At Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, the scene was interesting more for what was not there than what was.

No desktop computers with high-powered graphics. No smartphones with Angry Birds or Rock Bands. No joysticks, no Wii, no zombies in sight.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, there were dice and cards, game pieces you can hold in your hand, directions printed on the backs of boxes.

Remember those things? They’re called board games and they were hugely popular in the 1970s and ’80s. These days, you hear much more about games you can download onto your iPhone and play across the Internet. With computer games, you don’t have to sit across from the person you plan to destroy with a bomb, a laser or a roundhouse kick.

And for some, that’s where board games have more appeal.

“I’m on the computer all day as it is. It’s nice to sit across the table from other humans for a change and interact that way,” says Patrick Rael, a 46-year-old college professor from Brunswick. “We’re not slaughtering people left and right. We can’t afford to spend whole weekends playing games.

“It’s a whole new generation of board games,” Rael says, “and they’re incredibly well-designed. They’re brilliant, really. They’re extraordinarily clever.”

So there you have it. Somewhere amid all the beeps and bonks, zombies and explosions is a breed of person who still enjoys doing it old-school. And where there is a demand, there is usually someone to fill it.

Enter BoardgameGeek.com, a sort of social media site for board gamers to discuss, trade and show off their collections. It was launched in 2000 and now has over 500,000 users.

Imagine that. A half-million people who eschew Angry Birds, the Xbox and other gizmos that have enslaved a generation.

“We call those twitch games. It’s all about reaction,” says Bill DiGiulio, 40, of Bowdoin. “You have to stop and think (with board games).”

DiGiulio is a tall man with curly hair and cargo shorts. Before a break in the action was called on this day, he was playing a historical war game, a recreation of a real battle that occurred in 1942 Russia, with two other guys. It’s the kind of game that can last a full day or longer.

“We set up at 9 a.m.,” DiGuilio said. “And we’re only on turn three.”

That was at 1 p.m. Break time for the 1st Boardgame Geek Meetup for the northern New England region. There were more than four dozen people playing a weird variety of games at a dozen tables. Games like Pandemic, Agricola, Hive, Settlers of America, Puerto Rico, Dominion.

And of course, the immensely popular Settlers of Catan.

“That’s sort of the modern-day Monopoly,” says Mark Leaman, the coordinator of this event. “It’s also a gateway game.”

What you don’t see is Monopoly, Clue or Life. You know, the stuff you played with your brothers and cousins when you were grounded or it was too cold to go outside. There were games that are similar to Farmville, but they’re played on a board instead of Facebook.

If you can imagine it.

The old and the new

It’s hard not to notice – most of the people in the room were men and most are approaching middle age. They played board games when they were kids. They grew up, got jobs, started families. They settled down and found there was free time to fill. They remembered good times from youth.

“I played the hell out of Risk,” says DiGiulio, who got into it around the fourth grade, “hanging out in a friend’s tree fort.”

“At some point,” says Rael, “we all came back to it.”

Some more than others. While some people simply want to play, others collect. Still others design board games of their own.

Rael is one of those.

“I’ve always played games,” he says. “And I’ve always liked the idea of designing them.”

He compares designing a board game to writing a novel. You take a rough idea and try to make something of it. You go over that first draft again and again, sharing it with others, making changes, inviting feedback.

“You have to play the game over and over. You have to keep tweaking the rules,” Rael says. “You try to get as much merciless criticism as possible.”

The next step is to get your board game published, just like you would if you were a first-time author. And then, finally, time to sit back and watch the money roll in.

Or maybe not.

“It’s about as lucrative,” Rael says, “as trying to publish your own novel.”

He started playing board games in the 1970s, too. He played Ogre with friends, went to college and occasionally played Axis and Allies with beer buddies.

Leaman, who organized the meet-up, has a similar story.

“I grew up in Brunswick. In the 1970s my best friend’s father would bring us to Bath on Sunday afternoons — after church — to a place called the Toy Solider, which was on Front Street. The shop featured a wide variety of board and war games. Almost all of the games were historical in nature, most centered around the events of World War II.

