A group of board games fans play "Shadow Hunter" at the FF Bar in Xujiahui. With the increasing number of players, board games bars are springing up in Shanghai.
LI Yan and four friends spent three obsessed days closeted in her apartment over the Chinese New Year holiday. Apart from catching a few winks and eating noodles, they did just one thing: playing "Sanguo Sha," or "The Killers of Three Kingdoms."
It's not the latest title on Wii or a traditional Chinese leisure game like mahjong.
"Sanguo Sha," which consists of 108 cards and three to 10 players, is one of the hottest board games in China these days. "Unplugged" - not virtual - board games are gaining a toehold in the city, providing everyone with face time.
Multiple players can take part in "Three Kingdoms" killing dramas, operate power grids, create civilizations, go on medieval quests, buy and sell modern art, play World War II games or silly party games. Many female players like the simpler games and party games, it is said.
There are games clubs and regular playing sessions, some organized by employers. Games bars are springing up and Shanghai now has three major board games bars, one on Guoding Road near Fudan University, one near South Shopping Mall in Minhang District, and the FF Bar in Xujiahui.
Players and psychologists say board games are healthier than obsessive online games that will isolate players from real-world interaction. Board games range from easy party games to strategy and economics games and adventure; people play face-to-face, interact and socialize.
"Three Kingdoms" was developed from the Western board game "Bang!" and is based on the history and story of the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD) 1,800 years ago. "Sanguo Sha" features Character cards and Role cards. The Role cards are heroes, known for particular feats in the Three Kingdoms period.
The Character cards are Lord, Loyalist, Rebel and Spy. The Lord announces his role and places it face up in front of him. The other players' roles remain secret.
The Lord and Loyalist's goal is to wipe out all Rebels and Spies while the Rebels are required to kill the Lord. The Spy has to survive with the Lord only and finally kill him in order to win, which makes his strategy fluid.
It requires four to 10 players, seven are recommended. Games take from half an hour to two hours.
"The uncertainty of players' characters is intriguing. Everyone needs to guess who's alliance and who's enemy," says Li, 26, who works in a publishing house.
People can play in their personal styles from daily life, or adopt a new style. They can debate strategies and that expands friendships and helps them make new friends, says Li.
Board games (zhuo shang you xi), which means "playing on the table" in Chinese, includes hot games like "Sanguo Sha," "UNO," "Puerto Rico" and "Modern Art."
Li plays "Sanguo Sha" at least once a week. Although she is pregnant, she takes the bus or Metro each week to play with friends.
Elva Cai stayed overnight playing the game when the HSBC Shanghai employee first learned how to play it. Cai then immediately purchased one package on taobao.com and taught five colleagues to play within a week.
"I can't resist playing it and I have to keep it secret from my mother," says Amigo Su, mother of a one-year-old girl. "She takes care of my baby and feels unhappy if I spend too much spare time playing the game away from home."
Board games seem to have caught on in the past few months. People from the same company find it easier to socialize over board games than at work.
"Everyone can feel simple happiness and forget the troubles in daily life. They can chat and smile though they usually don't talk to each other," says player Zhanggui (meaning "boss" in Chinese), who operates a professional board games bar, FF Bar in Xujiahui.
"The craziest experience? We play board games for about 12 hours a day," says player Landice, who switched 10 months ago to board game from the wildly popular online "World of WarCraft."
"People playing board games can't hide themselves during the face-to-face playing and I have made a lot of new friends," Landice says.
Landice, who works for a trading firm, regularly plays board games with several friends once or twice a week.
"I don't expect this to change for at least 10 years," he adds.
Besides "Sanguo Sha," another hot title "UNO" is relatively simple and has become a must-have gadget for parties.