By Heather Leszczewicz Special to Published Feb 22, 2007 at 5:15 AM

Game night used to be a staple of family fun. Gather up the gang for a few rounds of Life, have some snacks and a few laughs with the fam. It works because it's something both adults and their kids could enjoy.

But the board game demographic is shifting. Suddenly game night is finding favor among a somewhat unlikely group: 20-somethings. When did board games become a cool way to spend Friday night?

"(Board games) are definitely not just for kids anymore. I know at least three different groups of 20-somethings that have organized game nights," says Amber Ruffing, 24, herself a game night host and participant.

Gordon Lugauer, chief executive manager of the Board Game Barrister, says that board games have been seeing a resurgence for several years because people want to reconnect with one another, it's something that television or the internet can't provide.

"Face to face, with laughter, reveling in the realness of our humanity," says Gordon Lugauer, chief executive manager of Bayview's the Board Game Barrister. "(These are) things the virtual world cannot provide. Not that playing board games is a backlash to T.V. or the computer, just that these activities leave us with a deficiency in personal contact, a deficiency which playing board games addresses more fully than most."

The 2007 American International Toy Fair, which took place Feb. 11-14 in New York, showed that children aren't the only ones that the exhibitors had in mind. According to Business Week, "The trend was evident at Toy Fair 2007 ... Toymakers are aggressively studying the habits of adults and coming up with new games targeted at grown-ups."

Game and toy giants, Mattel Inc. and Hasbro Inc. have both seen an improvement in toy sales from 2005 to '06. Mattel reported that its profits rose by 3 percent while Hasbro says its profits rose 15 percent.

Board games that have always been popular with the adult crowd, like Monopoly and Scrabble, keep these companies on top, while newer games, like Scene It!, are bringing in a different sort of element to plain old games via DVDs.

However, a new game is finding popularity in Milwaukee. The game Apples to Apples, made by Richland Center company Out of the Box Publishing, finds a place with the college crowd and adults. The game actually found a fan in the high IQ group Mensa for its "Mensa Select" award 1999. The award is given out to five games each year that the group considers original and challenging.

Apples to Apples involves dealing out seven red cards to each person involved that have various nouns -- peoples, places and things -- that could be associated with the green card, the verb, chosen by a judge each round. The judge then subjectively chooses which noun he or she thinks best describes the verb and that player wins the round.

The Milwaukee School of Engineering held an Apples to Apples tournament during its Parents/Family Weekend at the beginning of February. One of the students who helped organize the event, junior Matt Koehn, says that there were almost 100 people involved in the tournament.

"What struck me (about the tournament) was that everywhere I looked, everyone was smiling and laughing," Koehn says.

The tournament started with 13 tables worth of participants and worked its way down to one final winner.

Ruffing's group of friends also has a love of Apples to Apples and it's not always just about the game playing.

"A regular night playing Apples to Apples usually involves as many friends as we can gather, the more the better," Ruffing says. "Along with a few bottles of wine, a case of beer, some whiskey, you name it. Our games are usually more laughing and telling jokes than anything, but we usually play for a good hour or two at which point we decide to take the party out on the town."

But what makes this game more fun than a game like Monopoly, Ruffing says, is that it's a game of strategy.

"Apples to Apples totally beats Monopoly in the sense that you really have to know the people that you are playing with, or at least hope to figure out what kind of sense of humor they have," she says. "I don't know if all people play the way we do, but we don't really take it seriously."

She thinks it's a game that everyone should play at least once.

"What's more fun than sitting around with a bunch of friends, listening to records, drinking some beer and telling jokes?" Ruffing says. "I really can't think of a single thing."

If you're interested in dabbling in a game night or new games, there are a few stores that specialize in board games.

The Board Game Barrister, 2235 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. and at Bayshore Mall, holds game nights each week where people can mingle.

"One of the pleasant surprises I have discovered is how many adults are playing board games," Lugauer says. "When we set out to open a game store, the expectation was that the major portion of our clientele would be kids, and parents playing with their kids. While children and parents are an important part of our business, they are dwarfed by the number of adults playing games with adults. Not the way any of us had foreseen, but it has worked out well."

The Barrister boasts 1,000 different games for purchase. Each game night, held Fridays and Saturdays, costs $5, but Lugauer says that the entire library of 300 open games is fair game.

"Come to Games Night to play games, to meet people, to not have to clean up your place, to laugh, to think, to try games before buying them," Lugauer says. "Come to Games Night because the Barrister is a cheap date and a comfortable place to hang out and have a good time. Most importantly, come to Games Night because you will have fun."

Whether its Apples to Apples or a lesser known game, like Wits & Wagers suggested by Lugauer, board games are making a comeback as an alternative to smoky bars and wallet emptying events. 

Heather Leszczewicz Special to

Originally from Des Plaines, Ill., Heather moved to Milwaukee to earn a B.A. in journalism from Marquette University. With a tongue-twisting last name like Leszczewicz, it's best to go into a career where people don't need to say your name often.

However, she's still sticking to some of her Illinoisan ways (she won't reform when it comes to things like pop, water fountain or ATM), though she's grown to enjoy her time in the Brew City.

Although her journalism career is still budding, Heather has had the chance for some once-in-a-lifetime interviews with celebrities like actor Vince Vaughn and actress Charlize Theron, director Cameron Crowe and singers Ben Kweller and Isaac Hanson of '90s brother boy band Hanson. 

Heather's a self-proclaimed workaholic but loves her entertainment. She's a real television and movie fanatic, book nerd, music junkie, coffee addict and pop culture aficionado.