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Versatile Snacking: Not Just for Game Night

January 30, 2012 10:50 am

When I was working on this book and talking with folks about it upon its release, I was a little surprised sometimes at the reactions I got to the idea of a “game”-related cookbook. In my head, of course, it was firmly framed around a gathering of friends playing dominoes or poker and wanting to eat well, but eat without the mess of sloppy finger food (think big slices of greasy pizza) and distraction of traditional dinnertime fare (knives and folks? not on game night!).

But when others heard “game” they often thought either “football” or “venison.”

So I spent a lot of time quickly explaining my book’s interpretation of game-friendly food. But heck, if you want to make the Beef Yakitori skewers with bison instead, I’m sure it would be delicious. And the truth is, the book could just as well be used to stock up on snacks before settling in front of the TV for a Saturday afternoon of game watching. That’s another occasion when your focus is on something besides sitting at a table, squarely in your chair with a dinner plate in front of you. You want to be able to grab an Herbed Biscuit with Smoked Salmon with one hand and pump your fist in the air with the other when your team makes that field goal.

I’m thrilled that folks are turning to Gourmet Game Night for any and all times when convenient, mess-free eating fills the bill.  With the Big Game around the corner , I can again echo this post from this time last year (you’ll find a recipe there for my twist on pimento cheese). And last year as well, friend Shauna Ahern took my book for a gluten-free spin for some treats to enjoy while watching the Super Bowl.

In the past couple of days I’ve come across a couple blog posts about folks cooking a bunch of recipes from the book without a Scrabble board or deck of cards in site, or even a football game. One translated the finger-food treats into a menu for tea with the gals. And this recent post on Not Martha noted that the large group of friends gathering that evening just socialized over the “game night” spread instead of sitting down to play any games.

It’s all good. It thrills me to know that folks are discovering the versatility of the recipes in the book. In fact, I’m thrilled, too, if the book just serves as any kind of inspiration for getting into the kitchen and perhaps simply adapting what you already love to cook so that it becomes a scaled-down and mess-free version of its original self. The book’s a tool and a resource, and definitely meant to be used in whatever capacity suits you. Whether it’s a game day, game night, or there’s no game in sight.

Game Smarts

January 6, 2012 12:28 pm

One fun thing about social media is that you truly just never know what interesting new thing you’re going to learn as you scope out your Twitter feed or check new Facebook posts. Here’s a little bit of game trivia that I picked up via Twitter this morning: the celebrated American writer Mark Twain once created a board game. The inspiration was a “game” of sorts that he’d created to help his young daughters learn the names and reigns of British monarchs for school. He’d created a path around the back yard with stakes in the ground representing different monarchs and years they took power, the space between the stakes helping represent the length of their reign. It apparently worked so well for the two young students that he translated it into a board game format but alas, one that was so complex and convoluted that someone compared it to an income tax form. So “Memory Builder” was not to be a pinnacle of Mr. Twain’s illustrious career. At least it got his daughters to do well with their British monarchs.

This brings to mind information I read a few years back about how much playing games and doing crossword puzzles and otherwise tapping our brain power regularly can be such a boon to maintaining mental acuity later in life. In fact, on a cruise my husband and I just took, during which there were a couple trivia-game sessions every day, I overheard an older women next to me joking with her friends that she was playing along just to keep her brain sharp. More recent medical evidence isn’t necessarily so sold on the connection between playing games and doing puzzles, and staving off reduction in brain function with age, and diseases such as Alzheimers. I’m still going to keep playing games as often as possible, and when I’m beating the pants off my pals at age 93, you bet I’ll be giving a nod to years of game-playing for keeping my brain in gear.

