As the night enveloped a quiet stretch of Palo Alto Avenue in blackness, a warm yellow light streamed from Roy Kornbluh's Downtown North home. Silhouetted forms moved about the dining room and a few card tables in the living room.
Inside, nearly a dozen people doled out cards, selected tiles and tossed dice onto game boards while playing Rummikub, Forbidden Island and other games.
Once a month, Kornbluh transforms his home into a neighborhood gathering spot for making new friends and cementing acquaintances. He recently began hosting "game night" at his 1920s home after a trial run last fall at a local church.
Kornbluh said while attending lectures about emergency preparedness, he was struck by the isolation many people seem to feel. When asked if they could name their neighbors, many people were silent. That's when he decided to open up his home to neighbors.
Kornbluh takes part in Transition Palo Alto, a loose coalition of individuals who work on self-sufficiency, climate protection and sustainability in areas of food, transportation, energy, housing, health, education and the economy. The group, which boasts a mailing list of about 500 members throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, has hosted conversation salons, sharing fairs, films and other events.
Kornbluh, who previously hosted craft evenings at his home, said game night was a logical step.
"It's another way to bring people together," he said, as he circulated from table to table.
Participant Barbara Weinstein, Kornbluh's father, William, and Peter Ruddock, a Transition Palo Alto steering committee member, studied their Rummikub tiles.
Events such as game night allow them to step away from the dizzying pace of technology and follow traditions from a simpler time — when people met face to face and shared good, human-connected times, they said.
"We like to do things that are neighborhood focused. There are some real advantages to having things closely tied in the neighborhoods," Weinstein said.
There have been edible tree walks and applesauce- and sauerkraut-making gatherings, zero-waste events and garden produce sharing. Knowing neighbors can mean pooling resources and fuel-consuming trips to the store or other carbon-producing activities.
At game night, it's more about the warm bodies and smiles and a sense of welcoming and acceptance.
Participants can bring their own board games or play what is available, Kornbluh said. The dining-room group huddled around the Forbidden Island board. It's a cooperative game where everyone works together to win instead of trying to beat each other. The players take on roles such as pilot, engineer, navigator, diver, and move their pawns around a four-by-four-inch "island" of tiles with images depicting areas such as the Misty Marsh or Dunes of Deception.
The goal is to seek four treasures before the island "sinks," which happens when the tiles are used up. Players develop strategies to help keep the island from losing tiles and try to take the treasures back by helicopter to a landing pad before the island is under water. As the island shrinks and the water level rises, the players must make sacrifices. It's a fitting game for a group of folks focused on building community.
Weinstein, at the more competitive Rummikub table, which combines elements of rummy and mahjong, considered the value of game night.
"In this area, there is a lot of talk about isolation in Silicon Valley. People associate at work or at church. We are looking to weave people together in a different dimension," she said.
Kornbluh said he planned to extend game night to more of his neighbors the old fashioned way: by knocking on their doors.
Kronbluh noted there is more relationship building to be done.
"I'm just happy I can tell you the names of my neighbors on both sides."
More about game night and other Transition Palo Alto gatherings can be found at transitionpaloalto.org and by joining the email list.