When Matt Pinchuk stands in front of a room of fifth graders, with half a dozen game boards in front of him, his face lights up.
"You are all pirates and your goal is to conquer the Islands of Catan," he explains to a group of wide-eyed nine- and 10-year-olds at Beechwood Elementary School in Montreal's Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough.
Pinchuk developed a passion for board games as a child, starting with classics such as The Game of Life and Hotel — and he still feels the same way.
The 38-year-old collector has amassed more than 500 board games and he's working to pass love for the hobby on to future generations.
Nearly two years ago, Pinchuk quit his job as a genetic toxicologist and launched All Aboard Games.
He works with more than 50 Montreal-area schools with the aim of getting kids to disconnect from screens and connect more with friends and family. He offers workshops, family game nights and other extra-curricular activities.
"There's an alternative to video games and there's an alternative to just watching clips on YouTube," said Pinchuk.
As a parent himself, he knows how addictive tech can be to children and how easy it is for them to zone out for hours and have trouble focusing.
Pinchuk has seen how modern board games with colours, characters and adventure can turn things around.
"Every single cognitive skill is being developed in a board game," he said.
Pinchuk also says the hobby is a great way to get families together. Game night is part of his household with his 6- and 4-year-old.
"Your kids want to be with you. They want to do things with you. So this is perfect for that."
Schools, students see the difference
Omar Muhammad, a 10-year-old student at Beechwood, says he plays video games every day, but he prefers board games. He said they soothe his mind when he finds something is too hard.
"They have a lot of activity and they just help me when I am nervous," said Muhammad.
The school's principal, Anna Haller, is a parent of teenagers and knows the challenge of getting teens to be mindful of the time they spend in front of a screen.
She said she's happy her school has incorporated board games as part of classroom sessions, especially to children who are too young to have cell phones.
"It's really refreshing to see the kids using a game that is so complex that they're so engaged in," said Haller.
Both Pinchuk and Haller say the kids are also picking up life-long skills without even knowing it, such as strategy, critical thinking and problem solving.
Ava Desmarais, 10, is one such example as she works her way through Catan Junior.
"I like that you can explore stuff in the game and trade stuff with people, " said Desmarais.