Unbeknownst to most, a dozen or two lovers of board games flock into Funagain Games Ashland store every Tuesday and Thursday evening and, amidst much good humor, spread out their cards and tokens, sometimes put on masks and begin the strange magic of games.

This has been going on for 21 years at Funagain and it has the silly-serious and mind-engaging attraction of play, along with the phenomenon of being part of a rare and elite group of people you get to know and play with (and against) over many months and years.

Funagain was at Ashland Shopping Center for many years and is now at 149 East Main St., across from the Varsity Theatre, and, while you may think it’s a niche obsession, it has many followers and the store was, in fact, one of the largest international retailers of board games — that is, until overwhelmed by the cost-cutting Amazon, says manager Rick Scovill.

So, they're quitting the internet business (a warehouse clearance sale is still underway at www.funagain.com) and are now focusing on their storefront sales and game nights, where anyone of any age or skill level is welcome — and employees are happy to teach the rules of new games to the “gaming collective.”

“Amazon undercut the online retailers,” says Scovill. “We can’t compete with their prices, trying to make $5 a game. The Ashland community is really into it.”

Their shelves are lined with 5,800 board games you never heard of, for sale in the $20 to $50 range, with card games going for $10 to $20. Popular games include Exploding Kittens, Ticket to Ride, Cards Against Humanity and Dominion. They also get into puzzles and role-playing games, such as Dungeons & Dragons.

Five or six players gather around half a dozen tables, grab soft drinks and latch onto their easy, giggly camaraderie from the week before, sliding into their roles as the Dreamer in the game Splendor trying to piece together a dream using random words tossed out by other players.

“I come here twice a week for the fun of playing the night away,” says Jacob Adamson. “It’s fun after work to hang with people I know. It’s a big passion in my life, after growing up with Monopoly, Risk and Sorry. I’ve been learning a new game a week.”

Steve Monteith notes, “It’s fun, first of all. It reminds me of growing up, with my brothers playing games. I got here through meetup.com and it’s a blast meeting new people.”

Drea Paulsen observes, “We get together with a group of friends and strangers and solve puzzles with them, instead of sitting home alone on video games. Here, you need the other people. They want to get out of the house and meet people. There’s a lot of introverts and also extroverts.”

You might think board gamers are geeks — and Scovill addressed the issue head-on: “They are passionate, 100 percent, and if you engage in complex, interesting things, you will develop your brain and become more smart. These are puzzle-solvers, problem-solvers. It’s an amazing quality and you develop it by having fun.”

Another hidden facet of the lifestyle, he adds, is that “there’s a lot of time to get in touch with your alter ego, a persona you normally hide. A lot of us have hidden roles — thief, assassin, liar — and the point is, if it’s thief, is to steal as much as you can.”

As she was setting up “City of Kings,” Jennifer Paulsen said, “You get together with friends, some people you don’t see that much. It makes you think a lot more than video games. You have to think about your reactions and how others are reacting to things and you get into roles where you are cooperating with and helping others.”

The Funagain store opens at 10 a.m. seven days a week, closing at 8 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays and 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. For more information, call 541-708-6788.

—John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.