LINCOLN BLVD — Hundreds of new board games are created each year. Most people won’t know about any of them.
But one group of Westside residents would. Every week, members of Westside Gamers, a board game group, gather in Denny’s restaurants, coffee shops and the back room of a local church — anywhere they can find adequate space — just to play board games.
“A lot of people have misconceptions about board gaming today because they have a stereotype of what a board game is,” said Rusty Howell, a regular at Westside Gamers. “People are missing out if they actually don’t take a look at it and try it once.”
According to Westside Gamers founder Robert Neff, there is a universe of board games unknown to much of the public. Monopoly, Scrabble and Clue do not scratch the surface, said Neff, who owns more than a thousand board games himself.
Founded by Neff eight years ago, Westside Gamers has meetings more than once a week that anyone can attend to play board games.
Some of the group’s meetings last 12 hours, from morning to the evening. Sometimes, gamers don’t go home until 4 a.m. — on a weekday.
Few people know about the large variety of board games available because a few games have been around long enough and marketed well enough that they have become brand names, said John Ward, executive director of The Game Manufacturers Association.
However, board games started to grow more popular a few years ago during the recession, when people started looking for more cost-effective forms of entertainment, Ward said. Families could spend upwards of $40 on one trip to the movie theater, or they could spend $40 on a board game that can be played countless times at home.
Board games also allow a sense of community and social interaction players don’t get with other forms of entertainment, like video games, he added. That is one of the biggest draws for many of the Westside Gamers.
“I like the ability to actually interact with people,” said Howell, who owns a collection of about 300 board games. “It’s the variety. It’s the replayability. It’s the sense of accomplishment.”
For John Spence, a member of Westside Gamers with long white hair who wears a pair of sunglasses around his neck, board games also provide a pleasing feeling of escape from reality.
“(At board game conventions,) you don’t eat, you don’t sleep. We could care less about politics and economics. All you care about is slaughtering the person next to you with all the rules you have,” he said with a laugh.
Some Westside Gamers have known about board games for years. Others, like gamer Sean Smith, picked it up on a whim after hearing about it and got hooked.
“I used to go out to clubs and stuff, but not anymore,” said Smith, who works as a courier for FedEx during the day.
However, he doesn’t tell his colleagues that he plays board games, partly because such intense or non-conventional board gaming is so little-known among most people. Smith and other gamers admit that there can be a stigma of “nerdiness” attached to the idea of playing more obscure board games, some of which can have instruction books over a hundred pages long.
“If you have to do homework to learn how to play a game, you’re playing a nerdy game,” said Eliot Hochberg at one of Westside Gamers’ meetings.
But gamers are mainly there simply to have fun and have the chance to interact with people, said Shanti Ellis, a woman with long blue hair who has frequented the Aero Hobbies & Games store in Santa Monica for 15 years and now helps out at the location.
Aero Hobbies, which has existed for more than 60 years, is the only store on the Westside dedicated to board games, she said.
The store is mostly quiet aside from Friday nights, when the store hosts game nights open to the public using tables the store’s employees made themselves. One time, the store employees had to check the fire code to see if the large number of people they had in the room was a violation, Ellis said.
Aero Hobbies is also one of the few places where Westside Gamers can meet to play, Neff said.
The group has always had trouble finding space. The Denny’s at Lincoln Boulevard and Colorado Avenue is one of the few places the group has found that will allow them to play, has enough space, doesn’t charge money for meetings and is open late enough.
That space, however, won’t last for much longer. Last year, the Denny’s was sold to a private developer known for building urban apartments.
But Westside Gamers has almost always found a way to manage. In eight years, Neff said, only one of their meetings has ever been canceled.
To attend a Westside Gamers meetup, find them on Yahoo Groups or send them a message at WestsideGamers@yahoogroups.com.