Board games, such as Greccio Housing’s “I Luv Colorado Springs,” are experiencing a renaissance among families looking for entertainment value during the recession.
Board games, such as Greccio Housing’s “I Luv Colorado Springs,” are experiencing a renaissance among families looking for entertainment value during the recession.

“If you had a superpower, what would it be?”

While this could be the latest method for daydreaming during a conference call – it’s actually the newest way to drive the economy and bond with your progeny.

Families are coping with the economic downturn by staying home, socializing with one another and playing snappy new board games.

Sales of board games were up 6 percent during 2008, according to NPD Group Inc., a market research company. Many retailers would be delighted with half that increase.

But it’s all part of the new family trend – staying in, instead of going out.

Not that this means a dour, drab, dreary evening – on the contrary, families are socializing and laughing as they learn hilarious new insights about one another.

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For instance, “Take Your Pick” is a “‘How-well-do-I-know-you?’ kind of game,” said Matt Molen, co-founder and vice president of marketing for SimplyFun, a company that sells games during home parties with independent consultants.

A player might draw a card that reads: Budget or Blow it, and then must decide the answer about another player. Of course, this starts conversations and good-natured teasing, and there you go – family fun.

“This slumbering economy has awakened the family spirit,” Molen said. “People crave this connection and a sense of relief, and games provide both. From a pure dollars and cents perspective, games are a healthy play alternative – a family can get hooked on and play a game over and over.”

Average sales at in-home parties hosted by SimplyFun consultants are 15 percent to 20 percent higher than the company’s best first quarter during the last five years.

Another popular game, “Walk the Dogs,” includes 63 “super cute” miniature plastic dogs that must be grouped by breed and lined up toe to tail. But beware the stealthy dog catcher who can – alack and alas – steal dogs from your line. It’s a strategic game that fits all the criteria for family time: engaging, challenging, appropriate for a wide age range, and – believe it or not – can be played in 30 minutes.

“Let’s Chat,” a board game with questions such as the aforementioned “If you had a superpower, what would it be?” often initiates a family story-swapping soiree, and Molen plays it to connect with his 10-year-old son, who doesn’t “speak” his language.

“All of a sudden you’ve opened up and you’re having an experience (with your children),” he said.

And families looking for games with local lore have an option as well. Greccio Housing sells the board game, “I Luv Colorado Springs,” at its office, at The Broadmoor, Compleat Games and Hobbies, Poor Richards and The Promenade Shops at Briargate.

Jill Gaebler, development director for Greccio, said sales have tapered off since the holidays, but for families staying home and looking to play something familiar, the game is ideal.

“It showcases many of our local businesses and attractions – like Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Air Force Academy and Pikes Peak Center – and it’s familiar because it’s Colorado Springs and it plays just like Monopoly,” Gaebler said.

In downtown Colorado Springs, James Carpenter, manager of Compleat Games & Hobbies, said that in-store event and gaming attendance is down, but – no surprise here – sales of board games have increased during the past few months.

The five “bar none, top selling games” at Compleat Games are “Settlers of Catan,” “Munchkins,” Carcassonne,” “Ticket to Ride,” and “Killer Bunnies.”

“I’m not even joking,” Carpenter said. “It’s one of our best sellers.”

Buying board games is “a better investment than going out to the movies or out to eat,” he said. “We actually use that as a selling point – the cost for a family to go the movies and have popcorn is as much as a board game. Either you have a one-time purchase or something you can keep doing.”

And statistics show that families are “buying into” (pardon the pun) that philosophy.

“The financial aspect was the catalyst for the rise in board game sales, but this has been a lifestyle change,” Molen said. “People have come back to their values and what’s most important to them.”