Dan O’Connor owns more than 60 board games, but at least once a week he heads to the Alpha Omega Hobby store less than a mile from his Quincy apartment to play games with friends.
“Wednesday is game night and I also play frequently on Sundays,” said O’Connor, a 28-year-old radio technician. “My job requires me to be in isolated places. Sometimes I spend the whole day in a windowless room. After work I want to see people. I need human interaction.”
In an increasingly high-tech world, board games are gaining a new audience: people yearning to unplug and connect with friends. You can face off against competitors at a gaming store — and even play over beer and burgers at one of a growing number of board game restaurants.
“Playing board games with friends is fun and relaxing,” said Tessa Duzz, 22, of Beverly, who meets up with friends at least once a week at The Castle: A Board Game Cafe. “We sit, play, and enjoy food with friends. It feels like you never have to leave.”
The Castle Cafe, a full-service restaurant in Beverly with a library of over 800 board games, began as an idea of owners Ryn and Kevin Grant while they were students at Gordon College in Wenham. They opened for business in 2015.
“We wanted a place for everyone to feel welcome and spend time hanging out and building community,” Kevin said.
Everyone is welcome at The Castle from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. Bring your own game or choose from the extensive inventory. There is a $5 per person fee to play unlimited board games, but that is waived if food is ordered from the pub-style menu, which offers sandwiches, burgers, and favorites like mac n’ cheese.
Blake Walton, 17, of Salem, likes strategic games, but most important is that The Castle is a “super-nice welcoming place to hang out and just be with friends.”
Athena Z Peters, 40, previously worked in the video game industry before she became owner and general manager of Adventure Pub, a board game restaurant she opened in Arlington in December 2018.
“Board game cafes are an all-in-one hangout place,” said Peters, who lives in town. “Playing games is a great way to get people laughing and connecting face to face. Our customers are everybody — families with kids, young tech professionals . . . even grandparents. We often have 30 to 40 local coworkers that will come in, play a game, and enjoy dinner and drinks.”
Adventure Pub — open Monday through Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m., Friday from 4 to midnight, Saturday from 10 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. — is a full-service restaurant with sandwiches, salads, burgers, and a full bar. You can bring your own games or choose from the massive library. A $5 game cover is only charged to play a game not on the posted complimentary list.
Both Adventure Pub and The Castle have themed events ranging from trivia nights to specific game tournaments. Adventure Pub also offers the option to rent a room for special events.
Attracted by the “plethora of board games in the windows,” Chris Ronsicki, 36, of Arlington, is an Adventure Pub regular.
“The main reason I can’t stay away is how great a spot it is for my friends and I to meet up and play a session of Dungeons and Dragons . Having a place to grab brunch and roll dice facing off against all manner of monsters, it’s great for us,” said Ronsicki.
Families may still treasure an evening playing classic Monopoly or Scrabble, but there is a whole new realm of board games that are popular.
“Every Friday night I am at The Castle for Magic card games,” said Campbell Boisvert, 17, of Salem. “Magic is very competitive. Other days, I come and play more cooperative board games with friends like Pandemic where you basically work together to play against the game.”
With thousands of new games on the market, the options are endless. Gamers can immerse themselves into transforming the planet Mars, go on a Caribbean quest, or build a colorful palace in Portugal.
Alice Wynn, 24, of Peabody, recently made her first visit to The Castle for an afternoon of Betrayal at House on the Hill, a tile game in which players build a haunted house room by room.
“I came to learn,” said Wynn as she carefully studied her tiles, “and to spend time with friends.”
Wingspan, a card-based game that challenges players to build a bird sanctuary and compete to attract the best birds, is in great demand. “We are back-ordered for Wingspan,” said The Castle’s Kevin Grant. “We just can’t get the game.”
Sushi Go!, a fast-paced card game, is the most popular title at Adventure Pub, according to Peters, the pub’s owner.
Sometimes O’Connor, the Quincy game enthusiast, just shows up and plays with whoever is at Alpha Omega Hobby. Other times he makes plans to meet up with friends.
There is no cover charge at Alpha Omega, which opened in 2017, but regulars like O’Connor support the Quincy store by purchasing from its vast inventory of over 1,800 games. The hobby shop will special-order games for customers, and has more than 25 tables of open game space where people can play.
“There is a definite board game community,” said O’Connor. “It is just fun to be unplugged.”
Linda Greenstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.