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This is a no-screen zone

More than 30 folks crowd the tables at FunAgain Games Tuesday and Thursday nights to play board games.

People ages 7 to 70 — male and female, singles and couples, and families — are in the mix. They’re intent on “Magic, the Gathering,” “Catan, Trade Build Settle,” “Patchwork” and “Pandemic.” Dozens of gamers meet daily at FunAgain Games to join a pickup game or start up a new table.

Board games are great fun, a way to get out and meet people, and an entertaining way to exercise the brain, participants say. There are lots of reasons why gaming strategy is built into everything from education to economics these days, and why board games are big business. FunAgain Games was in early on the trend and is said to be the largest online game seller, with shops in Ashland and Eugene and a warehouse in Medford.

“Games are a great way to bring all ages together and have different people talk to different people you wouldn’t otherwise talk to,” explains Erica Saunders, who is manager of the Ashland FunAgain Games shop. Saunders recently left a position at the Talent library to take her dream job at FunAgain.

“We have a massive game library to choose from here in the store at lots and lots of different levels,” Saunders says, showing off shelves of library games. Library games are board games that anyone can play at FunAgain Game nights.

FunAgain Games has all the classics, such as “Clue,” “Monopoly,” “Axis & Allies” and “Candyland,” but today’s most popular board games are much different than those older titles.

Today’s board games are lavishly illustrated, brilliantly composed and designed with a specific purpose in mind. According to Saunders, some of the most popular games these days are “Catan,” a settlement-building game; “Five Tribes,” a worker-placement game based on 1,001 Arabian Nights; “Stuffed Fables,” where stuffed animals save a little girl from her nightmares; and “Fife,” a game set between the European world wars that uses mechanics and heroes. Others are “Exploding Kittens,” “Dixit” and “Mysterium.”

Games are categorized as strategy, cooperative, EuroGames (German-style economic games), hidden traitor, worker-placement (vying for limited resources), role-playing (imaginative, storytelling), war-gaming and a new gaming style called legacy that changes each time it is played based on the previous game’s outcome. BoardGameGeeks.com estimates that 100 to 150 new games are published every month.

“I’m pretty sure I can find a game to fit any personality that comes in the door,” Saunders says.

What you won’t find at FunAgain Games are computer games, and Saunders says that’s because gamers are social animals.

“Board-gamers like that you focus on the people across from you rather than a screen,” Saunders says. “Board games are tactile; you touch the games and feel the objects.”

As if hosting board game nights Tuesdays and Thursdays, open game days Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays, “Magic” Fridays and Saturdays, and “Dungeons & Dragons” throughout the week isn’t enough, FunAgain Games takes games to the community, too, and co-hosts board-game events. FunAgain gaming experts bring dozens of games and stay to teach the games to new players.

Regular open board game days are held from 1 to 4 p.m. the third Saturday of each month at the Ashland library and from noon to 4 p.m. the first Saturday each month at the Talent library, with hundreds of board games to choose from. For those who like the neighborhood tavern atmosphere, The Black Sheep on the Plaza in downtown Ashland hosts a weekly game night from 8 to 11 p.m. Thursdays.

“Board games aren’t noisy fun, they’re more intellectual, social fun,” explained Esther Mortensen, who started monthly family game days at the Ashland library more than 10 years ago with Ashlander and BoardGameGeek.com gamer Chris DeFrisco.

Mortensen and her whole family love board games, and now her son, Nathaniel, is a game designer and lives in Russia. Cosmos Gaming bought his first game, “Dragon’s Hoard,” and Nathaniel is now bringing his second board game to market.

“Board games are really a good way to socially interact with people. There’s been so much time and effort put into the games,” said Douglas Haghan of Medford. Haghan has been playing “T.I.M.E. Stories” at FunAgain Games with three others for the last six months.

“Certain games just draw you in all the way,” Haghan says.

For more information about FunAgain Games or to learn about board games, see FunAgain.com or drop by the store at 148 E. Main St. For more information about the Ashland library game days, call Miranda Madro at 541-774-6994. Patrick Matthews with the Talent library can be reached at 541-535-4163.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

Gamers lay out the “Pandemic” board at FunAgain Games in Ashland. Photo by Maureen Flanagan Battistella