BLUE HIGHWAY GAMES: A journey down the road less traveled

My laptop gave out on me as I sat down to write this piece. The frustration generated by this technical failure quickly gave way, however, to the realization that fate was at work. A pen, not a laptop, seems the proper tool for writing about Blue Highway Games, the new shop at 2203 Queen Anne Ave. N. dedicated to the idea that we all need time to "Unplug and Reconnect."

The name is derived from the blue lines on old road maps indicating rural back roads, an alternate path or, in the words of poet Robert Frost, the road less traveled.

Blue Highway Games features board and card games for everyone from "kids and families to collectors and enthusiasts." Although the store is a lo-tech zone - except for the cash register, which owners Scott Cooper and Brian Bennink say they will "try to keep hidden" - its genesis was decidedly hi-tech. Cooper and Bennink both developed a passion for board games while employed in Microsoft's game group. Research and development for computer games there exposed them to board games with which they were not previously familiar, and which made a lasting impression.

While they insist they are not anti-video game - Cooper's sons enjoy playing them as much as the next kids - they point out that video games are, by nature, socially isolating and cannot offer the connection inherent in traditional board games. The desire to create opportunities for social connection and human interaction is the cornerstone of the Blue Highway Games philosophy.

Bennink and Cooper's goal for the design of their shop was to "create a space where [they] would like to go and play," a place where families and friends can come together to have fun and share valuable, and increasingly rare, face time. They plan to stock "loads" of games for adults (players age 12 and up) in addition to many games designed for families and children. While classic American board games like Monopoly, Stratego, Risk, Sorry and Clue will be on hand, the bulk of their inventory will be less well-known games from new American companies like Days of Wonder, Cranium and Out of the Box or imports, primarily from Europe.

The strategy for familiarizing locals with this exotic fare owes a debt to the classic bookstore model. The store will be organized in categories such as "kids," "family," "strategy," "party" and "travel." Staff recommendations and reviews of games will be featured, as will award-winning and bestselling games. Game of the Month evenings and family game nights will also introduce customers to new products. Additionally, they plan to have an extensive library of open games for in-store use by customers at tournaments, parents' nights out, corporate morale events, birthday parties and the school game nights they have already begun to host.

TO DATE, Blue Highway Games has organized family game nights at Lafayette Elementary, Orca Alternative School and West Woodland Elementary and has participated in an already-established game night at Coe Elementary (where Cooper's sons are students). They enjoy the school game nights because it helps develop a sense of community and gives families an opportunity to combine learning and fun. They stress that while most of their games have "educational underpinnings," whether social, linguistic, mathematical or logical, their interest lies in games that are "fun first."

Social connection and fun, lo-tech time spent with family and friends is not a new idea. Sometimes, though, old notions have a way of being forgotten, or deemed unimportant. In an age when many of us are so dependent on cellphones and computers to keep us in touch and globalization makes everything seem at once so close, and yet, so far apart, it is refreshing to find individuals intent on slowing down and renewing the heart of the local community. Scott Cooper and Brian Bennink hope Blue Highway Games will become "part of the fabric" of the Queen Anne community, a stop on the road less traveled where neighbors feel welcome to come in and play. In today's busy world a trip to Blue Highway Games might just make, as Robert Frost put it, "all the difference."

For details, phone 282-0540.

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