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Board games ‘booming,’ says Baraboo business owner

January 18, 2019

Stop in at the Baraboo board game shop on a Wednesday night and there’s not an empty table in sight.

That’s thanks to the growing popularity and mainstream acceptance of board gaming as a hobby, according to The Labrynth Games owner Corey Carlson. He said the last three years have brought the best business his shop has seen in the nine years since he opened it.

“The board game business is booming,” he said.

Carlson credits mainstream media with representing nerdy people and pastimes, giving one recent example in which Stephen Colbert discussed the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons at length on his late-night talk show. Other celebrities such as Wil Wheaton, an actor on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” add to the popularity of tabletop games using their YouTube channels.

“Back in the day, being a nerd or playing board games was kind of uncool, where now it’s the cool thing to do,” Carlson said. “You see these super popular shows where people are nerds or people say, ‘Hey, I play board games in my pastime; I play D&D in my downtime.’”

A wider range of people visit his store now than in the past, including individuals and families who say they’ve never played board games, Carlson said.

While Carlson doesn’t see too many teenagers, tabletop games in the teen section at the Baraboo Public Library have always been popular, said Teen Specialist Penny Johnson. The library offers games for all ages, including some popular newer titles such as Exploding Kittens, but only for use in the building.

Carlson noted a recent lack of popular video games — or boredom with the same type — also is driving people to seek entertainment elsewhere. He said some board games have app versions that introduce players to the game, which makes them want the tabletop version.

“It’s only taken 15 years, but we’re finally starting to see people come back and play in real life,” he said.

Labrynth Games hosts free open board gaming every other Wednesday where people can sit at one of the large white tables in back to play a variety of games — resource-based games like Settlers of Catan, classics like Risk, guessing games, strategy games and card games like Magic: The Gathering. Carlson encourages anyone to join; if someone doesn’t know how to play, he’ll teach them.

This week’s open game night drew roughly 30 players, most in their 20s and 30s. As the youngest in the shop, 9-year-old Otto Dusick of Endeavor said he gets dropped off every week to play Dungeons & Dragons at the game store. He said his family got a starter set from his father’s friend, which is what precipitated his interest.

“I was the only one who got really into it,” Dusick said.

Another group has been meeting every Wednesday since June to embody their fantastical characters, taking turns as the “Dungeon Master” who controls the story. With two sisters and a married couple, the group largely came together through work, other board game nights and each other.

While some have been playing since high school or before, 27-year-old Keith Brown of Reedsburg said he only started playing once he was older, despite always having a “passing interest” in D&D.

“It was also kind of imposing, because you’ll see people play it and they’ll just be shooting numbers out of their mouths, just talking about stuff you don’t understand,” he said. “When it comes down to it, though, you’re kind of just messing around with your friends for a couple hours every week.”

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