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“Some people will flat out tell you, ‘I don’t want anything too hard,’” says Kathryn Smith. “With most people, you can just kind of tell what games they’d be good at. I had one crowd come in, and I knew they’d be good for Balderdash — they were creative and lively with their stories.”

Smith hosts a monthly “Board-Game Benefit” at Tea N More in Kearny Mesa, the next to take place on Friday, August 8. At each meeting, game players are asked to donate $10 toward Heifer International, a nonprofit organization that provides livestock to poverty-stricken families around the world. Smith, who works as a statistician for San Diego Gas and Electric, donated to the organization for five years before starting her monthly benefit.

“I especially liked that it seemed to be helping people help themselves, and it was long-term help,” says Smith. A recipient of a Heifer donation later gifts the first offspring of the animal they’ve received back to the organization, which is then given to another family.

“They had an example in a magazine of people who’ve done fundraisers on their behalf. One person does bike-a-thons, one chef does a dinner. For me, I like games.”

The most popular game at the monthly meetings, which has an average attendance of 15, is Taboo, a word-guessing game similar to the television game show Password. “We usually put maybe three people on a team,” says Smith. Having three people instead of two lessens the pressure on each individual. Because the game takes place in a popular café, including “a fair amount of UCSD students,” Smith’s crew simply says the word “buzz” rather than using the loud buzzer that comes with the game.

Smith will often begin the evening with a game of Scattergories. In this game, players roll a 20-sided die that has a letter on each side. Players use the letter that comes up to begin as many words as they can think of that fit into a selection of categories. “I use Scattergories as a filler game because it’s very short — you can play for only 20 minutes.”

Most evenings feature one main game such as Settlers of Catan, a board game where players attempt to take over an island by building roads, settlements, and ultimately cities. A typical round of Settlers of Catan, devised by German dentist Klaus Teuber in the early 1990s, may run an hour and a half. “I definitely have to be careful — I wouldn’t bring a [longer] game like Monopoly,” says Smith.

Smith estimates that she has raised about $800 for the charity. “What I usually do is ask people to write a personal check to Heifer because a lot of them don’t know me, and I don’t want to ask them to give me cash. If they do, and some of them do, I donate online the next day.”

Regarding her charity of choice, Smith says, “They recently got a $42.8 million grant from the Bill Gates Foundation to expand in Africa. That makes me feel good, because you know [the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation] has done their research.”

Smith likes the crowd her monthly benefits have drawn. “I get a couple regulars now,” she says. “One woman came…she was a mentor for Big Sisters, and she brought her mentee. One person works for the teenage shelter in Hillcrest. I had another high school girl — she was trying to organize a Heifer group at her high school. Many of them are already [actively volunteering or donating] in many ways.” Once a group of four showed up after seeing Smith’s ad on craigslist. One donated $100.

Though some are drawn by the charity, others come just for the games. Matthew Coombs, an accountant, discovered the group on meetup.com and attended his first board-game benefit last month.

“I was generally looking for any kind of meetup or something social,” says Coombs. He played Taboo and Settlers of Catan, the latter of which he had played only once before. Coombs, in his late 30s, says most of the other game players appeared to be in their mid-20s.

Most evenings of game playing run until around 10:30 or 11 p.m., though on some occasions, says Smith, “We’ve stayed until midnight, when it’s gone really well.”

— Barbarella

Monthly Board-Game Meetup
Friday, August 8
8 p.m.
Tea N More
7380 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard
Kearny Mesa
Cost: $10 suggested donation
Info: 858-654-1792 or www.heifer.meetup.com/11/calendar/8324965/

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