Some cozy up at coffeehouses to challenge friends to a game of Monopoly or, perhaps, Battleship. Others gather in pubs for a rowdy night of trivia, with prizes ranging from bragging rights to baseball tickets.
Game night has become the rage in many U.S. cities, as people search for new ways to socialize beyond the bar scene.
"Everyone really gets into it," says Samantha Donaldson, 25, a government worker who recently began competing in the packed "Quizzo Trivia Night" at the Pour House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. She has enjoyed answering questions that test her breadth of knowledge, such as one category that challenged players to identify famous people with the initials "J.J." (James Joyce and Jermaine Jackson among them.)
But quiz night -- a tradition with British roots that has gained popularity with TV shows such as "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" and "The Weakest Link" -- is just one version of game night.
At the Whistle Stop Bar in San Diego, patrons can play old standbys, such as Candy Land and Uno, during "Games & Grooves" night. And several W hotels, including those in New York, San Francisco and Honolulu, have board games in their lobbies for guests to use.
Robin LaSota of Chicago has started storing Cranium -- a game first marketed at Starbucks -- in the trunk of her car.
"You just never know when it might come in handy," says LaSota, 36, who has helped her Stanford University alumni club organize game nights in people's homes.
"It makes gatherings more fun and meaningful."
At least one board-game maker says the notion that game night is only for kids or those with a limited social calendar also is disappearing.
"It's not the nerdy thing that people might think it is. It's actually a great way to meet people," says Eric Poses, 30, of Santa Monica, Calif., who created the game Loaded Questions in 1997. That game, making the rounds at coffeehouses and bars, features queries aimed at sparking conversation about hidden talents and favorite pastimes, among other things.
The fad seems to be having an impact on sales of "adult" board games.
They were up 5 percent in 2003, compared with the previous year, according to the NPD Group, a research firm that tracks toy and game sales. That is a notable increase, say those in the industry because overall toy sales fell about 3 percent during the same period.
"Obviously, games are something that stand the test of time," says Jim Silver, publisher of Toy Book, a trade publication.
That is certainly the case with Go, an ancient game in which players strategically place black and white "stones" on a board to gain territory.
Software developer Mark Rubenstein, 52, used to call it a good night when more than two people showed up at an Evanston, Ill., cafe to play the game in the mid-'90s. Now, as many as 40 players come to play on any given night.
Sonja Rygielski, a high school student from Chicago, sought out the club after seeing a Japanese cartoon called "Hikaru No Go," about a boy who is inhabited by the ghost of an old Go player.
"It gets your mind going when there's no school," said Rygielski, 17, while taking a break from a game.
Chris Urso -- a college student whose math instructor introduced him to Go -- says he was looking for something beyond computer games.
"This is three-dimensional," Urso, 20, says. "You can talk to the person you're playing."
Not that video games have to be antisocial.
Teenagers in Lake Oswego, Ore., and elsewhere are creating their own game night by hosting LAN parties -- hooking into one another's Xbox, GameCube or PlayStation games via speedy local area networks so they can play together in the same room.
Some call it the new alternative to the sleepover.
On the adult end of the spectrum, pub and coffeehouse owners say game nights help bring in business.
"It's a good way to build a loyal clientele that feels warmly about the place and invested in the place," says Maurice Collins, owner of the Wild Colonial Tavern in Providence, R.I., which has a quiz night every Sunday.
But Collins says to watch out for quiz masters who do not double-check their facts -- including his friend who tried to pass off the answer "giant squid" to this question: "The blue whale has only one enemy besides man. What is it?"
"People started to boo," Collins recalls, laughing. (He says the correct answer is "killer whale.")
Indeed, some game nights get pretty competitive. But Jeremy Horwitz, a graduate student who lives in San Francisco, says he prefers the friendlier, low-key trivia nights at a pub he frequents called Mad Dog in the Fog.
"The most satisfying answers," Horwitz, 27, says, "are the ones that take teamwork."