This link about the Twain story is from Mental Floss which, interestingly, isn’t just a magazine (and partner blog) full of fun facts and stories, but also is the namesake for one of the fun trivia games we have in our game closet: Mental Floss Trivia Game. The magazine’s an interesting and random trove of stories to please the most ardent knowledge hound and trivia buff. They get to the bottom of important aspects of modern life, like the origins of “cat’s pajamas” (love it!) in the current issue. The game riffs on the diverse pool of interesting information shared in print, claiming that “it’s funny, it’s quirky, and you’ll walk away a genius!” — at least one of you will, the winner usually feeling more “genius” than the rest. But we’ve had fun playing this game that tests all types of knowledge. Depending on this spot you land on, you’ll get a “Right Brain” question, a “Left Brain” question, or you’ll have to “Spot the Big Fat Lie” between two, often equally outlandish, proposed facts. The “Enlightening Round” spots on the board pull out a different card with a series of questions on a given subject, going from easy to most difficult.

With all the trivia games out there, it can seem like a board game category that’s saturated and past its prime. But we still love playing these games now and then, Mental Floss one we turn to regularly. It’s an easy-to-enjoy format that doesn’t take hours to complete, a fun way to test your mettle against the smartest of your family and friends.

San Juan Tour

October 9, 2011 10:36 am

Sometimes the impromptu things end being the best, right? The last-minute let’s-go-out-for-dinner plans with friends who also happen to be available? That’s the spirit behind next weekend’s Gourmet Game Night gathering on Orcas Island at Allium restaurant in Eastsound. Sunday night October 16 during happy hour (5:30 to 6:30), I’ll be hanging out in the bar at Allium ready to play games, share tips for game night planning, talk about some favorite game night snacks and drinks. And of course I’ll have books on hand to sign and sell for anyone interested. Allium’s chef/owner Lisa Nakamura will be offering a couple of cocktails and a couple of snacks from the book as happy hour specials that night. Hope to see some of you there! Orcas may be a bit of a trek to get to, but it’s one of my favorite spots on earth. I, for one, can’t wait!

A Jazzy Trailer for Game Night

July 7, 2011 5:48 pm

Trailers are for movies, right? Or maybe for hipster curbside no-fuss dining establishments.

But actually, trailers are now for cookbooks, too. And other books that show up on shelves each year. I’d never heard the concept of a cookbook trailer until a matter of months ago, when I started seeing/hearing friends talk about trailers they were working on, or seeing links they posted on Twitter. In this modern age, book promotion takes on many forms, no more just a press release sent out by the publisher followed by a string of (often mind-crushingly boring) book signings by the author. Cookbook dinners, fun events, cooking classes, and — borrowing from the world of film — now the cookbook trailer.

Well, just so happens that I’ve got a trailer too! Even though Gourmet Game Night has been out for a little over a year now, a new local company  Visual Quill chose the book as a project for their launch portfolio. It was an honor to be part of their early efforts and I’m thrilled with the results! Jazzy, colorful, bold graphics, bouncy pace — it gets the idea of the book across delightfully in just one minute. Hope it makes you want to call a few friends to come over and play some games soon, while you’re nibbling on some tasty food. Food that you’ve cooked from Gourmet Game Night, of course!

Games on the Go

July 6, 2011 5:55 pm

I wrote last summer about the sometimes-conundrum of how much luggage space you can–or should–devote to games when you’re traveling. It’s similar to what happens in the “what to pack?” question for clothes, too, never know what the weather’s going to be like, what mood I’ll be in any given evening relative to dinnertime togs. As usual, I opt more for playing it safe and over-packing a bit (as I did with that heavy set of dominoes last summer!) than regretting something left behind.

I can’t say how many times my husband and I have ended up on a trip somewhere never quite intending that we be playing games,only to wish that we’d had something along with us to kill some time on a rainy afternoon, or taking a break back at the hotel after a full day of exploring. Pay-dirt is when you drop into a coffee shop or casual restaurant and they have games on hand for customers to play while sipping and nibbling, but that’s hard to count on.  It’s gotten so that our go-to weekend bags now have a dedicated pack of cards tucked permanently into one of the pouches. That and one of those cheapy little travel corkscrews. Another thing you don’t want to be lost in the wilderness without. Though getting to be less dire a possibility thanks to evolution of the screw-top.

