A Conversation With Noah Salaway

Noah Salaway leads Guild Hall's Game Night event series. Courtesy photo

Noah Salaway lives in Brooklyn now, but the Ross School and Hayground School alumnus returned this week to the South Fork to help Guild Hall launch a new, monthly board game event series that attracted more than 30 guests on its first night. Mr. Salaway, who has a degree in game design from New York University, explained the tabletop game phenomenon this week to The Sag Harbor Express.

Is it fair to say the popularity of tabletop games is really blowing up right now, and what might be reason for this?

Yeah, definitely. In the industry they’re sort of calling it ‘the golden age of board games’ or ‘the tabletop revolution.’ I remember as a kid playing video games meant sitting on the couch next to my friends playing with each other, but these days if you’re playing a video game with other people, you’re sitting by yourself connected to other people on the internet, so it’s an isolating experience. I think board games are sort of bringing back the social element of gaming.

A lot of the ones we’re hearing about these days aren’t your father’s Monopoly game or your mother’s Scrabble set. What are some of your favorite contemporary games, and why do you like them so much?

One of my favorite games is Agricola, which I’ve played over 200 times. It’s a sort of farming game where you collect resources, plant vegetables and grain, hold your animals and feed your family. I think I like games like Agricola and ones very similar to it because they’re very strategy-based, so it makes my brain work in a way that a lot of other things don’t. Figuring out puzzles and the most efficient way to do whatever I need to do, and competing with my friends at that puzzle, is sort of thrilling to see who pulled it off best. There’s Food Chain Magnate, which is all about who about can be the best food chain owner and price everyone else out of business. Another one I really like is Bohnanza, and that one’s about planting, farming and trading beans. It’s really silly, and a great negotiation game.

What do you think inspired the transition in the popularity of tabletop games from traditional titles to this next generation?

A lot of those games that are popular now are part of a category called ‘Euro games.’ In ‘Euro games,’ instead of attacking your neighbors and having games be about aliens and war, it’s more passive aggressive, manipulation of resources and competing for the same things. A lot of it started after World War II in Germany, where people said maybe we shouldn’t make games about war anymore.

What do you think are the benefits and drawbacks of forming game groups like Guild Hall’s “Game Night” and the John Jermain Memorial Library’s “Bring Your Own Game Night”?

I think they’re great. For one, the goal of what we’re doing at Guild Hall is to show people that modern games are cool and interesting. It can be a great way to try new games that you don’t own. And being under one roof and enjoying games together is a good vibe to have — you’re all there to have fun. It’s a great social experience, regardless of your experience level. If there was a drawback, it would be at these kinds of game nights, if you’re someone who likes a big, meaty, four-hour game, that’s not what happens most of the time.

What are some great entry-level modern games for people to play if they want to get into gaming?

Codenames may be the best one. I think Ticket to Ride is a good one. There’s this new game called Magic Maze that’s really fun. It’s a cooperative game, so everyone plays on the same team, and there’s a timer, so everyone’s rushing and scrambling together to do what they need to do. Dominion is a good one, too — a lot of people love Dominion.

Guild Hall’s Game Night series takes place the last Monday of every month at 6 p.m. Admission is $10 ($8 for members) and includes snacks and one free drink. For more information, visit guildhall.org.