Dinner was finished hours ago, several dozen Trivial Pursuit questions have been asked and the small die has been rolled too many times to count. But all three teams around Pat and Frank Coffin’s dining room table are going strong.

Sometimes the questions have to be asked over lots of chatter and laughter. Yet somehow the teams manage to answer enough of them to start filling in the colorful wedges in the plastic “pies.”

“You have to just go right ahead and ask the question,” Frank explained. “They’ll just keep right on talking if you don’t.”

Most of this group have been getting together for game nights like this for almost seven years. What started as an informal, planned get-together for new friends Pat Coffin and Jeanne Bard quickly developed into a monthly tradition.

“We get together every third Saturday of the month,” said Pat, “and we used to rotate whose home we’d go to for game night. But our house is the biggest, and when we started having more people come, it just made sense for us to host each month. But it’s always a potluck, so we never have to do a lot to prepare. The food is always wonderful, always enough for everyone.”

“There’s always way too much,” added Frank with a smile.

“We usually do a decent job on it,” Pat responded with her own grin.

With anywhere from eight to 16 people who attend the monthly game night, there are many people to help eat the goodies. Friends and family from towns scattered across central and southern Maine have no problems making the trip to the Coffins’ house in Lewiston. Pat’s sister, Nancy LeBlanc, drives from Norway for the evenings of food, fun and games. “They have a closet full of games. We always have something fun to play, that’s for sure.”

Whodunit costumes

Game night at the Coffins has become a new holiday tradition. Instead of going out for a night of music, dancing and drinking, Pat, Frank and their loved ones opt to stay home and celebrate. “It’s safer,” Frank says. “The time goes by so fast. We have so much more fun doing our thing here than going out for the evening.”

Holiday game nights are a little more special than the typical gathering.

Last year on New Year’s Eve, the gang participated in a murder mystery game that Pat organized.

“Everyone plays a character and, in their invitations, the character is described. No one knows who did it, and we have to figure it all out. We played for hours!” This year, the group will try a new game, “Judge for Yourself,” in which teams try to determine the outcomes of real court cases. One of the players will dress up as a judge, with robe, wig and gavel to set the mood.

The Coffins and their friends are among the many groups that have jumped on the board game bandwagon. Once thought to be an old-fashioned pastime, board games are booming in popularity again. Figures from various retail-research agencies show that board games have enjoyed a sales gain of anywhere from 4 to 7 percent over the past year, with total sales of almost $1.5 billion.

A resurgence

The popularity of board games started to surge at the end of 2001, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. The NPD group, a U.S. marketing research agency, explains that board games were either dug out from closets’ back shelves or purchased as people were looking for ways to have fun at home. In uncertain times, board games provided a sense of security for people.

In addition, as the economy started to become shaky, board games could take the place of eating out, going to the movies and other forms of entertainment that are common during stronger economic times. Even for a small family, going out for the evening can be expensive, so playing board games at home became a great way to have a good time and include everyone.

This is familiar to the Coffins.

Both say these games were a large part of their lives while growing up. “We were poor, so we played lots of games because that’s what we had. My mother worked nights as a nurse, so she would sleep during the day when we were in school,” recalls Pat. “But, as soon as we’d walk in the door, there she’d be sitting, with a Scrabble board all ready on the table. She’d have a big smile on her face and ask, ‘OK, who’s ready to take me on?'” Pat carried on this cherished time with her own children. “We always played games with the kids as they grew up. Sometimes, we’d have lots of people over and make a huge pot of spaghetti. The kids would spread out their blankets on the floor and watch TV. They’d fall asleep and the adults would sit around the table and play for hours.”

It just goes to show that games aren’t just for kids. “That’s one of the great things about coming over here for game night,” said Donnamarie Castellano at the Coffins’. “It’s intergenerational. We have so many different people of all ages and generations, and we all have a great time together.”

On this night, in fact, Donnamarie’s son, Christopher Roy, and his girlfriend, Dori Daniels, sat in on the game. Why were the two young people there with their mother’s friends rather than out on the town? At first, Roy shrugged. “We have no life,” he claimed with a straight face, but then immediately added, “Actually, I like to torture my mom.”

Amid the laughter that filled the room, LeBlanc announced, “The young ones like to show how smart they are. They like to show us old people up.”

“It can get a bit competitive,” admitted Pat. “My son, Thomas, loves that part of playing.” It’s because of this competitiveness that couples who come together don’t always play together. “We don’t necessarily split couples up on different teams on purpose. But that’s usually the way it winds up from a random-card draw to select teams. And sometimes it is better that way. Competition does have a way, sometimes, of getting things a bit tense.”

But, everyone agreed that the competition is all in good spirit and fun. While the games are the activity of the evening, it’s really all about spending time with friends and family, says Pat.

“It’s way too easy for time to slip away without seeing each other. Playing games once a month makes sure that we see each other to catch up, to have some great food and just be together.”

As the Trivial Pursuit board was put away, each member of the group was already counting the days until their next game: ringing in 2005 together, with a bit of competition and a lot of laughs.


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