HAVERHILL — Teacher Mike Cross and his students are rolling the dice on a new idea.
Cross, a chemistry professor at Northern Essex Community College, and several of his students have started a board game club. It exposes students to a variety of games both familiar and unique, while seeking to bring the fun of unplugged gaming to the Merrimack Valley.
Ignoring staples such as Monopoly or Guess Who, the club instead taps into more esoteric titles, such as 7 Wonders and PitchCar Mini. These games, many invented within the last few years, are typically developed in Europe and feature rules ranging from the simple to the complex. But they have one thing in common — they buck the trend of electronic gaming.
Since the club began in the fall, about a dozen students have attended the twice-monthly meetings where they play old favorites or enjoy the latest inventions from Cross' collection of 30 games. Cross said games have "just come out of the woodwork."
Abby LaBonte, a nursing major from Newburyport, said she hadn't played many board games beyond traditional favorites but has quickly become a fan of the hobby due to the fun of meeting with friends and new players.
"It's a bonding moment," she said. "Even if (a game's) really complicated, it's fun to sit down and laugh. This is a great way to spend a Wednesday night."
But they aren't just keeping the fun to themselves.
The club has set up a board game rental service through NECC's library open to students, faculty and staff. For just $2, people can rent a game for two weeks or pay $25 for a year-long membership to borrow as many games as they want.
"It's like a Netflix for board games," Cross said.
Most of the money to buy games for the program was provided through the NECC Student Senate and Campus Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that supports student programs aiming for positive change.
Eventually, the club wants to bring games to youth centers in the Merrimack Valley to introduce kids to games other than the latest video releases.
"It's all about getting away from the screen," said David Bowie, an environmental engineering major from Plaistow, N.H., and one of the club's founding members
Cross attributed the success of the club to his use of games in the classroom. In a lesson about molecular movement, he used PitchCar Mini, which requires players to skillfully flick their pieces down a bumper-bounded course. A lesson on probability involved students testing their hand-eye coordination in Looping Louie, a game that challenges players to avoid an out-of-control plane.
Cross said his use of games started as an "excuse to play games in class," but has since grown into an integral part of his lesson plans.
Many of the club's frequent visitors weren't heavily invested in the board game scene themselves before attending Cross' class, but fell into the fold soon afterward.
Jason Spinney, a biology major from Amesbury, said he wants to keep seeing the number of club members grow.
"We still haven't gotten the word out yet, but it's building," he said. "I'm just excited because I know it's going to grow."