Everyone wants to rule the world, it has always been that way throughout history. Ten years ago, this goal was set by a group of young people from Budapest with a burning heart, who decided to set out for world domination with board games. Since then, in addition to Budapest, another strategically important city, Debrecen, has also been conquered. We asked their enthusiastic leader, Gábor Karmacsi, what their tactics were and what secret trump cards they used to conquer the city of Debrecen.
What are your goals with the Játszóház Project?
To organize cultured, community-building programs, where people can try and discover new things. We ensure that the evenings are not only about drinking but that thoughts, experiences and lots of smiles can exchange hands while socializing. It might sound a little kitschy, but we want to enjoy the grown-up but playful side of life.
You had your first event in Debrecen in 2015. Can you tell me about how the campaign started?
At that time, the events had been taking place in Budapest for 3 years. The playhouse started in a living room and grew into a regular event of hundreds of people in just a few months. This is where Balázsék Sághy got the idea that it should be tried in Debrecen as well. Things started quickly here as well, almost from one event to the next, hundreds of people came to play. At that time, even the game masters and the games came from the capital. It quickly became clear that there is a constant demand for it here as well, so they started building a team in Debrecen, which meant that the training of local game masters and the procurement of clubs also started. At first, the Pest and Debrecen playmaker teams were present at the same time, and after a while, only us from Debrecen remained. The four-person brigade here was quickly assembled, which soon expanded to six people.
Were you among them?
Yes, I already participated in the first event in Debrecen as a guest. Then when Balázs, the game master from Debrecen, was looking for team members, I was among them. I have been regularly attending the events ever since, and it will soon be two years since I organized the events in Debrecen as an “ambassador”.
How can someone become a game master now?
As in the past, we look for future team players personally. Come to our events, be open, and kind, and love to learn, and teach board games. It’s best if it’s one of your hobbies. So if someone feels that kind of urge and doesn’t want to wait for us, just walk up to us at one of the events and the rest will happen. Now we want to expand the team anyway, so the door is open.
How does a board game night go?
We open around six in the evening. It is worth arriving at this time because this way you can try many more games, and it is more certain that you will have something to sit down on. You have to look for a big pile of board games, there is usually a game master who will help you choose from more than 150 types of board games. The most important question here is how many people want to play. There are games that can be played by a maximum of two people, and of course, there are also games that can be played by 10-12 or even a hundred people at the same time. A game master then teaches the rules and stays at the table until the party has played a few rounds to make sure they understand the game. Of course, if something is not clear during the trip or they are stuck, let them know and we will help them. So you don’t have to be afraid that someone can’t socialize, because everyone knows that. But if not, we will teach you!
Are there regulars who are always there?
Of course, I guess their number is 80-100 people. Almost all of them come at least once a month. Good faces, and were nice to each other and to us. We have received board games from them several times. Last time, for example, we came across this story of a young guy. In short: he won too many times against his girlfriend, who refused to play with him anymore. So he asked if he could give it to us because he thought it would be in a good place with us. Of course, we accepted. These kind gestures are always nice.
What about whoever is brave enough to come alone?
No problem! This has always been a regular thing for us. I came to the first event unintentionally, but I also arrived alone, and then this is how it ended: a legal mind-altering drug. Haha. So if someone comes alone, we try to seat them with other company, we encourage them to go to tables where there are only two or three people and ask if they can join. It works, as far as I know, no one has gone home because they came alone, but in the end they had no one to socialize with. So there are several groups who met here and have been coming to socialize together ever since.
What games do you have and how many? What do you experience, do they prefer those that someone already knows from the company or do they like to try new ones?
We have a stock of roughly 160 pieces, but a total of 170-180 pieces, because we keep more of the popular ones. We are constantly trying to expand the repertoire, and all kinds of games can be found in the pile. There are cooperative, team, strategy and skill games, and of course endless combinations of these.
Whether they choose a known or unknown game depends a lot on us, the game masters. A comprehensible and easy-to-understand explanation is important. Also, we draw attention to the fact that they should feel free to choose something they are not familiar with, because we will teach them the rules, since that is why we are here.
They are open to new things, and that is why they come to us. Maybe the bigger companies like to choose the games they already know.
Have you ever been in trouble for this? Let’s face it, it happens even in the best families during board games. Everyone knows the rule better and in a strange way differently.
If we teach them the rule, then the chances of that happening are quite small. Perhaps at the end of the game, when scoring, there is usually some dispute. But if there is no match, they usually tell us, the gamemasters, to do justice.