“When my friend and I weren’t running down the street to visit the soda fountain at Hallet’s Drug Store for a coffee frappe with extra syrup and maple sugar candy,” he said, “we were sitting around a table in the Toy Soldier re-enacting tactical scenarios of the Civil War, World War II and even the battles of Napoleon.”

Rael spent part of the day teaching his games to others. That’s how he gets the feedback so crucial to his design. On this day, he was explaining the game to 26-year-old Pete Selmayr and his friend Kori Handwerker. They have not been around board games all of their lives like so many of the others. For the under 30, computer games are the norm. Board games are novel, particularly those designed by Rael, which cannot yet be found in the stores.

“We came,” Selmayr says, “to see something we’ve never seen before.”

One of Rael’s games is Pipeworks, in which players try to lay as much pipe as possible in limited space. His 10-year-old daughter has a mind for that kind of reasoning, Rael was happy to discover. Not everybody does, though, and it makes for a challenging game. It’s about foresight. It’s about spatial logic.

“And it’s about screwing over the other players,” Rael says, with utter sincerity. “There has to be a little of that.”

A (sort of) brief history of Boardgame Geek

By Mark Leaman, Special to the Sun Journal

The Northern New England Boardgame Geek Meetup earlier this month in Brunswick was a first for the northern New England region (Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine) and organizers hope it will become an annual event. It’s a chance for board game collectors and enthusiasts to gather, play and trade their favorite board games. You’re unlikely to find some of the games you’re familiar with at a meet-up. Instead of Monopoly, Life or Clue, you’ll find games like Pandemic, Agricola, Wallenstein and Settlers of Catan.

Many people haven’t heard of these games because they originated in Europe. They also represent a modern board game Renaissance that has reinvigorated sales in both Europe and here in America. Additionally, in this era of video games, people are rediscovering the joy of sitting down at the table to play a game with their family and friends. They are commonly referred to as “Euros” and often feature light to medium game play.

What is different about these Euro games is that most of them have removed what is referred to as the “luck factor.” Instead of rolling dice, the outcome of the game is based almost purely on player decision. These games are often highly strategic and tend to feature historic and agrarian themes. They are also highly successful. Settlers of Catan alone has sold over 18 million copies to date. The success of these games has reinvigorated the American game manufacturer market as well.

U.S. companies like Fantasy Flight Games, GMT and Rio Grande Games have enjoyed a new era of innovation and interest, by selling both English translations of popular Euro board games as well as their own new game designs.

For gamers wanting to incorporate tactics and historical conflict there are war games such as Twilight Struggle (published by GMT Games), which is a two-player game where each player represents one of the two super powers during the Cold War. I know what you’re thinking . . . It may not sound that interesting on the surface, but it is one of the most fun and intense two-player games I have ever played. It also happens to be the No. 1-rated game on a site called Boardgamegeek.

For more details about Twilight Struggle you can check out the review on Boardgamegeek: boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/12333/twilight-struggle.

Boardgamegeek.com is sort of a social media site, similar to Facebook, where board gamers from around the world aggregate to discuss, trade and show off their board game collections. It launched in 2000 and now has more than 500,000 users, all of whom are board game collectors and enthusiasts/hobbyists.

Mark Leaman is a board game enthusiast and coordinator of the Northern New England Boardgame Geek Meetup earlier this month in Brunswick.

Play more

For more gaming events in Maine, look for:

— SnowCon 2012, the Central and Northern Maine Gaming Convention (social gaming), Jun. 13-15, Black Bear Inn, Orono, www.snoconmaine.com

— Huzzah 2012, Historical Wargaming Convention for New England, May 4-6, Portland, huzzahcon.com

— The 2012 Northern New England Boardgame Geek Meetup is already being planned for Brunswick. Details to be announced.

For more information on board games and social gaming in Maine, try these websites:

http://www.meetup.com/Portland-Out-and-About-Group/

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