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|Written by Dahlia Liwsze|
|Wednesday, 21 April 2010 00:00|
Most people wish they could devote their entire day to something they love. John Engel is doing just that.Engel runs Mission: Fun & Games, a family-owned board games store in St. Albert, Alberta. The store has been around since 1990.
"I had a passion for board games and card games mainly and almost any kind of gaming not TV or computer-based," the 48 year-old self-professed 'nutcase board gamer' told (Cult)ure via e-mail.
"I [also] wanted to be a full-time dad and wanted a business that would allow me to do some work from home during the weekdays when the kids were napping and more of the work in [the] evening after the wife got home to take over after family dinner. I wanted to be able to drop anything to help with a school function, stay home with them when [they were] sick."
Years later, Engel's daughters Christa, 16, and Sharlene, 14, are helping him and his wife Tracy with the store. They assist with sales, shipping, and website work, and run the Pokémon league on Saturdays. In fact, Sharlene came in sixth in the 10 and under age category in the 2004 Pokémon Canadian Nationals in Toronto and played in the Pokémon World Championships in San Diego in 2005, finishing 34th. Tracy works part-time and often runs campaigns in the store. Engel proposed to her on a Scrabble board on his birthday on March 30, 1992.
In 1990, the store's main income came from renting and selling video games and movies. It also rented out board games and had about 30 the day it started.
Twenty years later, Mission: Fun & Games has over 2,000 games. Hence its motto.
"So many games, so little time." Some of its bestsellers include The Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, the Axis & Allies series, Catch Phrase, Ticket to Ride, Puerto Rico, What? and Scene It. Games also can be purchased online.
As for Engel's personal games collection, he has about 3,000.
"In 1987, I likely had about 200 to 300 games. I started buying a lot of games in 1989 when I returned from 11 months [of] travelling the South Pacific and settled in with Tracy. The store has well over 2,000 now. That is from mainly the last 17 years of development," he said.
Engel also does more trade shows than he did 20 years ago, which include The New York Toy Fair every three years and the GAMA trade show in Las Vegas almost every year. In addition, he goes to the Nuremberg Toy Show every three years, and, in October 2009, he went to Spiel in Essen, Germany, which he calls "the biggest game convention on the planet."
Although he gets sick of his job sometimes, Engel still enjoys family game nights.
"At home, it is usually once to twice a month for board and card games, once a month for role-playing, and Pokémon practice most of the rest for the time to prepare for various tournaments," he said.Mission: Fun & Games hosts a drop-in gaming night every Friday. After the Pokémon league on Saturdays, the store often has some gamers hang around to play board and card games. It also holds an in-store gaming convention called Gamealot once a year. The weekend convention, which is coming up on its 10th year, happens the weekend after Labour Day. All food and funds raised go to the St. Albert Food Bank.
For Ottawa residents who are interested in organized games nights, there is Carleton University's Strategy Club.
"The club provides a nice social atmosphere for people who have the same hobby. It's a place to come out and play with other people and have a fun time. It also serves as a break for most people who either work around computers a lot or are busy during the day," said Craig MacEachern, the club's treasurer.
The Strategy Club has been operating for 30-plus years. It has over 20 members who are either students or members of the public. Its Wednesday games nights take place in a back corner of the University Centre with the most popular games including Betrayal at House on the Hill, Race for the Galaxy, Puerto Rico, The Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Wizard.
"I have two favourite games. The first is Betrayal at House on the Hill, which is an exploration horror game that changes each time you play it. The board is set up like an old Victorian manor that has rooms that are uncovered while you explore. All the while it's leading up to the haunt. The haunt is where the house or a player turns against you and basically the good and evil sides battle it out according to a haunt scenario," said MacEachern.
"The second game that I enjoy is Race for the Galaxy, which is a card game that focuses around building a space empire. The game has many ways it can be played, so there is a lot of variety."
But playing board games can do more for you than simply passing the time.
"Look at all a board game does when it comes to teaching things like taking turns, being cordial, and learning something new," said Pat Riso, a spokesperson for toy and game giant Hasbro.
"And it is one of those opportunities when the playing field is level for children and adults, and it's okay to beat your parents."
Toy industry experts say board game sales have grown steadily over the past years. The recent American International Toy Fair in New York City unveiled Scrabble Flash with an electronic component, Monopoly: Revolution, and a new version of Trivial Pursuit that sometimes involves betting on another player - classic games with a modern twist.
This enthusiasm for games brings a smile to Engel's face. And the best thing about playing board games?
"Reward through fulfillment, human interaction, and escape," he said.
"When gaming sessions end satisfactorily, fulfillment generally comes as a form of escape from the day-to-day pressures of life as opposed to adding to them. For the session to end satisfactorily, the game must have played out well, delivering the gaming experience the players expected, and without ruling issues that convoluted the session [. . .] or unsportsmanlike behaviour that diminishes the quality of game play. Mind you if I played the game Therapy a few dozen times, I could better answer that one!"
Tags: alberta, board games, craig maceachern, culture, john engel, mission: fun & games, ottawa, play, st. albert, strategy club