About the rules, I should also mention that by the time a game is released, it has already been tested thousands of times. So the rule is what it is because according to the developers and testers, the game works best with it. That is why we strictly adhere to them and do so. Of course, as always, there are exceptions, but we are not talking about that now.
Have you ever forgotten how to play a particular game?
Not even once. Now I know the rules of about 100-110 games. But you don’t have to imagine this as a poem that I know by heart. There are several types of mechanisms that make up a game, and they are mixed in them. Based on this logic, it is quite easy to learn twice as many rules. Of course, continuous repetition and practice are essential, but this is just a game. What must be taken seriously are the “small print” parts, because it is easy to slip over them. And we can’t do that, because if there is even one player who didn’t win because he didn’t know the exact rules, then we can completely spoil his gaming experience. That’s why it’s worth socializing with us, so that the time spent here is really about the game. Not about fiddling with the rules for hours, and then it turns out at the end that an important rule was missed, which would have completely changed the outcome of the game. Of course, it would be presumptuous to say that we have never made a mistake, unfortunately, it happens to us sometimes.
Still, why is this all good? You can also play at home.
Among other things, because you can try out a lot of exciting games full of adventures and twists. People can get to know and meet each other personally and live. The age group is very mixed, so everyone can find the friendly community they like.
Then, since we usually gather at a place where there is food and drink, we don’t have to worry about cleaning, cooking, and baking. After work and study, all you have to do is gather your friends, book a table, and then you can start playing.
It seems to me that you, the game masters, clearly give the soul of the event. Matters of the heart, at least yours for sure.
I can only speak for myself, but yes, it absolutely is for me. However, I feel that it is equally important for all members of the team, and I am sure of this because otherwise, this whole thing would have stopped a long time ago. So I am totally proud of what we bring together week after week here in Debrecen. However, I think the real credit goes to Balázs, his friends and the Budapest team. They created this still strong foundation on which we can build here. We’re just trying to appreciate that, to the best of our ability. A huge thank you goes out to family members, friends, players – all those who supported me and still believe in this.
Do the board game publishers not see you as a competition?
No, we are not their competition at all, at least in my opinion. It often happens that they buy a game because they liked it there. There are also those who try out the game here before buying it. Plus, we even taught the rule in both cases, didn’t we? The bigger publishers organize their own events where you can try out the latest board games, but as far as I know, you can only play games from that publisher there. I think we have a rather positive effect on the board game market, so the publishers are doubly motivated to add the best and most exciting games to their list and publish them. It is thus a healthy competition or rather a good little game for all participants.
What do you think makes a good board game?
From the fact that we ourselves feel it. And for that, you just have to explore the world of games and of course yourself.
What types of games do people prefer? Those who don’t require thinking, or do more serious ones appear during the course of an evening?
These games are all about thinking and using your brain. The difference is that some use the gray matter less and some use it more intensively. So thinking cannot be avoided in any way, except perhaps to the extent of it.
We don’t really find games based purely on luck, where the dice “think” for us, so to speak.
Then Gazdálkodj Okosan! you don’t have either? Do not do it! Shall I lend it?
No! It wasn’t and never will be. Let’s imagine the situation, right, we played Gazdálkodj Okosan!, everyone knows, some won and some didn’t. Can we give each other any advice so that we might have more chances to win next time? No, at most, how to blow or spit on the cube, maybe kiss one of its sides, to see if you have better luck. What’s good about that? I think nothing. Although we played at home a few years ago, I joined out of curiosity, to see if I was just too young for it at the time, but no. It was a terrible feeling to watch, even with an older head, as I helplessly and slowly lose.
I read the term “modern board game” in several articles about you. What’s wrong with the old ones?
I really don’t want to label these as good or bad. They were useful in that many families at least socialized instead of watching TV. Modern games are not based on luck, but on some skill and knowledge to win. Whether it is a cooperative game, i.e. when we are against the game together, or when we are fighting against each other, the gameplay is definitely based on our skill, strategy and tactics. We still have a chance to win.
This is the main difference between older and modern games, in the latter I have to use my mind. It’s a bit like a gym, only here we train our brains and personalities. If I lose in a more modern board game, it means that I still have room to improve in that particular area. However, if I read your rule several times, and play with it a lot, during and after we talk with the others about who messed up what or did it right, then I learn and improve.
So I don’t even notice that I’m learning while playing. Are these primarily good for skill development, or do they also teach you to think in a team?
