Noisy chatter spilled from Frederick’s Rockwell Brewery on a recent rainy evening, as customers packed around narrow wooden tables, laughing and catching up over beers.
But near the front of the brewery, perched on four stools, Jeremy King and his friends were silent. Their eyes were fixed on the set of small cardboard discs sitting before them.
King flipped over the card in front of him, revealing the intricate drawing of a flower. Next, he reached across from him and gingerly turned over the card in front of Spencer Chite — another flower. A groan echoed around the table.
Smiling, King slowly reached for the last card. He flipped it over — a third flower. Immediately, the table erupted into yells and protests.
“That was the practice run! That was the practice run! It didn’t count!” Chelsie King pointed a finger into the face of her husband, who was cracking up. “It didn’t count!”
Besides Chite, who remembers being destroyed in the card game once by his wife, it was the group’s first time playing “Skull & Roses.” But the stakes were already high — which is exactly what Ryan Chite and Mike Sayago wanted to happen when they created Aleventures, their new company that hosts free board game nights at local breweries.
Chite and Sayago both love board games. Sayago became acquainted with his passion in college over a five-hour game of “Axis & Allies” — a World War II strategy game similar to “Risk.” Chite has fond memories of playing raucous card games with his giant extended family (his mom is one of 15 children).
Since the two were kids, tabletop games have only gotten better, with “Settlers of Catan” dropping in the early 1990s and “Ticket to Ride” making its debut in 2004. The pandemic accelerated the industry’s success — Euromonitor, a market research blog, estimated the global games and puzzle market reached $11.3 billion last year, an almost $1 billion increase from its value in 2019.
So, when people his age claim not to like board games, Sayago wonders whether it’s because they still associate the industry with the games they grew up with — “roll the die and move two spaces” products like “Sorry,” “Monopoly” and “Parcheesi.”
“Not to diss on anyone who likes ‘Monopoly,’ but I don’t,” Sayago said, laughing. “Part of Aleventures’ goal is to get beyond that and say, ‘Look at all these fun things you can do with a little bit of cardboard.’”
The July 8 festivities marked Aleventures’ second night on the town. Before the pandemic hit, Chite and Sayago had planned to host their first game night at Rockwell Brewery, but they wound up having to delay it by more than a year. It’s been a fun discovery process of figuring out what works and what doesn’t, Chite said, and they’re hoping to take the show to other breweries in the area soon. Their goal is to build welcoming and inclusive environments for people to dip their toes in gaming culture and — ultimately — grow Frederick’s gaming community.
After all, it’s what brought the friends and business partners together in the first place. Chite and Sayago are both programmers and the small software companies they used to work for shared a break room. One day, a mutual friend suggested they hang out — they both lived in Montgomery Village and loved board games. So, Chite invited Sayago and his wife over for a movie night and $15 hot dogs, which, at least according to Chite, were worth every penny. They got to talking about board games, and their friendship quickly blossomed.
Occasionally, the pair would take board games to play at local bars and breweries. They always wondered why bars do trivia nights and not board game nights.
“I think when you’re sitting down on your weekends to play board games and drink beers,” Sayago said, “naturally the conversation turns to, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could just make a living playing board games and drinking beers?’”
Chite laughed. “I don’t know that we’re in the make-a-living phase of it yet, but we’re definitely in the ‘Hey, let’s give this thing a try’ phase,” he said.
Those who frequent bars are probably familiar with the stack of games that often sit in the corner. Although games like “Jenga” and “Apples to Apples” get some play, more complicated games tend to gather dust on the shelves. Chite and Sayago laugh about this. They think it’s because people don’t want to bother learning a new set of rules when they’re just interested in hanging out with friends.
That’s why the pair is committed to learning the ins-and-outs of a game before setting it loose on a group of bar patrons — they read the instructions, so others don’t have to. On Thursday, Chite and Sayago bounced from table to table, walking people through how to play “Skulls & Roses.” When folks mastered that game, the two helped them graduate to a more complicated one with similar rules — they had also brought along “Coup” and “Love Letter.”
On Thursday, all of the games on the menu tested competitors’ bluffing skills. Down the road, though, Chite and Sayago said they want to explore other themes, like gathering games that revolve around storytelling and others that can be played on the road or in the airport.
“Just show up and have fun,” Chite said. “That’s all we can ask of you.”