The Board Game Geek

Like anyone whose interests tend more toward the intellectual, when Scott Alden talks about his passion, he tends to get rolling, calling out names and dates the average person is unfamiliar with.

Though he may be hard to keep up with, what he’s talking about is something most of us have been familiar with since childhood.

Monopoly. Life. Candyland.

Yep, that’s right — Alden is a board game aficionado.

“But wait,” you must be saying to yourself right now. “You said his interests tend toward the intellectual. Board games … intellectual?”

That’s right. Alden’s not just playing any board games — he got past trying to land Boardwalk and Park Place long ago.

The games Alden plays have a strong “social aspect,” he says — just like any good board game is meant to. But they’re also “a little bit more cerebral.”

“These games involve more strategy, more decisions,” he adds. “Luck is not as big of an element in these as it is in American games.”

In fact, Alden is so into board games — he estimates he has more than 1,000 in his personal collection — that five years ago, he and a friend started a website dedicated to the board-gaming community.

And get this: Though the site, appropriately titled boardgamegeek.com, started off slowly, it now receives about half a million unique visitors each month from throughout the world.

Like many of us, Alden grew up playing the occasional board game. But it wasn’t until adulthood that his passion for games really blossomed. Not only does he run the website — he’s also employed in the computer gaming industry. Currently, he’s working on software for a game called Duke Nuke ’Em for Garland-based company 3D Realm.

“The main character is kind of like a Schwarzenegger-type guy,” he says. “Blond hair, sunglasses, lot of guns.”

Still, he’d give that gig up if boardgamegeek.com required his attention full-time, he says.

And from the sound of it, that’s at least feasible.

Alden and Derk Solko started the site five years ago because many of the games they enjoyed were foreign (German game publishers, for instance, produce quite a chunk of the board game market), but didn’t come with English translation, making them difficult for the average person to play.

The site initially was a little-noticed presence on the Internet. Alden and Solko did all the work themselves then — writing reviews and publishing translations, taking pictures, uploading session reports (kind of like taking minutes during a game).

“I think we did that for two years before anybody actually noticed us,” Alden says.

They also added a board game marketplace, taking a small commission of the top of those sales, and a feature called GeekGold, or internal currency for the site’s users. Users earn GeekGold by writing reviews or uploading photos, and then can redeem them for “avatars.”

“An avatar lets you upload a postage stamp-size picture of whatever you want,”
Alden says, explaining that the avatars basically give longtime users more credibility and a higher profile than new users.

“The more you do, the more you can build your persona. GeekGold really kicked off the popularity of the website.”

These days, boardgamegeek.com has about 70,000 registered users (interesting fact: These users donated nearly $35,000 to Hurricane Katrina Relief in one week in September). They sell advertising to online game stores and game publishers. They also do a podcast.

“Derk and I interview board game luminaries — designers, publishers — ask them questions and put their answers up on the website,” Alden says.

These days, he says, the site “is paying for itself. And there’s a slight profit. The goal is to be able to devote ourselves to it full-time, but right now it’s kind of on the side. We can’t quit our day jobs yet.”

But they can still find time to play, albeit not as often as Alden would probably like. He plays board games about four hours a week, he says, hosting gaming friends at he and wife Michelle’s house most Saturday afternoons (see sidebar for Alden’s recommended games).

Alden says that a lot of people are turned off by the games he enjoys because “a lot of them have a lot of rules.”

“In this day and age, people don’t want to put the effort into learning [how to play the game].”

For that reason, he says, the website is probably accurately named.

“The ‘geek’ thing,” he says, laughing. “I hate to generalize, but we have found that the majority of people we talk to and socialize with are something like engineers.”

Alden says newcomers to strategic board games shouldn’t be intimidated, however. A lot of them are explainable in less than five minutes, can be finished in less than two hours and have a social aspect to them.

“They’re built such that they end, you have fun all the way through, and your decisions affect the outcome of the game,” he says, adding: “No one ever finishes a game of Monopoly.”

In fact, based on the popularity of his website, he thinks board games are making a comeback.

“If it didn’t have appeal,” he says, “our website wouldn’t be that popular.”


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