Celebrating Centuries of Tabletop Entertainment
Story & Photo By Dimitri John Diekewicz
Pass Go and Collect $200,’ ‘Crown Me!,’ ‘You Sank My Battleship,’ ‘Six letters with a Double Word Score,’ and ‘Checkmate’ are popular phrases often used in casual conversation. Can you guess what they all have in common? If you are thinking they are famous lines of dialogue from films, Sorry. Here’s one Clue: Miss Scarlet in the library with a revolver. Would you like to Risk a guess? If your answer is famous board games, Bingo! In countless forms representing every imaginable topic, board games have provided one of the most prized pastimes for generations. Since the dawn of time, there has been an endless search for recreation and avenues of escape; a counterbalance to the toil of performing daily tasks both at home and at the workplace. This continuous desire for diversion has led many to conceive of different ways for people to play. Some of the earliest examples of recreational activity were acted out on a board where the object for participants was to successfully navigate game pieces across a defined path in the pursuit of an established goal. To accomplish this end required skill and a degree of luck.
Making its first appearance in Egypt around the year 2686 BC, Senet is a game that presented players with just such an objective and was an immediate sensation. Hounds and Jackals was another popular board based challenge played in the Land of the Pharaohs. The Royal Game of Ur was not only enjoyed immensely in Mesopotamia where it appeared around 3000 BC but was popular across the Middle East. At approximately the same time and place, players were engaged in a competition played on a ‘squared’ surface that would one day become known as Checkers.
Strategy is a key component of any competition, and this is no better exemplified than in a game first developed in the 7th Century AD in India. Played one on one, Chaturanga involved strategic planning, an ability to anticipate your adversary’s reaction and execute the prepared response. With some alteration, this contest became known as Chess and the appeal of this ‘Game of Kings’ remains unchecked to this very day. These hand-crafted boards and playing pieces carved from exquisite wood and horn, sculpted from ivory and stone, were quite the rage with those mainly of the ruling class. Then as now, like any other newly arrived variety of home entertainment, access to state of the art amusement is initially reserved for the more affluent. However, with the passing of time, technology progressed and eventually built a level playing field on which people from all walks of life could now partake.
As new materials were developed, principally printed paper, plastic, metal, and cardboard, they would ultimately unite and, through mass production, bring these parlor games home to the masses. Prominent toy and game manufacturers such as Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Whitman Publishing, Selchow and Righter, Hasbro, and Ideal became de facto ‘fun factories.’ Games such as Monopoly, Parcheesi, Uncle Wiggily, Careers, Chinese Checkers, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit and The Game of Life, among countless others, became household names as they were now part of many homes’ entertainment – and they were an “out of the box” hit! They proved to be so popular at presenting such a wide spectrum of different themes that, when radio and later television entered the scene, some of the program storylines were also adapted and placed on a game board. Dragnet, Get Smart, You Bet Your Life, Beat The Clock, The $64,000 Question, Charlie’s Angels, The Dukes of Hazzard and Dark Shadows are just a handful of popular shows to appear in stores as a boxed board game wrapped in cellophane.
In a rather short span, board games of seemingly every variety entered the market and generally met with success. Soon, an assortment of board games stacked on a closet shelf became a common sight in many homes. In the years following the Second World War, their popularity exploded to even greater heights. Family, friends, and acquaintances would assemble around a table in the kitchen, den, or dining room and then the games would unfold. Situated on a flat surface, these printed boards with striking graphics provided the perfect centerpiece for people to share time, interact, and enjoy a contest. They continue to generate the same experience with each generation. Steve Shank, Salesman and Resident Toy Expert at the extensive game emporium Toys On The Square in Hummelstown describes, “The classics will never go away. Candy Land, Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders are the door openers to games. Like a classic record such as The Beatles ‘White Album,’ younger people will find them. Even with so many new toys, we still sell tons of Marbles and Pick-up Sticks.”