But back to games. Those perma-travel decks of cards are one great fall-back. And for cases where space is as a special premium, we’ve got a couple mini-decks of cards as well. When we left on our honeymoon umpteen years ago, facing a loooooong flight to New Zealand, dear friends sent us off with a sort of in-flight care package, with something new to open every hour of the flight. One package early on contained one of those mini card decks, which became a staple on our trip, so easy to tuck in my purse and have at hand for an impromptu couple hands of rummy at random points along the way.

On one particularly dreary and drizzly backpacking trip when I was a kid, we unfortunately did NOT have any cards–mini or otherwise–to bide the time while we stayed in camp an extra day, allowing the weather to pass before we continued down the trail. I was so desperate that I used some paper from a little notepad that I’d brought along to hand-craft a deck of cards to keep us company while the rains continued to fall. Otherwise — as much as my family was big on playing games at home, once on the hiking trail we didn’t really need any such diversion from the shear pleasure of being in the beautiful wilds of the Northwest. Though on a hike in the Olympic Mountains a few years ago, we did pack along some dice to play Zilch, and one of those mini decks of cards with a tiny little cribbage deck as well.

Looks like Backpacker Magazine has covered this weather-related need for something to pass the time. In this archived article they cleverly suggest drawing some simple game boards (as for checkers or tic-tac-toe) onto mattress pads to have at the ready should the skies open. And it was fun to see this conversation on one of the magazine’s online forums about various games folks take along on their hiking trips (along with some who prefer to play “listen to the critters” and “look at the stars”).

REI, that shopping haven for outdoor types, has a (surprising) number of games in their online catalog, many of which aren’t particularly designed for backpacking–more for car camping or just playing around at the beach or in the backyard. But this version of Uno, cards that are waterproof, is a great option. As is this compact travel backgammon-board-in-a-bag. And when you have no games at hand but want to make the most of your wit and charm and non-verbal communication skills, there’s always charades!

Drinking Right on Game Night

April 26, 2011 7:15 pm

It’s pretty easy to get wrapped up in all the great food options that surround an ideal game night scenario: mini serving dishes, favorite game-friendly ingredients (endive leaves, cocktail bread, mini tart shells), fun little picks and skewers to use, finger-food menu plans and such. But at some point you and your guests are going to get a bit thirsty! What’s a game night host to do?

A pitcher of Orange Negronis ready to go......

In my opinion the thing you shouldn’tdo is try to be the master mixologist on game night. There are plenty of occasions on which you can show your cocktail-crafting finesse, shaking up a perfect Manhattan for one guest and a kaffir lime gimlet for the next. Game night, however, isn’t the night for such showmanship. One of the credos of a successful game night is that once play is under way, food and drink really shouldn’t distract from the fun. You hopping over to the kitchen to shake up a few more cocktails and putting the game in “pause” mode only cools the fun that’s been building since you sat down. Instead you’ll amaze and delight your friends with the simple act of filling their glasses in a matter of moments, poured from a chilled pitcher in the fridge.

Yes, pitcher.

Just like the food you serve while playing dominoes or Cranium, the drinks you serve should be game-friendly as well. And game-friendly can be most succinctly defined as “not distracting from the game at hand.” Distraction can come in many forms. Having to put down your poker cards to pick up a knife and fork to cut a piece of meat. The host leaving the table for 10 minutes to dish up some food or cook something à la minute. Or to make a new round of cocktails.

So instead of the shaken-to-order beverages that are de rigeur for cocktail fans most nights of the week, think instead about those great films from decades gone by when stirring up a pitcherful of spirits was in vogue. The Thin Man, of course, with the gallons of martinis they drank each film. Or Auntie Mame in which the dapper young 10-year-old Patrick has been well taught in the art of
stirring an extra-dry martini “so it doesn’t bruise the gin.”

