Ithaca Times

Ithaca's Enchanted Badger Shuffles Back to the Boards

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Posted: Friday, March 14, 2014 8:15 am | Updated: 8:17 am, Wed Mar 19, 2014.

Dai dai shogi is a variant of Japanense chess. This board game has 64 different types of pieces that make 68 different kinds of moves. One of them, the enchanted badger, is able to move only up to two spaces at rightangles. The Enchanted Badger, a game and gaming store at 335 Elmira Road (Rt. 13), is full of games like this one, which dates from the 15th century, and many more that were issued just this past month.

“We sell board games and magic card games,” said Stacia Humby, who owns the store with her husband Sean. “We don’t sell anything electronic, just old-school analog games. But being local and small, we don’t compete with other stores that sell mass produced games. Once you delve into what’s out there, you’ll find that there’s something for everyone. It ranges from some that involve zero luck and massive strategic planning to card games that are just silly fun.”

Humby cited “Through the Ages,” the highest-rated game of all time, as typical of what you will find in the store. “You have three hours to build a civilization,” she said, “from the Stone Age into the future. You create a whole society. It is mechanically the same as any board game, but how much thought you put into it will determine how much you get out of it.” 

For many of the card games much of the time and energy is expended before a game ever starts: you have to build your own pack. “There are hundreds of thousands of cards to pick from [for “Magic:The Gathering”],” said Humby. “They’ve been created over the past 20 years. You have to puzzle together a deck with cards that are interesting and work synergistically with each other.” 

Magic: The Gathering is popular; there are tournaments three times a week at The Enchanted Badger. “They can take a whole evening,” Humby said. “You play several rounds. People are paired up, and you play best two out of three. Each game takes about 15 or 20 minutes.”

If you are surprised to hear that board games and cards are popular because you thought everyone played electronic games now, then you are behind the times. “A fun underground board game community started in Europe,” said Humby, “and now there is a resurgence of popularity here. People really want to pull away from their screens and start interacting with each other.” She said that people were tired of going to parties where everyone was just stooped over their separate screens; board games force everyone to talk to each other … again.

Not that board game players are strangers to computers. “When you find a game that you like,” said the Enchanted Badger owner, “you look for others like it. Because of the Internet there are a lot of resources. People write reviews that include ‘if you like this, you will like that’ comments.”

The doyen of board game research would seem to be David Parlett (www.davepar.eu). A page of his website is the information page for the journal Board Game Studies and also for the upcoming annual XVIIth BGSA (Board Game Studies Association) Colloquium at University Campus Suffolk in Ipswich, England. The association is informal and includes “archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, psychologists, educationalists, authors, game inventors, collectors, and representatives of games publishers and manufacturers.” Papers that are delivered at the colloquia find their way into the journal.

Parlett himself is an inventor of board games and a historian of the subject. Hare & Tortoise, which was originally released by Ravensburger in 1973, is the most well known of his games.

According to his website, “All [his] interest in games began, Parlett conjectures, when [as a young child] he saw his cousin’s compendium of games containing a set of dominoes with coloured pips. By the end of 1973, at the age of 34, he was negotiating with companies for the sale of Hare & Tortoise. ‘The decade of the 1970s was the golden era of games in the U.K., but then it faded. Britain (now) gets swamped with U.S. imports, and the small, backstreet English companies are here today and gone tomorrow. For my money, the best games are the ones published in Germany.’”

Humby, who like Parlett as an avid game player from a young age, was born in Ithaca and then moved away to live in a number of different places before moving back. She remembered how the locals embraced their own education and intelligence and knew that they liked pastimes that show that off.

“People who like these games tend to be people who enjoy thinking,” she said. “They call it ‘brain burn’; they unwind by winding their brains up. You can’t think about much else when you are wrapped up in a board game. You are aware of what the other [players] are doing, but you are leaving out the rest of the world and focussing on the complexity of the game.”

Humby herself always loved chess and checkers when she was growing up, and she met her husband over a chessboard. “We’ve been playing games ever since,” she said. “As more resources crop up, it leads us to more games.” Their personal collection includes more than 400 games, which they do allow their customers to try.

Stand-alone board-game stores are a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, comic books stores may have a game section.The recent surge in popularity has made it possible, along with the growth of Internet support. The Enchanted Badger is an 1800-square-foot space. Humby and her husband wanted a store that was big enough to both display the games and to be able serve as a gathering place.

In addition to the magic card tournaments three times a week, The Enchanted Badger also hosts casual game nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a couple of times per month they hold special events that coincide with the release of a new game or a new expansion to an older game.

The games come from all over the world, but many of them are from Europe, especially Germany. The publishers reprint a given game in several languages, although, according to Humby, some of the kids’ games do not come with translated rules.

The store owner said that board game nights are populated by people of all ages, and participation in a given game can cross age-demographic lines. “When the interest level is there younger kids can play adult games,” Humby said. “My 9-year-old niece can play games that are supposed to be for older kids.”

The social aspect of the games is a large part of their appeal. “You want to see people’s expressions when you shoot them in the face,” said Humby. “With electronic games you don’t have that empathetic connection.” She noted that the highest rated game ever is called “Twilight Struggle,” and it recreates the Cold War. “Everything you do is vaguely good for you and is also bad for you.”

To teachers, Humby has suggested various board games that she knows as learning tools, and they have taken her advice. She also runs programs at the local libraries to introduce children to games. “There is a whole genre of cooperative games,” Humby said. “You have to know who should be where in order to prevent everyone from losing.”

Because the games are made by small companies in relatively small runs, they do go out of print. “If a game is in print,” said Humby, “we can get it for you. They are not like books or like Monopoly. There can be one printing and then it is gone forever.” §

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