Why you should care

Because the answer to kids’ video-game addiction just might be … more games. 

Every afternoon around 3:30 p.m., the hordes descend. Toting backpacks. Prepped for battle. Inside a tiny storefront on trendy Seventh Avenue in Brooklyn.

They come to fight orcs and play princess. They also debate strategy, devise tactics and pitch improvements to their peers like mini-moguls before a board of investors. Their average age: 9-years-old.

The Brooklyn Game Lab is the brainchild of Robert Hewitt, a 30-something former online video game designer who decided there had to be something more to life than convincing VCs you’re the next Candy Crush.

Hewitt’s top five favorite games (that he didn’t invent):

  1. Revolution! “You’re playing the people, you’re not playing the board.”
  2. Small World “A good crossover for parents and kids.”
  3. Risk Legacy The “hardcore” choice.
  4. Qwirkle ”The way to get kids into Scrabble.” Also a good hipster beach game.
  5. Werewolf There’s murder afoot. This one is adults only.

Hewitt is a computer geek — who also loves board games. And he figured if he likes the board games, kids might too. A brilliant idea for a brick-and-mortar board game emporium was born. In February he opened the Brooklyn Game Lab, which operates as an after-school activity for 7 to 13-year-olds as well as an evening space for adult gaming events, and plans to sell a tightly curated selection of games in the back room.

And believe it or not, even in our online times, board games sell — big time. Game companies don’t typically release stats, so it’s hard to nail down specific game tallies – there’s no official sales chart, mostly just unverified company statements, but you can get a general sense. Take “Settlers of Catan,” which has sold more than 25 million copies and was featured on the hit sitcom,The Big Bang Theory . ” Days of Wonder ” does $15 million to $20 million in sales annually.

With only a handful of gaming shops throughout the five New York City boroughs, Hewitt figured he had a solid opportunity. He pegged his shop to family-friendly Park Slope, where parents happily fork over big bucks to keep their kids occupied after school (think: $450 for six weeks of game play, in 2.5 hour sessions).

“It’s hard to open a business that nobody has done,” he says. ”Either it’s a terrific idea or it’s a weird anomaly.”

Comedian Russell Brand is a big fan of the party game Werewolf, where opponents strive to kill each other.

Hewitt, who did a post-college stint teaching English in Brazil, has the kids play the games, then fill out cards reviewing the game, as well as other cards suggesting improvements. The mini-gamers sometimes create boards of their own, or suggest additional pieces, cards or plot points for existing play. The kids vote on the best ideas, and incorporate those ideas into their play.

“It’s the kind of ownership I wish I had as a kid,” he says.

But a funny thing happened on the way to opening the shop – he became something of a savior for parents desperate to wean their kids from the computer screen and video games.

When parents call, Hewitt stands poised to explain the intricacies of his lesson plans and their educational value. But the parents, he says, often don’t care.They just thank him, pay him, and send their kids on over. One woman posted this local site review about her daughter: “She’s usually not nuts about doing much after school – except for swimming – but she raved about Brooklyn Game Lab.”

Whether Hewitt can last in the uber-competitive Brooklyn market is an open question (retail rents tend to range from $7,000 to $10,000). His staff is all volunteer – true gamers who stick around for the adult time. And there are the silent-but-deadly girls, whose wins outshine the 70-30 boy-girl enrollment ratio.

“They don’t boast, they don’t brag about their moves, they don’t trash-talk their opponents,” says Hewitt. “But, they’ll kill you every time.”

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