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(For its 31st edition, the SXSW Film & TV Festival will host nine days of screenings from March 8-16, 2024. Check out Chris Reed’s The Hobby movie review. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Board games are a delight. They serve as both healthy stimulators of the mind and fascinating mediums of social interaction. Depending on who’s playing, competition may be fierce. But isn’t that just part of the fun?

In The Hobby, his documentary about the world of board games, director Simon Ennis (Lunarcy!) takes us on a fun ride through the players, aficionados, and designers who spend much of their time getting a proper fix. At the center of the narrative is the first “World Series of Board Games” (WSBG), held in Las Vegas in 2022. We wonder who will win, but mostly just enjoy seeing the contest of skills and wills.

There is far more here than just gameplay, however (though that is never dull to watch). The collectors amaze as they show us their vast treasure troves of boxes old and new. Those who make games impress, as well, often doing so first on their own dime and then marketing through conventions, word of mouth, and online crowdfunding. It can be a tough racket, but without people willing to do this, we’d still be playing the same games as the ancients.

Some would prefer it that way, as we see in the beginning on a pilgrimage to London’s British Museum, where we learn about the Mesopotamian Royal Game of Ur, but the majority of us fancy the novelty of more modern invention. Certainly, what is new builds on what has come before, informing the changes. One of the great aspects of The Hobby is this constant sense of history and lore, everyone reveling in the wonders of shared knowledge and community.

Among those we meet are Tom Vasel of The Dice Tower; Mick and Starla Fitch of Our Family Plays Games; Candice Harris of Board Game Geek; game designers Daryl Andrews (Sagrada), Elizabeth Hargrave (Wingspan), and Eric Lang (Blood Rage);philosophy professor C. Thi Nguyen; and players like Ennis’ longtime friend Dan Corbett, who attends the WSBG. They each have fascinating stories, and form a pleasantly diverse group of subjects. It’s especially fun watching Harris transition from fan/player to designer with a game of her own, Stage Left, based on her past as a musician (she was a drummer).

And then there is that WSBG, where the stakes are high, with cash prizes and ego on the line. For many, including Corbett, the goal is to play well and not make bad moves. It would be nice to take home a trophy, but as long as one doesn’t embarrass oneself, that’s the main thing. Which is how I like it, too. I don’t need to beat my opponents; I just want the thrill of a good time with committed adversaries. If that’s you, too, then The Hobby is where you’ll find your people.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

2024 SXSW Film Festival; Simon Ennis; The Hobby documentary

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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