In Christmas Past, children would find all sorts of simple games under the tree: Tiddlywinks, pickup sticks and board games could amuse young minds for hours.

Batteries and computer chips have made much of kid's play an electronic spectator sport today, but there are signs of some pushback.

Retailers are offering a variety of games, and many people of different generations are seeking out the toys they remember fondly - puzzles, board games and the like.

And even among the most avid gamers, whether it is video, online or computer, board games bring a certain amount of social interaction that can't be replicated through virtual games.

"I started playing board games because I was isolated and it helped me to be more social," said Erin McDonald, a self-proclaimed gamer. "I like interacting with people and things I can touch."

She and a number of other friends meet Mondays at Book Maze, a Tempe independently-owned used bookstore, to play games, drink coffee and have fun. Those gamers who used to play virtual games at home are now playing together in a social environment.

"It acts as a social lubricant," said Ben Mandall, a business master's student at Arizona State University who attends the game nights. "Some people need a few drinks to loosen up, but this is an alternative to get people to feel comfortable."

Games create a culture where participants don't have to stare at a screen the whole time and there is time between turns to allow friendship to develop, said Elliot Sherr, who works at Book Maze and puts on the game nights.

"I realized I never directly interacted with people," Sherr said about playing games online. "I can make real friends here."

Unless you go to a gaming convention, you usually wouldn't run into people you play with online, Mandall said.

The game nights at Book Maze don't have a lot of traditional games, though they do have Risk. They also have a lot of newer games that put a spin on older ones.

And family game nights have long been part of many families' traditions.

Some of the regulars include families, groups of friends and couples, Sherr said.

If these new board games don't appeal to you, or if you feel sentimental about the games from childhood, those too are seeing resurgence.

At the New York International Gift Fair this fall, gift retailer Wild & Wolf drew crowds to its Ridley's collection of vintage-style games. The line features many old favorites, including marbles, jacks and tumbling blocks. (Available at, among other sites.) The package designs are retro too: cardboard or tin boxes, muted colors, early 20th-century-style lithography.

Hasbro has teamed up with Target this season to offer classic board games in wooden boxes, including Life, Clue, Risk and Scrabble.

"Key words for Christmas 2011 are nostalgia, family, tradition and longevity," says Riann Henckel, a forecaster for Sphere Trending, in Waterford, Mich.

But if you're interested in the actual, original board games you played as a kid, you'll find sources online. Prices are often surprisingly modest, in the $20 range.

Los Angeles-based game collector Desi Scarpone has been an aficionado of board games since he was young, and rues the day he let his mom get rid of his old ones. Scarpone, author of "Board Games" and "More Board Games" (Schiffer), sells games from the 1940s through the 1990s at his website, They include some rare ones like 1951's "Space Pilot," 1967's "The Monkees," 1939's "Pinocchio" and a copy of the only Beatles game ever made, "Flip Your Wig."

"There's been a steady resurgence in vintage board game popularity for the last several years. The children of my generation have children of their own, and they want them to feel the same joy and excitement they originally felt when playing these games," says Scarpone.

While today's game graphics tend to scream for attention, "People respond to the innocence of the artwork they remember in a vintage game," he notes.

At, there's a comprehensive array of mid-century games, and browsing can be a visit back in time. There are old faves like Aggravation, Monopoly, Hi-Q and Careers, but also Easy Money, Acquire and Stock Market ("Anyone can make a million!"). Before there were Gears of War or Battlefield, you could play "Tobruk," a war strategy game based in World War II North Africa, or "Arab-Israeli Wars," where you re-enact tank battles, or the classic Risk.

The site's also got games that exploited TV culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s: Man From U.N.C.L.E., Happy Days, I Spy, Six Million Dollar Man.

If you're lucky enough to still own an old favorite but misplaced some parts, they've got a substantial inventory. And if your instructions are long lost, you may find them here too.

If you want to join in on the board game fun, Book Maze's Board game nights are at 6 p.m. every Monday at 2055 E. University Drive, Tempe.

• Tribune reporter Stacie Spring contributed to this story.

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