This winter, prepare to be board.
COVID-19 has shut down restaurants, clubs and concerts and replaced them with Netflix binges and bread-baking sessions. Now, fun-starved shut-ins are turning to old-fashioned board games to pass the time inside.
Toy manufacturing giant Hasbro reported that third-quarter sales in its “gaming category” grew by 20 percent compared to last year, but it’s not just the cardboard and plastic basics that are flying off the shelves.
“We’ve seen a huge surge in demand,” said Jonathan Bayme, the East Village-based owner of theory11, a “premium” playing-card company that sells custom decks. “Playing games and cards is the most analog, safe thing you could possibly do right now.”
Theory11 employs antique letterpress machines to apply special touches like matte gold foil, vegetable-based inks and sculpted embossing, with each deck retailing for $9.95.
Even Tiffany & Co. is in on the game, selling $2,750 porcelain poker chips, a $15,000 Mahjong setup and a $10,000 checkers-and-chess combo (hewn in American walnut with hand-cut game pieces). All are “currently unavailable” per the store’s website.
Chess is especially back in vogue thanks to the hit Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit,” with the release triggering a run on sets. Other chess cameos can be found in a September Chanel perfume ad featuring Keira Knightley strategizing in an opulent hotel room, as well as the HBO Max show “The Undoing,” in which characters played by Nicole Kidman and Donald Sutherland plot moves in a palatial uptown pad.
That prop was purchased downtown on Thompson Street at the Chess Forum, which is reporting an uptick in sales of sets ranging from affordable to a $10,000 Italian board made from alabaster.
“This season sales are even stronger than usual,” a manager for the shop told The Post.
Jessica Gunson, a Prospect Heights-based player, recently shelled out $200 on a vintage Russian set in light blond and black wood. She said she decided to treat herself to a more decorative version after watching “The Queen’s Gambit.”
“Russia is known for producing the best chess players, and I think it’s cool to play on a set that’s been in the arena of great chess players,” said Gunson, 27.
A representative for MoMA’s gift shop, which carries high-end versions of classics, including a Man Ray-designed chessboard for $250, has also seen “an uptick in games and puzzle sales.” And upscale retailer Jonathan Adler, which sells a Lucite chess set and a colorful Backgammon board for $395, told The Post sales spiked 70 percent in 2020.
Even hypebeasts — unable to show off their latest loot at clubs and downtown restaurants — can now flex during game night with their pandemic pod.
The Hundreds, a streetwear label, is sold out of its collaboration with the card game Uno — a line of hats, T-shirts and a $25 version of the game with an updated colorway released earlier this month. Chrome Hearts, a cool-kid brand favored by the likes of Travis Scott, sells a sterling silver Rubik’s cube for a whopping $15,000 on StockX, the popular fashion resale site.
“It’s probably more than I should have spent,” admitted Gunson, an NYU Ph.D. student, who was debating between a pricier $300 board and the one she ultimately purchased.
But it was worth it in the end. When she’s not playing against her parents or her roommates, Gunson’s “little COVID gift” to herself serves as a living-room objet d’art.
“It makes me want to play more,” she said.
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