Options For Family Game Night In Champaign-Urbana

Courtesy of Jeff Dougan

by Jeff Dougan

How much does it cost to take your family to the movies? At least around here, even for a matinee, a family of four is looking at about $25 before concessions. That gives you about two hours of entertainment before you’re done. If you add in even a modest amount of concessions, you’re looking at closer to $40, maybe more.

I’d like to suggest something to you that for about the same price will get you many, many hours of entertainment.

My name’s Jeff, and I’m a gamer. Board games, card games, role-playing games, I grew up playing all kinds of games, and I want to introduce you to a world of games you probably never heard of.

Did you know there are games that can keep you involved even when it isn’t your turn, that can be more involved than “roll/draw and move” but less involved than chess, and can even help out with some academic kinds of skills like math and critical thinking without making it obvious that’s what’s happening? If not, follow me and welcome to the wonderful world of what I describe as hobby games. (Other people sometimes use different terms, of which the most common are either “German” or “family strategy” games.)

Hobby games, why do I love thee? A proper selection can cover many age ranges. They have predictable playing times, usually ranging from 30 to 90 minutes. They have a mix between pure skill and pure luck that rewards knowing the game but still gives new players a chance to win. They let you exercise parts of your brain that you probably don’t use often — and have fun doing it. They have good-quality components, often heavier cardboard boards and wooden pieces. Even better, you can check them out from the library!

That’s right! Regular chambanamoms readers might be familiar with the Urbana Free Library’s Second Saturday Board Games event, started last November by adult reference librarian Brian Looker. It regularly shows up on the library’s Children’s Department calendar in addition to the normal calendar for adult events, and has been part of the Weekend Planner. Until mid-June, the game collection supporting the Second Saturday events was non-circulating but available in the library. It’s now possible to check them out from the adult reference desk in addition to playing them on Saturdays.

The Champaign-Urbana area is also fortunate enough to have two dedicated game stores:

  • The Dragon’s Table is located at 205 N. Market St. in Champaign (just north of the rail/bus terminal). They’ve generally got a good selection of in-stock merchandise, a very large room with tables to play on, and a program where they will reward $100 of cumulative purchases with $5 store credit. They have a weekly board game event on Saturday nights, beginning at 6 pm.
  • Armored Gopher Games is located at 1502 N. Cunningham in the Northgate shopping center. Although Armored Gopher Games is smaller than the Dragon’s Table, the store owner offers excellent customer service and is my choice of referral to people new to hobby games. He knows both my kids by name, learning the Grasshopper’s name after meeting him no more than twice. Moreover, he consistently greets either or both kids by name if I bring them along when I go in, and will ask about them if I’m solo. Armored Gopher runs a board game event every Sunday night, from 4:30 p.m. until the store close. Game Publisher Z-Man Games has a local demo rep who will run events there occasionally, and I even volunteer to run Worldwide D&D Game Day events for him.

Chambanamoms readers closer to Bloomington (if there are any) may instead want to visit Gryfalia’s Aerie at 309 N. Main St. I’ve not ever had the chance to shop there, but Armored Gopher’s owner has a lot of respect for their owner.

Jeff Dougan is a scientist-turned-teacher-turned-full-time dad to the Grasshopper, 5, and the Munchkin, 15 months. A lifelong gamer, he’s always willing to teach a new game to anybody, and equally willing to learn a new game almost anytime.


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