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Board Games in Ottawa: A Beginner’s Guide

By Jared Davidson on September 7, 2012

This Sunday, the Nepean Sportsplex will play host to Skirmish 2012, a table-top gaming extravaganza, featuring tournaments of games like Warhammer, HeroScape, and Heavy Gear. Hundreds of competitors do battle, squaring off with their armies of intricately painted miniatures in a test of wits and fortitude.

It’s just another example of Ottawa’s growing love of board gaming, a love that can only be satiated by a healthy round of Agricola or perhaps, if one is desperate, a rousing game of Monopoly. Ottawa currently plays host to two separate board game conferences – CanGames in May and GameSummit in February.

And with the news of the impending opening of Monopolatte, a café that provides its customers with a stunning array of board games to enjoy, it seems that Ottawa’s board game obsession can only grow.

“I think there’s a lot of people that are just getting introduced to board games,” says David Narbaitz, the man behind Monopolatte. David tells me that, despite some construction difficulties, the café should be gearing up for its grand opening in a few weeks’ time.

Narbaitz, a frequent attendee of the board game nights at the Royal Oak at Bank and Gloucester, hopes that Monopolatte will serve as a place to meet like-minded board game enthusiasts, as well as a place to find and learn new games. “There’s a game for everybody,” Narbaitz says, “And as soon as you find your game, or your style of game, you’ll be happy.”

And with over 600 games in Monopolatte’s collection, you’re bound to find something you like. If not, it’s possible that it’s being created in Ottawa at this very momement.

“It seems like there are a lot of people in Ottawa who are inventing board games,” Narbaitz notes. A good example of this phenomenon is the recent success of local board game company Uniforge. In July, the company’s game Top This! reached its Kickstarter goal and has entered production. Narbaitz tells me that he often gets requests from board game inventors asking him to add their new creations to his collection. And he hopes to do so, but jokes that he can’t promise that he’ll learn all the rules.

I sat down with Gerry Paquette, member of the Games Artisans of Canada and Professor of Game Design at Algonquin College, and asked him what went into designing a board game.

“Well… cardboard,” Paquette quips. It’s very much a do-it-yourself kind of thing. No computers, just elbow grease. “Some will scavenge old games. They’ll go to thrift shops, pick up some games, and use their pieces,” he says. “The idea is not to make it look fantastic. It’s to make it look presentable.”

Paquette began making games when he was very young. “I was part of a big family,” he remembers, “—not a lot of money, not a lot of toys. So we made our own. We got good at constructing things out of cardboard and paper.”

He released his first game, Planet Exploits, via the internet. He’s currently working on a second game he calls “Ker-Choo.” Ker-Choo is a deck building game where players are assigned a distinctive celebrity nose (Groucho Marx’s schnozz for example) and are required to make it sneeze by building up vowel cards.

When he’s not creating whimsically hilarious board games, Paquette teaches a new generation of board game creators at Algonquin’s Game Design program. And while the course is generally focused on the creation of video games, Paquette feels that learning about board games is crucial.

“As game designers, they need to broaden their scope,” he says. “By introducing them to the modern board game scene, I’m getting them to think outside the box—the box being the computer.”

But where can newcomers to the Ottawa board game scene go to get their first taste? With Monopolatte’s opening still weeks away, and with months to wait until the next conference, it’s hard to find a place to go to share in the board game experience. Paquette advises a trip to one of the many local board game retailers: Fandom II, The Comic Book Shoppe, The Wizard’s Tower, or Toys on Fire. All of these venues have regular events, and at the very least can guide you toward your first purchase.

But why play board games? “Board games are a very inclusive activity,” says Narbaitz. “They don’t take too much planning. They’re simple and fun and you can end up laughing so much!” Both Paquette and Narbaitz point to the sense of community, the feeling of being face-to-face with another human being as a large factor in their love of board games. And really, the depth and complexity offered by many board games can be just as compelling as the fun and hilarity offered by others.

Perhaps the better question is “why not?”

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