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Beaverton couple brings board game museum to public

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kyle Engen and wife, Carol Mathewson, are set to open the Interactive Museum of Gaming and Puzzlery in Beaverton on Thursday. The couple had been operating a game museum at their house for years.Just as in music and movies, the world of board games includes plenty of titles beyond the obvious, mid-20th century selections most everybody of a certain age remembers: Monopoly. Life. Clue. Sorry! Chutes and Ladders. Trouble. Operation.

But what about “Mid Life Crisis?”

Geared toward, as the box indicates, “2 to 6 players in their prime,” the game encourages players to accumulate and negotiate “debt, divorce and stress.”

“Jurisprudence,” meanwhile, titillates players with the promise of an “exciting law game that teaches American Justice.”

On the zanier end of the spectrum, cards from the 1979-vintage “Mad” magazine board game cajoles players into moving one chair to the right or surrendering your pile of money to the person next to you.

If any of this sounds like intriguing ways to while away an evening with friends and family, then Kyle Engen and Carol Mathewson have the place for you.

After years of collecting and curating all manner of board and parlor games and sharing their passion with friends, the Beaverton couple found a public home for their Interactive Museum of Gaming and Puzzlery. The nonprofit, 501(c)(3) public charity organization will celebrate the grand opening of its new headquarters and clubhouse at 8231 S.W. Cirrus Drive, today, beginning at 11 a.m. The regular $5 admission will be waived through Saturday.

Featuring a collection of more than 1,600 games, ongoing exhibits related to gaming culture and history — and a play area where members can try an old favorite or previously unexplored game — the museum will offer refreshments and special activities through Saturday.

After a long, meticulous search for the right combination of storage and public space, Engen, 49, and Mathewson, 43, are excited about unveiling their new, 2,100-square-foot pop-cultural vortex to the general public.

“I feel like we’ve got a unique niche,” says Engen, a self-employed website designer and computer specialist. “Now that we’ve got a place, we can really start reaching out to people. We’re interested in bringing in as many diverse groups as we can.”

Surveying the space as it takes shape before Thursday’s opening, Mathewson agrees.

“We encourage people to come in to hang out and ask questions,” she says. “It’s like our years of being collectors have paid off somehow.”

Space and time

Whether you’re a self-proclaimed “board game geek” like them, or just someone who enjoys the occasional foray into imaginative leisure activity, the museum should offer a fun and intriguing refuge for all ages and levels of expertise.

“Gaming is such a unique bridge for connecting with other people,” Engen says, emphasizing the role of gaming throughout human history. “People eat, procreate and play. I feel like gaming is a big part of human culture.”

The museum’s new space is divided into two sections. The public space up front includes tables for gamers, historical and interpretive displays, a gaming-themed gift shop and shelves featuring about 25 of Engen and Mathewson’s current picks from their vast collection in back. That alphabetically arranged archive extends across two 30-foot-long shelving systems with four levels.

Mainstream classics including Parcheesi, Upwords and Regatta share space with interactive retro favorites such as Spirograph and Quizmo as well as truly obscure period-based games such as Blacks and Whites, Psycho Paths, Urban Myths, and The Watergate. The latter, originally priced at $2.99, according to its square cardboard box, is billed as a “game of cover-up and deception for the whole family.”

“Some games are so old they really put a cultural context around them,” Mathewson says. “Games reflect the culture pretty well.”

Satisfying strategy

As with any curated collection, the museum’s games will rotate from the archives to the favorites shelves on a regular basis. The more fragile and rare items will likely remain off-limits until Engen and Mathewson can find or create duplicates for public use.

In addition to grants and fundraising events, the museum will be fueled by $5 daily membership fees, which can be paid quarterly. Other income will derive from donations and special events, such as a focus on Native American games the week of May 28, and a presentation on the history of chess beginning June 4.

While acknowledging the element of retro-chic in the museum’s approach, Engen stresses that gaming will play an increasingly vital societal role as the economy shifts away from human-oriented labor roles.

“As modern technology and computers eliminate jobs, and people are less and less integral to the economy, humans have to ask themselves, ‘What satisfies me in my life?’”

Rather than looking at their venture as a risky roll of the dice, Engen sees the museum moving into a physical space for the public to enjoy as the practical embodiment of a long-simmering personal dream.

“I feel like we’re less out on a limb now that we can engage the public,” he says. “It gives us another leg to stand on. This is us getting much more solid.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kyle Engen puts away a Mah-Jong board game in the warehouse at the Interactive Museum of Gaming and Puzzlery, which is set to open on Thursday. Engen and his wife, Carol Mathewson, spent months seeking a location for the museum, whose contents they'd curated for years at their Beaverton home.

Couple kept eyes on the gaming prize

Carol Mathewson and Kyle Engen, founders of the Interactive Museum of Gaming and Puzzlery in Beaverton, met a few years ago through a craigslist ad. The pair quickly learned they shared an upbringing based in the Kennedy-era suburbanite culture that embraced fantasia-based iconography such as James Bond movies, Playboy magazine and lots and lots of board and parlor games.

“It’s our little labor of love,” Mathewson said in September 2011, when the museum was just a dream and a growing collection of games stored on shelves in the couple’s home.

When website work grew lean in the midst of the Great Recession, they decided to focus on a self-sustaining museum, complete with a three-member board of directors.

“We thought, we might as well make our obsession our work,” she said.

On their way toward securing the finances and logistics of a public museum space, Mathewson and Engen, who has an 18-year-old son, Sam, from a previous marriage, presented materials illustrating the history of board games in the 2011 Penny Arcade Exposition in Seattle. Part of their exhibit in the Table Top Library included Mathewson’s large poster, “Structured Play,” an abbreviated history of games and their relationships that is displayed in the front room of the new museum in Beaverton.

With a rotating collection of 1,600 games at their disposal, the quest for a larger library is far from over.

“We’re hoping to acquire yet another 500 games by the end of the year,” Mathewson said.



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