Both. Let’s say, I prefer to use the word development instead of learning. When we think of learning, we usually think of poems, years and math formulas. Of course, one of the foundations of development is learning. Modern games are complex, I just brought two to try and not just talk about them. One, Rhino Hero Mini, is a tactical game that also requires motor skills. The other one is Corridor, which is a super simple logic game. It will take a maximum of 5 minutes for me to teach both.
By the way, the Társas suli has been operating in Budapest for the fifth year, as part of which they go to primary and secondary schools to hold board game classes.
The difference with children’s toys is that fewer things are needed than in the case of toys for adults. It is important not to overburden the child and to enjoy the game and have a sense of success. This fall, we are also planning to start the Társas school in Debrecen, I see it as a very useful and valuable opportunity not only from the point of view of the children.
What skills can be developed in children?
Cooperation, communication, logical and tactical thinking, and I could go on and on. They learn to win, lose, build a team and work together. They can realize that if they listen and learn, that is, if they put energy into something, they can develop and achieve success. They also learn that if they don’t pay attention, they will be taken for granted, they will fall behind others, but most of all compared to themselves. Because they will have the feeling that “I could have been better and I could have won”.
And anyway, we “just” played board games.
Yes. A child probably doesn’t even notice this, but I’m sure it affects their personality development. It’s much more fun to win after losing three times, but I win a fourth time because I’ve been watching, learning and improving from game to game. If, on the other hand, you get the fifth time in Who’s Name at the End? there’s nothing you can do, you were unlucky, you can’t improve, you can’t be better. Of course, these are all true for games for older people as well. All children and adults should play much more.
Are there more popular hit games from time to time? Dixit, for example, I have heard from many people how much they love it.
Our logo also comes from Dixit, the bunny, but as we call him: Ignác. This is perhaps the first modern board game that broke away from the old dice and luck-based gameplay. This is a conversational, associative, get-to-know-you party game that can be taken seriously. During the time of COVID, the Pandemic became very cool, in which you have to defeat a pandemic to save humanity. Now I see that self-knowledge games are popular, in which we can get to know ourselves and each other a little more deeply.
What kind of games do you prefer?
It almost doesn’t matter, just don’t gamble, now you know what I mean.
Did you hold events during the pandemic?
We couldn’t and wouldn’t have been able to organize safe events during COVID, but our leader in Pest, Balázs, reacted quickly and started a national rental company. This is for the Playhouse/House.
The essence of this is that you can order toys through a courier service. A questionnaire must be filled out, based on which a package will be put together for the customer. It works on a subscription system and the games are constantly changing. It is a big help that there are also videos explaining the rules, so you don’t have to do without the game masters at home either.
Unfortunately, the effects of COVID are still felt today. Many people probably bought toys for their homes during the epidemic, which we are of course very happy about. Also, while it used to be considered cool to gather 300-400 of us, it is no longer so attractive after the epidemic. It has changed people, many prefer to stay at home. Now everything has become very expensive, but I’d rather not go into that.
The project is ten years old this year. Where will the birthday party be and what can be expected?
This is organized by the Budapest team. There will certainly be live music, cake, and surprisingly lots of parties, but some parts of the program are still being organized. The party will take place in Budapest, in the Dürer Garden.
Are there any upcoming programs in Debrecen? Where can I find you?
You can find us at Roncsbár every two weeks on Thursdays, but it’s worth keeping an eye on our Facebook page. Last year we also had outdoor events, which went very well, we were on the roof of the Kölcsey Center and in the Nagerdei Water Tower. In August, we also organize a picnic in the Big Forest, which is completely free. We are planning similar events this year as well.
You can also meet us at various festivals. This year, we will definitely be there at the Strand, Colorado, Bánki-tó, Művészetek völgye, Ozora, DAAD, festivals, just to mention the bigger ones.
We rarely but regularly visit the University of Debrecen, we will have an event there in May, and we also visit companies for team building or family events.
And from September, according to our plans, we will also start the Board Game classes and family-friendly events.
Needless to say, at the end of the conversation, I was already on my knees, let’s play, let’s play! My gut told me that the Rhino Hero Mini would be my turn, but I ended up winning both, leaving the battlefield with an indescribable sense of pride. Today’s beer also had two lessons, we learned two things today. One is not to underestimate yourself, the other is not to underestimate your opponent!
In the world of games, anything can happen. In any case, Gábor convinced me – if not convinced. Maybe it’s not such an impossible undertaking to go towards world domination with board games?
Translated from Gabriella Bíró’s article on Debreceni Nap’s page.