NEW YORK – Despite the evolution of graphics, sound effects and virtual reality in most computer and video adventures, it seems many Americans still prefer the cardboard and plastic of old-fashioned board games.
"I can't sit in front of the computer," said Melissa Goldfarb of West Orange, N.J. "It's not interactive enough if you're with friends. With board games, at least you have people to talk to."
It's that basic need for human contact that has made the board game survive for more than 100 years.
"People are talking more and more about family values and spending time together," said Jay Deutch, president and CEO of BD&A, the makers of Hear Me Out, a new board game slated to hit a Starbucks store near you this month.
"Computer games are really designed for one or two people," Deutch added. "With Hear Me Out, you can have multiple participants — six players or more — and everybody has a good time."
Having a good time, especially in times of political or economic crises, is the name of the game.
"Timing is everything," said Whit Alexander, co-founder of Cranium, a popular board game that challenges not only players' trivia and word knowledge, but inspires creative juices as well.
"Hit games come out of periods of social dislocation," said Alexander. "Monopoly was at the heart of the Great Depression and people fantasized about having money."
"Trivial Pursuit took off with the rise of cable television and with the proliferation of massive entertainment options. People said 'enough is enough, let's just get together and play,'" he added. "Cranium flourished during the technology boom, where people were more interested in celebrating one another rather than the tech."
Starbucks looks at games as a natural extension of the coffeehouse culture that has swept much of the country over the past decade and seeks out exclusive offerings for its customers.
"It's more than a cup of coffee. It's the experience of the store, the laughter and time spent with friends, family and co-workers," said Kristin Stanislaw, merchandise manager of Starbucks. "We select games that are driven by players based on experience and opinions, versus a strategy game like Battleship."
Another difference between board games and their digital cousins is the cost: PC games tend to be more expensive. For example, the board game version of Scrabble sells for $13.95 on Toys R Us' Web site, while the PC version goes for $5 more at Amazon.com — and $14 more for Mac versions.
But price isn't the sole factor influencing the popularity of the board game.
"You can have more fun with one another with board games," said friends Noelle Castiglia and Gina Capra of New Jersey. "Video games are so overrated. There's no fun in playing against a computer."