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Game fever

Utah County is hotbed for this old but new pastime

Utah County isn't exactly known as a trendsetting hotbed. Case in point: Folks here get more excited about the Osmonds than the Osbournes.

But over the past few years, the rest of the nation has picked up on a pastime long popular in Utah County: board games.

Some in the industry think the rise is related to the slower economy and the current social climate.

"In the last few years, people are more interested in staying in and playing games as opposed to going out just because of the current climate," said Bonnie Canner, vice president of marketing for Cardinal Games. "That's been sort of a progression over the last two years. Since Sept. 11, to be perfectly honest, family games have done better."

But possibly a bigger reason for the change is the increase in the number of European games imported to the United States, according to John Phythyon of the Game Manufacturers Association.

"Board gaming is a very, very passionate pastime in Europe, particularly in Germany," Phythyon said. "And so what started to happen around 1995, 1996 is that a few American companies started importing the more successful European games."

Phythyon thinks superior design boosted sales of the imported games.

"These games were really well-designed, and they had fabulous production values over and above what one might expect to see in the U.S. — they have wooden parts, really beautiful graphics, that sort of stuff," he said. "They really started to catch on."

One game in particular, Settlers of Catan, has loyal fans across the country, and particularly in Utah. The German-designed game challenges players to dominate the island of Catan by building settlements, cities, and roads. Players collect raw materials to build up their civilizations to gain enough victory points to win the game.

Spanish Fork resident Calvin Barnum organized a Settlers of Catan tournament in June as a fund-raising event, and says the game is popular because it is dynamic.

"The way the game board is set up, it can be different every time," Barnum said. "The cool thing about Settlers is that if you're a beginner, it's basic enough that you can catch on really fast and still enjoy it, but there's so many layers to it that if you've been playing for a long time you can get really into the strategy of it and still really enjoy it."

Utah is a ripe market for other board games as well.

"Utah is one of our stronger markets, because of the whole family night influence from the Latter-day Saint church, which is a great thing that they do, sit around at home and turn off the TV and play games or what have you," said Larry Roznai, president of Mayfair Games. "So we do see a reasonable amount of sales from the Utah area in general; we have a couple of really strong retailers out there."

New board games in 2004

Cranium Turbo (Cranium)

Law and Order (Cardinal)

Show Me Yours (Hasbro)

So Sue Me (New York Game Factory)

Sorry! Card Revenge (Hasbro)

Snapple (Pressman)

Trading Spaces (Hasbro)

Trivial Pursuit 1990s Edition (Hasbro)

Wheel of Fortune Live Play (Hasbro)