A refreshing strawberry-ginger Champagne cocktail served in my favorite stemless wine glasses

Okay, so crafting the drink’s been covered. Find yourself a fun, sleek, kinda retro pitcher and you’re good to go. Larger ice-tea-and-lemonade type pitchers can certainly be used — but are best for punches and sangrias and other drinks that will make good use of the volume of a big pitcher. Unless, of course, you’ve got quite a large crowd of cocktail drinkers on hand to consume the couple bottles’ worth of gin or rye it’d take to fill one of those things!

Now on to serving the evening’s libation. There’s generally a lot going on around a game night table. Cards being dealt, dice being tossed, Monopoly money being distributed, dominoes being shuffled. It takes just one bit of extra flourish with one of those gestures and a tall wine glass quickly goes crashing down over the evening’s accoutrements. Stemless glasses to the rescue. And it’s incredibly convenient that stemless glassware’s been hot stuff lately. Even the primo lines of classy wine glasses are now coming no stems attached, such as these elegant ones from Spiegelau or this fun set from Riedel.  And yes, of course, you can serve a Negroni in one of these glasses just as well as you can a splash of Merlot!

I’m also a big fan of using other fun small glasses as multi-purpose vessels for cocktails, wine, beer, or whatever else you’re pouring. Tumblers such as these, or any old-fashioned type glass that’s short and squat and does its job of holding tasty beverages with little risk of spillage. Though, granted, unless you give everybody one of those charming baseball caps with the cups attached and a tube you sip your — well, isn’t it usually beer?? — from, there’s really no guarantee nothings gets spilled. But just hedge your bets, the way you do when you’re holding pocket queens but not sure what the guy to your left has.

Pomegranate-Mint Fizz served in lovely tumblers made by a glass artist friend

So, here’s what it comes down to to drink well on game night:

A) don’t skimp on quality — this is a wonderful dinner partly like any other, you just happen to be playing games in addition to the other great conversation you usually have with friends when sharing an evening together.

B) pull out the pitcher and stir things up in big batches. Yes, you do get to have both quality and quantity.

and C) secure a little insurance against dampening the evening — both literally and figuratively — with spilled drinks by keeping a low profile with the glassware.

And with that, I wish you a wonderful game night full of fun and good spirits! Cheers.

That OTHER Game: Snacks for Super Bowl

February 3, 2011 5:35 pm

Yep, she’s right. My pal Tracy Schneider imagined aloud in this blog post that when I wrote Gourmet Game Night I was likely ”thinking of Scrabble, poker or backgammon” rather than football. I don’t care much for the game, actually. Never watch during regular season. Last Super Bowl I watched was when the Seahawks played and you know how that game went! I get worked up too easily and just can’t take that kind of stress….

But it warmed the cockles of this writer’s heart to find folks citing my brand of “game night” eats as being ideal, too, for the other big game on most people’s minds right now. In fact, when I was working on the book and telling folks the title, many jumped to the “appropriate for watching football” interpretation right away. An interesting personality test! I say “game” and you say…. what? “Scrabble”? “football”? (or perhaps even “elk”?)

Right on, though, that whichever “game night” you subscribe too, the board games and football both deserve to be the focus. The food delicious and satisfying, but not center-stage. Nothing puts a damper on the momentum of a fun round of Cranium like the host leaving the table for ten minutes to pan-fry steaks. And is it really worth the risk of missing the 70-yard kick-off return, because you had to get those chocolate soufflés out of the oven? Food that can be made ahead and holds up well for a few hours. Food that’s easy to eat and doesn’t require big plates, lots of table space, pesky utensils. That’s what you need.

