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Portland Board Game Enthusiasts

Board game culture in Portland

By Faith Cathcart, The Oregonian

Class, this is why you read the local paper!

PORTLAND, OREGON – February 19, 2012 – Dan Gordon, front table from left, Michael Wanberg and Amy Souza play Small World together at Guardian Games. Every other Sunday at Guardian Games, the city’s biggest game shop, dozens of local board game enthusiasts gather to play games from Dungeons and Dragons to Settlers of Catan.

Portland a haven for board game enthusiasts (photo gallery) gallery (17 photos)



Long after the Sunday brunch crowd dissipates fromProduce Rowand Olympic Provisions in Southeast Portland’s industrial district, finding a table inside a nearby game shop remains a challenge.

Dozens of young Portlanders have flocked toGuardian Games, 303 S.E. Third Ave., for the every other week board game gathering that has developed into a weekend hot ticket. There’s not a single Milton Bradley or Parker Brothers title to be found. Instead, scruffy environmentalists and denim-clad lawyers defend the miniature empires of plastic spaceships and cardboard cutouts of less familiar titles — StarCraft, Last Will, Eclipse and Ticket to Ride. This isn’t your typical American family game day.

Nor is it the clichéd basement meetup of pale teens engaged in a never-ending Dungeons & Dragons match. The latest generation of board-game junkies is somewhere in between. They want a mental challenge that goes beyond the family board game, but could do without the stone-faced tension and mammoth time commitment of intellectual games like D&D. 

"It’s a fun, social thing to do that doesn’t cost a lot of money when you’re broke all the time," says Mary Ann Morsette, 30, a regular at Guardian’s gatherings.  And today’s players have found their match with a new wave of games hitting the market.

A Game of Thrones enjoys popularity as a fantasy novel series, an HBO series, a comic book and a board game.
Board games break out of the basement at Guardian Games

Portlanders flock to Guardian Games on Sundays for a weekly board-game gathering. A new generation of games have helped renew the form’s popularity.

How to get into gaming

Start with the classics: Gamers call Settlers of Catan and other quick, easy-to-learn titles "gateway games" because they get new players interested in more complex games. Others include Alhambra, Carcassonne and 7 Wonders.

Try before you buy: Many game shops let you select games from their extensive libraries to test in the store.

Buy used: If you’re not willing to pay retail, many shops offer used games. You can also buy used online at and other sites.

For more information:Boardgamegeek .com is great for tips, tutorials and lists of public gamer gatherings.

Watch video  

A growth in gaming

Industry groups have consistently reported growth in nationwide board game sales in recent years. Local retailers say that’s largely a response to the recession. " A $50 board game is hours of fun for multiple people, versus a night out at the movies that might even be a (bad) movie," says Guardian Games owner Angel May, who opened the store seven years ago because she couldn’t find a decent place to play games with friends. The marketplace has responded to the boom. Five years ago, May saw 30 new game releases per year. Today, that’s just one busy week at her store.  The resurgence is particularly strong in Portland, a trendsetter in all things offbeat and retro, where the unemployment rate is about 8.7 percent, she adds.

Guardian is the area’s largest game store, with others scattered on either side of the Willamette River and the metro area. The shops’ open-play policy and regular gaming events have nourished a sense of community among a social subgroup that once remained hidden in living rooms and basements.

A mixed kind of crowd

You don’t have to have an "in" with the local gaming scene to get a start. On any given night, there’s a meetup in a game shop, bar, church or grocery store, and newcomers are welcome.

A gathering at the Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard Fred Meyer is the closest you’ll get to a family game night. The crowd is smaller, the games include more familiar titles, and the demographics vary from the typical 20- or 30-something male crowd that dominates other gaming groups. Andrea Kennedy, 28, attended a Fred Meyer game night after finding the group’s profile on "You’re engaged in something with your mind and it’s social and fun, so I thought I’d check it out," she said as game night regular Daniel West coached her through a round of a Portland-based game, Bridgetown Races.

For an even more laid back atmosphere, many game shops let customers drop in and play for free at the store.

Settlers on the scene

Enthusiasts say several factors played a part in board gaming’s rise from an occasional remedy for boredom to a mainstream social activity. The biggest influence: Settlers of Catan, a German game that crossed the Atlantic in the late ’90s, setting the stage for a new generation of games that appeal to the casual gamer as well as the hobbyist. Settlers and its successors require players to use more strategy than luck-based American games like Monopoly. The mental challenge appeals to adults, says Amy Ellis, owner of Rainy Day Games. Unlike classic strategy games such as Dungeons & Dragons, which can last eight hours for a single session, the new generation of games has a less combative tone and rarely last longer than an hour. That makes them good for newcomers, says May, of Guardian Games. There are social factors at play in the gaming boom as well. In the information age, geek is chic, says May. The theory holds up especially well in the Portland area.

"Everybody here has excessive brain energy to burn," 34-year-old lawyer Evan Seifert says as he plays the science fiction-based game Eclipse at Guardian’s Sunday gathering. His fellow gamers are scientists, urban planners, graduate students and computer programmers. Enthusiasts say other factors — a backlash against the solitary nature of video gaming, a need for indoor activities in the rainy Northwest, networking opportunities provided by websites such as and — have played a role in the resurgence, too.

With the board gaming scene now highly visible in coffee shops and grocery store cafeterias throughout the metro area, gamers say they expect their ranks to grow. "It sounds silly, but it gives people a sense of shared purpose," says Chris Walker, 32. "A really good game will engage people and they’ll feel like they’re taking part in something … even if the game is insignificant to life itself."

Where to play

Please be careful and safe: involve your parents in selecting a location, some locations may NOT be appropriate, just have them walk in with you the first time, they will not stand out, all ages game in Portland!


Guardian Games
303 S.E. Third Ave.

Portal Games
1224 S.W. Broadway

Red Castle Games
6416 S.E. Foster Road

Bridgetowne Hobbies & Games
3350 N.E. Sandy Blvd.

Cloud Cap Games
1226 S.E. Lexington St.

Other World Games
6350 S.W. Capitol Highway

Metro area:

Rainy Day Games
18105 S.W. Tualatin Valley Highway, Aloha

Knightfall Games
9955 S.W. Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway #117,Beaverton

Ancient Wonders
19060 S.W. Boones Ferry Road, Tualatin

Dice Age Games
5107 E. Fourth Plain Blvd. #105, Vancouver

Other meetups:
Fred Meyer, 3805 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 2 p.m. Sundays and 5 p.m. Wednesdays

New Seasons, 1954 S.E. Division St., 7 p.m. Tuesdays

Lucky Labrador Brewing Co., 915 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 7 p.m. Thursdays

First Evangelical Church, 4120 N.E. St Johns Road, in Vancouver, first Friday of each month at 7 p.m.

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