Ten people who are mostly strangers to each other are encouraged to sit at the table and listen to John Kaufeld start his magic. The card game is called 6 Nimmt, and though most have never heard of it, Kaufeld can turn the mildly curious into fans. Within 20 minutes, everyone playing at the most recent gathering on Oct. 6 had become friends, laughing and teasing each other, though bragging rights were the only stakes.
An instructor in the Department of Organizational Leadership at Purdue University Fort Wayne, Kaufeld is the coordinator, teacher, and ringmaster of Spielfreaks, which means “game freaks” in German. This board games night is held the first Friday of the month in the atrium at Walb Student Union. He uses 6 Nimmt as his icebreaker to help the newbies warm up at 7 p.m.
“It’s fast to play, and easy to learn,” Kaufeld said. “It’s an easy way to make them comfortable.”
And it’s successful to get everyone smiling. Two months ago, 76 players participated, including more than 60 students. In September, there were 63, including more than 50 students. It’s a free entertainment option on a Friday night, students and community members interacting easily as if they were all grade school friends. By 11 p.m., many are already making plans for a return trip.
“I think it’s really cool that you can just get to know people you can come back every time and play different games with,” junior Justin Croomes said. “It’s also learning different games and being able to play games you love with actual people instead of just online. It’s fun to play in person.”
Croomes favors the card games and is always looking to share that passion.
“It’s an inclusive environment built for fun in a safe and engaging way,” Croomes said. “No one is left alone in a corner, and everyone is free to jump into a game.”
There are plenty of options to choose from, too. As the former owner of a Fort Wayne game store and writer for a trade magazine, Kaufeld currently has about 300 games at home, down from his high of 800. His wife Jen mandates a garage sale every so often to create space, and Kaufeld also donates some to The Q Center and Student Life.
“Any average night, we have a lot of community folks who bring in big totes full of games and just put them on the table,” Kaufeld said. “If somebody wants to play something, or if they want to learn how to play something, they do.”
Sponsored by Well-being and Recreation, Spielfreaks moved to campus from Blackhawk Christian Church about seven years ago and has been helping lead to a resurgence of the popularity of tabletop games at PFW. The Tabletop Role Playing Games Club is one of the fastest-growing on campus, and there’s some crossover each month. Gaymer Night has always been one of The Q Center’s best-attended events.
“I’ve met so many different groups across campus thanks to that, and it’s helped me connect to people I likely would not have talked to,” junior Willow Cribb said. “Personally, I like it as I get to hear more voices across campus, which helps me fight for better campus diversity. Board games build community. It’s hard not to love it.”
Board games also helped Kaufeld earn a master’s degree in professional communication. His research supported findings that families are most connected when they regularly do simple activities together that build cohesion, especially in familiar surroundings like the home.
“According to the researchers, as your family and friends sit around the table and play your favorite board games, you’re subtly building interpersonal connections and increasing your communication abilities,” Kaufeld said. “I’m applying the stuff that I’ve seen my whole life with the research and seeing how it plays out.”