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Let the Games Begin

The retro novelty of actually conversing has trendy creatures of the night bypassing the dance floors to stay in and play Scrabble, charades and other parlor sports.


Calling all hipsters. It's Saturday night.

Do you . . .

A. Try to get past the velvet rope at the club du jour?

B. Drink overpriced cocktails in a room full of strangers?

C. Stay home and play games with friends?

Stay home and play games with friends?

How adolescent!

Indeed, that's part of the fun, and one reason that game nights have become a popular alternative to clubs and bars, even among Hollywood types.

"Game nights are great in so many ways," said Jenji Kohan, a 30-year-old television writer and producer who, with her husband, regularly hosts game get-togethers. "They're social without any pressure. You need to be clever and participatory. But you don't need to make small talk. And people like to play games. It's something we did as kids but neglect as adults. And it's not passive like so many activities we do these days, like the movies or TV. It's energizing."

Among board games, Kohan likes Beyond Balderdash.

"But," she said, "I usually like to go off market." By off market, she means games that don't require trips to the local toy store.

A game called Celebrity, recently featured on an episode of the ABC sitcom "Sports Night," is one of her favorites. (See box for rules.)

"Playing games can be very revealing," Kohan explained. "You really find out who's got that competitive streak."

Cheryl Morgan, 29, discovered her inner warrior through play.

Morgan, who works in comedy development at Warner Bros., plays mah-jongg once a week with two William Morris agents and a colleague from work.

"It's the best game," she said. "You know how they say golf teaches you discipline and you learn about life? Mah-jongg is not unlike golf."

Morgan likens her weekly competitions to "a clinic with four women. We're telling dirty jokes, betting. It's like rummy but fast and furious. I'm addicted."

Writer Lizzie Weiss, 28, and her boyfriend Dan Lazar, a business-school student, recently hosted 16 people, most of whom did not know one another, for a night of team charades.

"We didn't know if people our age would be into charades," Weiss said. "But after half an hour, we were totally laughing with strangers. People even felt free to harass their teammates." After five rounds of the game, the group "settled into the living room for a normal party."

"It was totally organic," Weiss said, "not forced. It's like an outdoors wilderness thing. You've gone through this bonding experience with strangers."

At least one expert thinks this is good news.

"When you're in a bar, all you have is yourself and some music, and nothing else to rely on," said Jack Mayhall, chairman of the Marriage and Family Therapy Department at the California Graduate Institute. "When you have a game triangled in, you can express yourself through the game. It's like kids doing sand tray work."

Game playing can even lead to love.

"When Jacki [Weber] and I were courting," said 32-year-old Josh Fouts, managing editor of USC's Online Journalism Review, "we played a lot of Scrabble." Today Fouts and Weber are happily, albeit a bit competitively, married. They play games with other couples at least twice a month.

Their repertoire includes bridge, Wise and Otherwise (a board game in which players complete foreign adages such as the Scottish "He that has a great nose . . ."). They also like Cranium, another board game, described by Fouts as "a combination of charades, Dictionary Dabble, Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary." The game even includes a canister of Play-doh, which players must sculpt into identifiable forms.

"There's a retro aspect," Fouts said, "a going back to our roots."

"A desire to turn to a simpler or more social time," Weber added.

A time in which there's no cover charge and no one asking, "What's your sign?"

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