Walking into the game room of Mayhem Collectibles, in Clive, can be a surreal experience. There are people sitting at tables throughout the room playing games of all kinds. Games about building the best suburb, games about discovering underwater kingdoms, even games about lying to your friends face to sneak contraband past the Sheriff of Nottingham.

This is one of my favorite places, for the same reason as so many others: it’s relaxing and fun.

“I have major social anxieties when it comes to interacting with strangers … But gaming is different,” says Brook Schloting of the Quad Cities. “I feel like I can play with most anybody and not have to worry.”

Growing up, the player base around me seemed dominated by boys. None of them seemed to think I sincerely wanted to play with them. So I gave up.

But while living in Iowa, that’s all changed. I have found groups that get together weekly to play with anyone who shows up.

Diversity seems to be running through the gaming world. While attending one of the largest tabletop conventions in the world, GenCon in Indianapolis, Indiana, I noticed diversity all around me. Most notably, I saw rainbow ribbons hanging from people’s badges that read “Ally” or “Gaymer,” as well as ones with pronouns.

In Ames, a new store named G3 Games, Grinds, and Gallery helps show how inclusive this hobby can be. G3 opened last November but really started going in March.

Their coffee house brings people in outside of event times to sit and play games with their own groups or whoever else is there. Since college began again in August, Newbauer says he’s has seen new college groups including one that labels itself  “LGBTQ+. ”We advertised welcomeness, and we want to make veterans and new players feel that,” he says.

Board gaming is still absolutely dominated by white male game designers. But it’s getting better. In fact, some games recently have reprinted, making changes so the game is less offensive. One example is Five Tribes, which changed its “slave” cards to “faqir.” Archipelago also changed one of its cards, though it remains a colonial-themed game and therefore still offensive.

Also, more female, nonbinary or transgender designers and artists are joining the scene. Two of my favorites are arist Fernanda Suarez, and openly transgender designer Nikki Valens, whose recent game Mansions Madness-2nd edition (on which they collaborated with two women) is in the top 30 games on BoardGameGeek.

Board games are not just for adults. There are plenty of games, old and new, aimed toward children. Though these games are not intentionally educational, they are often accidentally. I and several people I know use games to teach our kids both life lessons and even math, history, and logical thinking.

For example, one of my children’s favorite games asks them to add increments of 1, 2, 4, 7, 10, and 15 to their score throughout the game. They’re also learning basic U.S. geography, as they form routes from one city to another across the country.

Through games, I have also seen children and adults learn important social concepts. How to lose and win graciously can be a big struggle for some (including my children), but it’s something you learn quickly when playing tabletop games. Honesty and reliability are big things in gaming, because if someone doesn’t trust you and suspects you might cheat your way to the top, they’re not going to play with you.

The biggest social lesson I have seen learned while playing board games is acceptance. I believe this is why board gaming is so inclusive. When you play a game with someone, your differences melt away. You are all just gamers at a table having fun.

The people I’ve gotten to know while gaming range from pastors to atheists, parents to those who prefer to be single and childless, gender flux and pansexual, to cisgender and heterosexual, 4 years old to 92 years young, liberal to Republican, children who are home-schooled to children who go to public school, persons with steady jobs and those who are always switching.

No matter who you are, there is a place for you at the table.

That’s not to say there will never be arguments. Plenty of flaming wars erupt online about tabletop games. In person though, the biggest arguments I’ve been aware of went something like: “No, we can play the game you suggested,” followed by, “oh no it’s ok, we can play yours first.”

I have found game stores with possible events throughout the state. Here’s a list in case you want to visit:

Ames: Mayhem, G3, and Main Street Magic, Miniatures and More

Ankeny: Arkham Games

Cedar Falls: The CORE Comics & Games

Cedar Rapids: First Turn Games and Tempest Games

Council Bluffs: Spielbound
Des Moines and West Des Moines: Jay’s CD & Hobby
Sioux City: Games King
West Burlington: Press Start