Here’s one option. Who doesn’t love pimento cheese, right? I had very little experience with the stuff until a trip to Kentucky a few years ago introduced me to the glories that are cheese blended with peppers and bound with a bit of mayo. I went a bit creative with the concoction for my book, instead of making an everyday sandwich, I spread the cheesy goodness between flour tortillas then cut them into little “towers” for just something different. You can instead just sandwich between a couple slices of bread. Or serve as a decadent dip for carrots and cucumbers. Or schmear on bagel chips, crackers or anything else that served as an edible perch.

So, this is my extent of joining the Super Bowl whoopla. Sharing my variation of pimento cheese with you. Enjoy.

Game Day Pimento Cheese

8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup top-quality mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely chopped pimentos
1/4 cup finely chopped hot pickled peppers (I love Mama Lil’s)

Combine the cheese and mayonnaise in a food processor and pulse a few times to blend and finely chop the cheese. The mixture should still have some chunky texture. Transfer the cheese mixture to a medium bowl and fold in the pimentos and peppers until thoroughly blended.

Makes about 3 cups

That’s all there is to it! Spread thin layers on large flour tortillas if you want to replicate my Gourmet Game Night version, and use a serrated knife to cut the stack into squares. But there are loads of ways to serve this simple combo. Have a ball.

Game Night 2011: Small Is Delicious

January 11, 2011 10:50 am

Is it just me, or did this recent transition from one year to the next come with a larger-than-usual dose of year-end lists? Both of the looking-back-on-what-happened this past year and the ever popular crystal-ball-gaze toward what the coming year may hold. And food trends certainly stand out as one of the most popular themes that get scrutinized at year’s end. I maxed out pretty quickly, but was thrilled when a friend posted a link to this year-end list to beat all year-end lists. Absolute brilliance.

Early on in this parade of year-end musings, I came across one trend note from 2010 that I could actually get behind. Among the “hot food fads for 2010″ that Parade Magazinecited back in November was this one at #2: “the incredible shrinking dinner party.”  They referenced that the small-plates movement has moved from restaurant menus to home dinner tables, evidenced in large part by the increasing availability of serving pieces and dishes that are tailored for mini-portioned foods. They mention the individual Le Creuset pots (like this one I’ve got, about 1 cup capacity), Staub bakeware, an array of mini porcelain dishes (such as these oval dishes) and “shot glasses for soups or deep spoons for slurping up a single dumpling.” Hmmmm, that sounds familiar. Part of my mantra in Gourmet Game Night is that it’s not just the recipes that make food game-friendly, but also the serving pieces. Soup served in a shot glass or espresso cup takes up a ton less dinner-table real estate than does a traditional soup bowl. And serving salads or small portions of meat on an Asian porcelain soup spoon eliminates the need for a fork and lets your guests eat very well, very easily.

So I’m fully behind the incredible shrinking dinner party. Not only does the array of small dishes like those above (not to mention the fun and diverse selection of picks and skewers that also make small portions super game-friendly to enjoy, check out the offerings here at Pick On Us) allow guests to enjoy a smaller sampling of a greater variety of items tapas-style. It also is a healthy, sensible way to eat. Instead of sitting down to a big dinner plate full of food that you eat in quick order, this game-night setting of smaller portions is enjoyed over the course of a couple of hours. The game play naturally helps folks pace themselves–a few meatballs and a mini salad one moment, a small dose of soup and baby sandwich half an hour later–and are far less likely to get over-stuffed.

Here’s to taking that 2010 trend and blazing forward into 2011 with lots of fun and delicious game nights that celebrate how delicious small can be.

Games for Food-Lovers

December 9, 2010 11:27 am

When I began dreaming up the idea of Gourmet Game Night, I really wasn’t sure exactly how many folks there were out there like me. How many inhabit that cross-section where people who love good food co-mingle with people who love to play board games/cards/dominoes/etc? I had to hope that the potential audience wasn’t a tiny one. Response to the book’s been more than encouraging, it’s gone back for a couple of printings already this year and I’ve been busy with classes and book signings this fall as folks gear up for the holiday gift-giving season. (Side note, one more signing this weekend, at Kathy Casey Food Studios, I’ll be there from 1:00 to 3:00. Not only signing Gourmet Game Night but also selling Zilch dice sets in hand-knit bags!)

