “For our board game evenings and days, we do get a very good turnout; people are really excited to play games, even with strangers. We’ve occasionally put Jackbox up on our TV screen and people hop in and play a game or hang out and watch.”

Flint doesn’t think that board games have ever really gone out of style but the idea of playing games in a public place is catching on. “It’s difficult to be an adult and make new friends, so when you add in a common interest like a game or even just the activity of playing games together, it becomes more accessible to find new community,” she said.

Harold’s Haunt also keeps a collection of board games at the bar so anyone can drop in and grab a game to play, though some customers bring their own. The Haunt carries a full range of games, including classics and playing cards, as well as a Monopoly game called Millvale-Opoly, made specially for the borough.

Libraries are another gathering place for board game events. Northland Library offers a large variety for its clients of all ages.

Northland Library game night

“Patrons often collaboratively play board games in the library, including teens, especially after school, and families oftentimes check out board games for weekend game nights at home,” said Nicholas Yon, director of communications. “We do not host game nights at the moment, but we do host special programs and events which feature board games and the like.

Yon noted that the library has ‘NerdCon’ coming up on June 17, which will have a large focus on board games and gaming culture. He adds that the library has also given patrons opportunities to ‘playtest’ new local board games.

No matter your game preference, it is not always about the game itself, but about community and the opportunity to interact with others.

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