Personal touch ... unlike online games, board games encourage human interaction. Photo: iStock
Long, hot days. Nothing on TV. Restless groups of people of varying ages. If ever a season was perfect for board games, it is summer.
Battered editions of Monopoly are stashed in thousands of Australian cupboards, but now a new breed of imported and, dare it be said, more co-operative ''Eurogames'' are hitting the table.
Leighton Hipkins founded the Mind Games chain in 1977 and has seen decades of game fads roll through his stores.
''Trivial Pursuit was huge in the mid-1980s,'' he says. ''Even with people that hated games, you'd start playing Trivial Pursuit and they couldn't help but answer.''
After that, he recalls, came Sexual Trivia and Poleconomy (where players traded companies, such as Boral and Nylex), How to Host a Murder - ''which is still around, but was huge then'' - A Question of Scruples, Pictionary and Balderdash. Now the world has turned.
''America is not turning out games, the UK isn't,'' he says. ''It's all coming out of continental Europe.''
Eurogames is a general term for board games involving strategy, wooden pieces and somewhat co-operative play that have flourished in the wake of German smash hits The Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. ''They're not particularly linear,'' says Christopher Short, a Melbourne university administrator who runs a website that helps gamers meet up in cafes. ''Players can try all sorts of different tactics to win the game: you don't merely roll a dice to move ahead.''
Melissa Rogerson co-chairs Boardgames Australia, a group of committed players who hold annual awards celebrating the best new games. She says the newer titles are ''constructive'', even as players fight to win.
''Something like Monopoly is about eliminating players from the game,'' she says. ''With Eurogames it's a race to build. Everyone can be in the game the whole time, when otherwise it can be so boring waiting for others to play their turn.''
For Short, the shift means you're always on your feet - mentally - while you sit around the table. ''[Because] you might think you're doing really well, when suddenly another player reveals the clever scheme they've been working on,'' he says.
Rogerson, like many board game devotees (she has 900 stored in her dining room) still has fond memories of the classic ''houses and hotels'' game that emerged from the US during the Great Depression.
''We owe so much to Monopoly,'' she says, ''because everyone has memories of playing it.''
''Ah, Monopoly,'' Short says, reminiscing. ''So many people got burnt by that game when they were young that they're horrified to hear that we enjoy playing board games.''
There's an assumption board gamers sit around playing Monopoly, he says, but that's ''like assuming that all movies are basically Gone with the Wind''.
Hundreds of new games are released annually and modern-day hits revolve around everything from building a train network (Ticket to Ride) to constructing a kingdom (Settlers of Catan) and supplying electricity (Power Grid).
Whatever the title, board games create a playing environment vastly different to that in the linked, online world of video games. Just like chatting online, Short says, playing computer games blinds people to the ''little human reactions'' that define us. ''[With board games] you really get to see people's personalities come out,'' he says. ''Whether they're stubborn or light-hearted, friendly or cruel.''
For Rogerson, who met her husband at a games event, the pace of board games and their convivial nature is a welcome respite from the flurry of modern life.
''People would like to slow down … and feel like they're getting back to something real,'' she says.
Hipkins isn't worried about the digital threat. ''With board games, you play with someone in the same room, you socialise with someone at the same time,'' he says. ''Real time, real people.''
And he's certain friends and strangers will play board games long after he is gone. ''The people that are good at playing games enjoy the same things,'' he says. ''They love the competitive nature of it, but they're good losers. People who get too upset or make things too competitive don't get it. A true gamer enjoys winning, but really enjoys playing the game.''
See cafegames.wordpress.com and boardgamesaustralia.org.au.