I'm the mother of a serious board game lover. (To be fair, I'm married to one, too, so it wasn't that much of a surprise.) But here's the thing: I don't particularly like board games. That's why I'm thankful for the brand-new Brooklyn Game Lab, a cozy Park Slope storefront where kids can play challenging, multiplayer card and board games (so I don't have to).
Like the similar The Brooklyn Strategist in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Game Lab doesn't have any video or digital games. That's because owner Bob Hewitt believes analog games can teach kids critical thinking, fair play, diplomacy, collaboration and good sportsmanship in a way no video game can. But it's not all just fun and games; it's educational, too. As my 10-year-old son and I discovered when we dropped in last weekend. Brooklyn Game Lab takes child's play very seriously.
Brooklyn Game Lab opened this February in Park Slope and offers after-school programs, school vacation camps and weekend labs, which is what my son tried out. Hewitt, who co-founded the HashGo game studio, runs most of sessions himself. He starts by breaking the boys and girls into small groups and teaching them the basics of a given game, which was King of Tokyo when we visited. As far as I could tell, there were very few kings but quite a few monsters involved. There were also magic cards that conferred long life and special powers upon their holders. All of the kids jumped in enthusiastically, first turning to Hewitt for advice and clarification, and then continuing to play on their own for over an hour. While a few disagreements did spring up over rule interpretations, most were settled between the kids without adults needing to get involved.
After 75 minutes, Hewitt urged the kids to finish up, and declared a winner in each group. (One of Brooklyn Game Lab's mottoes that I particularly liked was "losing is learning!") Then he handed out color-coded index cards with headings like "Expansion Idea," "Explosive Combo," "Winning Tactic," "Rule Change" and "Losing Lesson." The goal: To get players to analyze and refine their strategies, and make suggestions for how the game could be improved overall. With the index cards pinned to the wall, each child was encouraged to present his or her ideas to the group. All of the kids did so without hesitation, taking the responsibility of educating others very seriously.
Next, they received thumbs-up stickers so they could mark their favorite ideas. Players who received four stickers had their thoughts "verified," meaning Hewitt promised to incorporate the suggestions into subsequent game play. Kids with "verified" ideas or game-play merit points received stickers on their personalized game folders. A row of stickers meant the player could "Level Up" and also bang on a ceremonial gong. (My son loved that.)
No membership is required at Brooklyn Game Lab. Families buy bundles of sessions in six-, 18- and 36-hour increments. (Hewitt encourages kids to come once a week, if possible.) After-school labs take place 3:30 to 5:30pm Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Weekend labs run on Sunday from 11:30am to 1:30pm and 2 to 4pm. School vacation camps and birthday party packages are also offered. The bundles are open-ended, so if your child is sick and misses an entire week or more, you simply roll it over with no penalty. There are sibling discounts, too, a money-back guarantee for any unused sessions. Plus there's even after-hours action for adults, including a singles mixers.
So, what do you say? Ready to roll the dice? My son sure wants to again.
Brooklyn Game Lab is located at 353 Seventh Avenue at 10th Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn.