Sometimes even seven hours of board games isn’t enough. This is the case for members of the Penn Gamers Club.
Every Wednesday night, a collection of undergraduates, graduate students and community members meet up to learn and play board games that aren’t well known outside of the gaming community.
The members usually start at 5:30 p.m. in Houston Hall but are forced to relocate their game when Houston closes at 1 a.m.
“During breaks, if I don’t have class or an exam, I think the latest I’ve [played] is 7 a.m.,” said College and Engineering senior Tyler Brown, president of Penn Gamers.
College junior and Penn Gamers member Adam Laing says that a maximum of about 20 people show up to play at any given time, but the total is typically higher, since people trickle in and out according to their own schedules.
Members bring their own games, stacking them high on the tables of Houston Market, most of which are unfamiliar even to the other gamers.
The club is relocating to the third floor of Houston Hall this week.
Brown said that teaching each other new games is one of the primary goals of the club, since Penn Gamers is a venue to learn more esoteric games. “They’re more strategic and thematic than standard board games like Monopoly or Candy Land,” said Chris Casinghino, a sixth-year Computer Science Ph.D. student.
Early in the evening, three or four games are already in progress. A group at a corner table is playing a quick card game, while Casinghino and Chris Maloof, a 2004 graduate of the Graduate School of Engineering and Applied Science, are setting up Mage Knight, an already complex game made more complicated by the new expansion pack.
Casinghino estimates that Mage Knight takes about an hour and a half per player to complete, one of the longest games typically played at the meetings. “The worst part is we’re going to play this for three hours, and the game is going to beat us,” he said.
Mage Knight is a cooperative-style board game, one in which the players work together to beat the game itself. The club also plays competitive games, along with live-action party games like Mafia that get the whole club involved.
Members of Penn Gamers often choose to bring games created by local game designers, using the club as a testing ground. Recently, they tried a new game called Caveman: The Quest for Fire, designed by Philadelphia game designer Dan Cassar.
“It’s got some very neat mechanics. I’m enjoying it,” said Jay Treat, a Philadelphia resident and a game designer himself.
In the past, Penn Gamers has also been asked to test new board games by companies like McNeill Games.
In order to have the best experience with many of these games, Brown said, it’s crucial to understand the other players. But aside from being strategically helpful, Brown said the relationships with the other members keep him coming back to the club.
“One of the things I liked about Gamers is it’s a really good way to meet people because if you’re someone who’s shy or not particularly good at talking to people, I feel like you can always get to know people by playing games with them,” Brown said.
Members of Penn Gamers even get together outside of their normal Wednesday night meetings to play longer, more intense games. Laing recalls one recent Saturday at a member’s apartment, playing a game all day. “Six of us got together to play Dune,” he said. “It was literally a 12-hour game.”
But Casinghino has that record beat. “I’ve played a game of Dune for 13 hours,” he said.
That spirit of healthy competition is certainly present throughout the meetings.
“It’s like sports. There’s a lot of trash talking,” said Rich Heimlich, who lives in the area and found out about Penn Gamers through word of mouth.
That competitive banter seems to be especially fierce between Heimlich and Josh Edwards, another Philadelphia community member, as they play a game called Caveman. Heimlich especially likes to rib Edwards on his desire to win.
“None of us care if we win,” Heimlich said. “Except Josh here.”
“Not playing to win, are you?” Edwards retorted.
But some games depend on a competitive attitude, like Lifeboat, which requires players to stab each other in the back in order to win.
Heimlich recalls one specific game of Lifeboat in which everyone ganged up on one member who was a national board game competitor.
“We all set upon him and drowned all his sailors,” Heimlich remembered. “He stood up and shouted several epithets, and we have not seen Frank since.”
“Oh is that how we lost Frank?” Treat asked.
But while Frank may have left, the rest of the members will keep playing long into the night.