“Unai” is defined as a relatively small and fast-moving sloth, and in the world of Scrabble, it is an example of a vowel dump. Without a legitimate interest in sloths, knowledge of the word seems only relevant in the context of Scrabble.
The city of Davis is home to a number of people interested in playing various board games, and there are several official and unofficial channels through which board games are being played in groups, on and off-campus.
One of these groups is the Unofficial Davis Scrabble Club, where a knowledge of sloth names and other normally trivial words might come in handy.
“I was an English major, and I knew a few English major words that don’t get you that far,” said Charlie Walter, a regular at the Scrabble Club. “You need to learn all the Scrabble words which no one actually uses in either conversation or expository writing.”
Walter is an avid internet Scrabble player who said he was encouraged to play in a real-life setting. At Crepeville in downtown Davis on Dec. 3, Walter won a three-person game of Scrabble with a high score of 420, while various other games were being played at multiple tables.
The club meets year-round on Wednesdays at Picnic in the Park during spring and summer days, and moves inside to Crepeville in the colder months and at night.
“We’re an informal club, so basically anyone can just show up and play,” said Orhan Orgun, another regular. “There’s no membership and there are no requirements. There’s no skill level requirements either so everyone’s welcome to play. We meet once a week, people show up whenever they want to and they play as many games as they want to.”
Another group member, Diane Mau, mentioned that people generally show up around 5 p.m. and might stay as late as 11 p.m. She noted that the club has a diverse membership, including a changing population of UC Davis students and faculty, former professors and other Davis residents.
People who come to play are given a card that lists the legal two letter words, making the game a little easier and less intimidating for new players.
“It’s not the number of letters, it’s where you place them that counts,” Mau said.
One of the other options for using the trivial knowledge associated with board games and for a more varied gaming experience is Board Game Night at Bizarro World in downtown Davis.
“Every Tuesday night you can come down with friends, with a game if you want to get more players for the game, or just play games that someone else brings, or games that we have on hand,” said Dan Urazandi, the owner of Bizarro World.
Since July 2014, the location has been hosting a board game night that is open to anyone looking for a place to play or people to play with.
“We like people to bring games that are accessible, easy to learn and quick to play,” Urazandi said.
He commented that the event was spawned out of customer interest, his own need for experience in the products and the knowledge that more players are always welcome.
“Personally, I need to experience more games in order to be able to sell them,” Urazandi said. “I also found that I needed more players than I had. You sit down and you’re ready to play and you’re like, ‘Well, this game isn’t really that good with two or three players, we want five players.’”
Urazandi also mentioned that impromptu games of Settlers of Catan have been known to happen on Sundays, and the tables in the back are open for use as long as no official events are happening.
Another hub for board game enthusiasts is The Chess Club at UC Davis, a registered club that often meets Saturdays at the farmers market downtown and generally at least once a week somewhere on campus.
“Saturday is when the most number of people come because it’s at the farmers market [and] there’s a high volume of traffic,” said Karl Tolentino, a third-year biochemical engineering major and the current leader of the chess club.
Tolentino said that the club had gone through a bit of a dry spell before coincidentally being revived his freshman year. The club has since tried to keep a consistent schedule and has even recently held an informal tournament, which they hope will become a regular occurrence.
“The goal is to get people exposed to the game and wanting to learn about and play more of the game,” Tolentino said. “We don’t really care if you’re good or bad or if you just want to look.”
The club is open to anyone that wants to play, at any skill level.
“The cool thing about the club is that there are some really good players, and there are plenty of players that are not, and it’s friendly for everyone. Pretty much every level of player can have a good game,” said Scott Fischbein, the staff adviser for the club. “I started playing seriously a year ago when I saw these guys here, and pretty much everything I’ve learned in the last year has been through someone at the club teaching me stuff, giving me tips.”
Practicing board game skills in the various settings around Davis may have a practical purpose after all, as Tolentino has earned a number of cash prizes in chess tournaments, while members of the Scrabble Club also enter tournaments with cash prizes, with Orgun winning second place at a tournament in Reno. Whether for practice or simply for fun, there is no shortage of opportunities to join a game around Davis.
Photo by Danna Weintraub