The Madison area boasts no fewer than six board-game stores, offering everything from traditional games to elaborate role-playing games. Yet only one, I’m Board Games & Family Fun, offers the tagline “Unplug • Interact • Reconnect” — a tempting invitation to escape, even if only temporarily, from an increasingly digital culture.
“Games bring people together,” said Margaret Rasmussen, general manager of I’m Board’s Sun Prairie store, which opened in November in Prairie Lakes. “There’s something to be said for sitting down and talking to another human being. There’s enough room for that many game stores. We all have different focuses.”
At I’m Board, that focus is on families and helping them find the right game based on the time available, who will play and the current mood of those participants. Some, such as the visual perception game Spot It!, provide fast fun while others can take several hours to complete.
Sun Prairie a perfect spot for the store, according to Rasmussen.
“This area has grown like crazy, and [I’m Board owner] Bryan [Winter] was looking at Sun Prairie for four years,” she said, adding that the store’s anchor location in Middleton has been open for almost eight years.
“These particular couple blocks are really busy, there are a lot of residential neighborhoods nearby, and the visibility is great,” Rasmussen added. “For many people, this is the first time they’ve heard of us, and that’s because they see our sign.”
Board games now encompass everything from classics like Boggle, Clue and Parcheesi to popular card games such as Magic: The Gathering and KeyForge to epic and complex history games that include Teotihuacan: City of Gods and Twilight Struggle, which encapsulates the “history of the entire Cold War in three hours,” according to Rasmussen.
“Geek culture is really now just culture,” she said, citing celebrity couples such as Dax Shepherd and Kristen Bell, who celebrate their love of The Settlers of Catan — an easy-to-learn, high-strategy game of exploration and trade. Similarly, Netflix’s sci-fi/horror series Stranger Things reignited interested in Dungeons & Dragons.
“Nothing against Monopoly, which we sell, but games have come a long way,” Rasmussen said.
“You can trace a lot of today’s games back to those older games, though,” she added.
For example, many of today’s family games are based on Apples to Apples, the popular party game of comparisons introduced in 1999.
Trivial Pursuit, of course, set the standard for all subsequent trivia games, and Monopoly and Risk created the template for bargaining and area-control games, respectively.
Rasmussen’s go-to game for newcomers who might have been raised on Candyland, Sorry and Scrabble but who haven’t played a board game in years is Kingdomino — a dominoes-style kingdom-building game for up to four players that won Germany’s 2017 “Spiehl des Jahres” (Game of the Year) and takes only 20 minutes to play.
Customers can try out Kingdomino and dozens of other games for free in I’m Board’s spacious and inviting Game Center, equipped with tables and chairs that accommodate up to about 70 people.
No purchase is required in the Game Center, and the dual goal is to introduce new games to new players and to provide new playing opportunities for more experienced players.
Thursdays are designated as “Play a Game With Melanie” nights. Melanie is an I’m Board employee who will teach new players how to play any game in the Game Center’s game library located at the back of the game center.
Games begin at 6 p.m. and run until the store closes at 9 p.m.
There also are weekly Magic: The Gathering and KeyForge nights (check the store’s website at imboardgames.com for a schedule).
Rasmussen said the Game Center continues to evolve, and the room is open daily for drop-in players during regular store hours.
Game prices at the store range from about $15 to $150, with many falling into the $20 to $50 category.
I’m Board also sells a variety of children’s games, as well as timeless games such as chess, checkers, cribbage and backgammon.
The latter two, according to Rasmussen, “are experiencing a real resurgence right now.”
Additionally, the store stocks game accessories (including card sleeves and an impressive selection of dice), jigsaw puzzles with up to 5,000 pieces and used games on consignment.
“There really is a game for everybody and every situation,” said Rasmussen, who also is a mother with first-hand experience in how board games bring families together.
“I’ve got two teens who want to spend time with me because they want to play board games,” Rasmussen said. “How valuable is that?”