So folks who loves to play games can, indeed, indulge in delicious food while they play, not simply relegate themselves to the convenient finger-food  that’s often on the menu while playing games.

But gastronomes have more to enjoy at that junction of food and games than the tasty things they’re nibbling while they play. There’s a growing array of games that feature their favorite subject. Scattered throughout Gourmet Game Night are some of these food-related games that are ideal choices for the foodie in your life. Or yourself, for that matter, you deserve a fun present as much as anyone!!

One of the most popular by far is Foodie Fight, a really well-done food trivia game that riffs on Trivial Pursuit in a more compact, easy-going fashion. Every player has their own small game board onto which they’ll collect tokens for questions correctly answered. Categories include “Foodiesphere” (places/people/cuisines around the world), “Food Stars,” “Company’s Coming” (wine/food pairing, etiquette, planning), “Lab and Field” (science, nutrition, production), “Dining Out” (chefs, menus, restaurants) and “What’s Cooking” (the practical stuff, techniques etc.). I’ve seen it in game shops, book stores and cookware stores like Sur la Table. A sure bet!

Another is Celebrity Chef: The Game!, which I find to be fun and clever and quite distinct from Foodie Fight. The premise is that players are vying to be the first to become a “celebrity chef.” Along the way, players collect tokens for fans, cookbooks, TV shows, product & endorsement and a few other stepping stones toward celebrity status. Categories of questions include “Name that Dish” in which the player’s given a list of ingredients and asked to name the dish they combine to make. And “Cook Off,” for which the player challenges another player to come up with the most items in the food-related category drawn (such as “ways to cook eggs” or “types of beans”). There are also some true/false or multiple choice categories that include “The Bar,” “Chef School” and “Tools & Techniques.” Part trivia game, part board game, this is a fun way to test culinary acumen in game form.

Leaving food trivia behind, Wasabi!appeals to the sushi-lovers out there, a card-based game that turns players into apprentice sushi chefs competing to put together required sushi-roll combos on the faux-bamboo-mat game board. Players collect special cards along the way that either give them special advantages (such as swapping out ingredients to fulfill a sushi roll recipe) or messing with opponents by blocking space on the board. Everyone collects small green wood cubes of wasabi, which contribute points toward their potential win. There are even little red & black bowls in which players collect their wasabi. This game definitely has style and fun graphics, and definitely doesn’t require any particular food knowledge to enjoy.

More flash cards than board game are the offerings from SmartsCo folks. With various themes from general Gourmet to more focused Beer and Chocolate, these card sets feature 4 categories of trivia cards customized to the subject. Chocolate, for instance, has the topics “Indulging” (general chocolate-related questions), “Cocoa Culture” (historic and cultural perspectives), “Fundamentals” (facts and figures) and “Wild Card” (luck-of-the-draw). While the boxes do have a score card for collecting points for correct answers for official game play, I think these boxes are just as much fun to have on the coffee table during cocktail hour and just doing some free-style trivial challenges with friends.

And let’s not forget the kids!! There are a bunch of food-related games available that can indoctrinate the young ones in the culinary world. Slamwich is one such game, in card version. Cards are slice-of-bread shaped with toppings that range from lettuce & tomatoes to gummy worms, plus some special “thief” and “muncher” cards that add unique twists to the play. From theirstack of face-down cards, players flip their card upright on the center pile, going around quickly in a circle until certain combos–such as a “Slamwich” which is 2 of the same cards separated by one that’s different–and the first player to slam their hand on top of the stack gets to keep all the cards in that stack. Fast, furious, silly, fun. I splurged on the “collector’s edition” which comes in this cool metal lunch box.