As the years passed, the number of game selections and varieties grew at an exponential rate, along with added features. Game designers always seek to build a better Mouse Trap that in some cases offer players the opportunity to play a slightly larger role. Brent Green and Miles Myers are Co-Owners of Let’s Play: Games And Hobbies in Hanover, PA, and their retail shop offers a vast cross section of games, both classic and current. Green explains the progression of games and player involvement: “People usually start off with mass market games like Monopoly or Sorry then move on to gateway games such as Catan or Ticket to Ride, which are level strategy games that get you thinking more, then you can decide what you like. If you’re into card games, maybe something like Marvel Champions. There are also miniatures such as Star Wars: Legion, where you purchase small model kits of figures and paint them. They’re characters you’re actually moving around on a game board. Then, on the other hand, you have role playing games like D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) where you actually play a character.”
Green continues, “We provide the space for five groups of D&D who come in and play. We also run two Children’s D&D groups as well. There’s something for everyone with board games. The enjoyment is subjective, but also depends on who you’re playing with.”
Board games not only bring people together for enjoyment but can do so repeatedly and on a fairly low budget. Steve Shanks shares, “You can spend $25 on a game and play it a thousand times and still have a blast. Escape Room, for instance, is perfect for a party with friends. There are so many great party games that you can play in 15-20 minutes like Hit or Miss – and it never misses. (Laughs) Board game subject matter can also be educational.” Steve continues, “Math games are an example. Blokus is a great geometry game. Make it fun and you’re going to make the learning experience more effective because, as you play, you’re subconsciously retaining. Cooperative games are popular, like Mysterium and Pandemic, and they teach kids to share and work together toward a goal. Beat the game, not each other.” The board game learning experience can also be effective in improving physical dexterity. Little doubt that a round of Twister didn’t leave players feeling a bit more limber, and one can only imagine how many surgeons first began honing their eye/hand coordination skills removing a funny bone during Operation!
Let’s Play: Games And Hobbies and Toys on The Square are two ideal destinations that can deliver the right diversion, but secondary spots such as thrift shops and flea markets can also be great sources for that game you’ve been searching for. Retail outlets and secondhand sources like Community Aid, Salvation Army, and Goodwill provide a readily available cache of games at affordable prices. Sometimes, however, finding a particular game can be less of a challenge than finding someone to share a game session. If you’re on the hunt for a place to ‘Roll and Move’ with like-minded aficionados, look no further. There are several different settings throughout the region that offer a place for gamers to gather and get down to the serious business of play. The Simpson Library in Mechanicsburg is one such popular meeting place. Joelene Diana, Adult Programming Coordinator, describes the event: “I was approached about starting a group to play cards and board games, sort of like a ‘Board Game Café.’ Some board games were donated by people and the library invested in the purchase of other games. This group was founded in 2015 and we meet the final Tuesday of each month for our ’Tabletop Game Night.’” This game night quickly became an eagerly anticipated monthly feature for the attendees. Joelene explains, “After Covid, the game group was the first to bug me about getting together. So we discarded our masks and are playing together again. The group wants to meet more than once a month, but space is limited. We have to limit it to the one night and we can accommodate up to 24 people. We have a teen department here at Simpson and we also host a youth game session once a month.” Whether you’re solo or with a small group these game nights always offer a seat at one of the tables.
As these sessions progress, a communal synergy is created as players converse and enjoy snacks while they devise various strategies for these tournaments on tables. Joelene continues, “We seem to always have a table of people playing Rummikub and we’ve had rounds of trendy games like Catan, but people mostly like the classics.” In addition to spending time together on game night, members also share information on other places where they can convene and continue the games. It was learned during this meeting that the Elks Club in Mechanicsburg hosts a Scrabble session every Monday afternoon.
One thing is quite certain: with a board game and good company at home or a meeting house, whether it’s a roll of the dice or a spin of the wheel, a fun time is always in the cards. The next move is yours!
For additional information on these board game destinations please visit:
• Toys On The Square – 22 East Main Street, Hummelstown, PA 17036.
• Let’s Play: Games And Hobbies – 42 Carlisle Street, Hanover, PA 17331.
• The Simpson Library – 16 North Walnut Street, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055. 717-766-0171 www.cumberlandcountylibraries.org › SIM
• Central PA Game Club – www.centralpagameclub.com
• UrTurn Café – 7710 Allentown Boulevard, Harrisburg, PA 17112.
717-525-8684 www.facebook.com › UrTurnCafe