Last but not least: what food-lover’s game collection would be complete without Mr. Bacon’s Big Adventure. Brought to you by the wacky folks at Archie McPhee, this simple spin-the-dial-and-move-your-piece game is billed as “a mad dash through meatland on your way to the frying pan.” There’s a hilarious set of ”Alternate Meat Feast Rules” in which players must eat a prescribed item based on where their playing piece lands each turn. It means you have to stock up mightily on pepperoni slices, corn dogs, sliced olive loaf, even tofu and veggie burgers should someone land on the dreaded “Vegan Alley.” Land on Bologna Forest? Eat a bologna-wrapped pepperoni stick. How about Gristle Grotto? That’ll be a meatball wrapped in olive loaf and dipped in gravy, my meat-loving friend. I just wonder which spots earns someone access to the Alka Seltzer.

Happy holidays one and all!! And here hoping that lots of great food and games will be part of the festivities.

Cheers to Independent Game Stores!

October 29, 2010 1:23 pm

Most of Gourmet Game Night is all about the food and recipes, serving ideas and planning tips. The “gourmet” part. I am a professional food writer, after all, and that arena is the core of my expertise. But it wouldn’t be Gourmet Game Night without the games, right?

We’ve all got a deck of cards (or 12) around the house, cribbage and Scrabble, probably an old Monopoly board and maybe some dice. But just as it’s always a treat to try new foods and recipe ideas, so is it also a lot of fun to try out new games along the way. In the course of doing all the hard work (!! holding games night dinner parties is hard work??) of research for this book, I procured myself some new games to add to the mix. We’re now fans of Settlers of Catan and were late-comers to Apples to Apples (LOVE that game!). In search of food-centric games I found out about Wasabi! and Celebrity Chef: The Game.

Many of these I found at the wonderful game-lovers destination in Seattle, Blue Highway Games at the top of Queen Anne Hill. In fact, if you read the introduction to my book (do people actually read those? I hope at least some do….) you’ll see that Blue Highway figured in the early gestation of the idea for the cookbook. Sure, maybe WE have converted our hall linen closet into the “game closet” but that doesn’t mean loads of other folks out there love to play unplugged board games the way we do. Blue Highway helped convince me otherwise!

So while it can be pretty easy to score a range of types of games at spots like Target or Wal-Mart or Barnes & Nobel, I’m pretty devoted to the independent game stores out there. As I describe in my book, and on this page with a listing of some such stores, they not only offer the extra expertise that comes with a niche focus, but they also can offer a number of “extras.” Like open samples of games that you can play in the store to try out before buying. Organized game nights were customers connect around playing tables for free-style or game-specific open play. Special events. And usually hundreds of games to choose from, with passionate game-players on staff to help you find just the right one.

For instance, on one trip to Blue Highway, I was talking with co-owner Scott Cooper about the fact that my husband played some serious Risk back in college, often all night long and nearly to sunrise. That kind of hard-core strategy game isn’t quite my cup of tea, nor are marathon gaming sessions. I’m more the cribbage/word game/party game type. He suggested we try Small World as a game that brings in some elements from both side of that game-loving equation. Honestly, we haven’t cracked it open to try yet, but with friends coming over tomorrow night to play games, I think I just figured out which game we’ll play!

That kind of deep understanding of game play and the range of products available to suit so many different interests is the prime reason I’m so keen on encouraging folks to seek out an independent game store when on the prowl for something new. I included a dozen or so in the book, also here on the blog. Nice thing about the blog, of course, is the opportunity to continually amend the list!

When my husband I made our trip to Santa Barbara earlier this year–part of the prize package he won in the KPLU poker tournament–ends up that the Hotel Santa Barbara where we stayed was just next door to a great little game store, Game Seeker. So I just added that to the list.

Do you have a favorite game store near you that’s a great destination for board games, party games and the like? Please let me know about it! I hope to make this list a reliable resource for game lovers looking for something new to tackle on their next game night.

I’ll report soon on our first run through Small World! And what we ate, of course….