The Rise of the Board Game Café

Photo Credit: The Dice Cup – Nottingham Boardgame Café Kickstarter
Photo Credit: The Dice Cup – Nottingham Boardgame Café Kickstarter

Board game cafés, at least here in the UK, seem to be a relatively new trend. The first board game café (Thirsty Meeples in Oxford) was launched in 2013, and since then a number of them have begun to pop up across the country. It’s not just popular here in the UK either; a quick search on Kickstarter brought up 17 projects for Board Game cafés worldwide, only 6 of which were either unsuccessful or cancelled.

So what’s brought on the trend? According to Owen Duffy in the Guardian (25 Nov 2014), we are currently experiencing a “golden age of gaming”, and the internet gets partial credit for the rise in popularity. From playing digital copies on smartphones and tablets, to the blogs and YouTube channels that review more exciting titles that can then be purchased through the use of online retailers like Amazon, we’re creating a platform for unique and interesting games to showcase to a wider audience than we could say 15 years ago.

Another argument from Hana Schank in The Atlantic (23 Nov 2014), is that board games are on the rise due to people craving social experiences at a time when “people are starting to lose the ability to interact and have conversations with one another.” Personally I think this is a little bit of a stretch, since I tend to game with the same group of people on a semi-regular basis, and I wouldn’t pick those bastards if I was craving a semi-decent level of interaction and conversation (I jest I jest, they’re hilarious. I’ve laughed so hard at times conversations have stopped for a good 10 minutes whilst everyone watched me slowly stop breathing whilst crying with laughter).

We’ve also seen an increased number of co-operative board games being created. Games like Forbidden Desert, Arkham Horror, Last Night on Earth, Pandemic – these games have the players working together for the same goal, and as a result removing the potentially  tense atmosphere generally caused after playing more traditional competitive games (I’m looking at you Monopoly). Competitive games still exist and are being produced, but these games tend to avoid the tactic of removing players from games completely, making them engaging and fun right up until the final scoring. Games like Cards against Humanity, Dixit, Munchkin – these games are designed so that the end result is almost secondary to the gameplay as a whole. These games are designed to be played in large social settings, and are perfect for cafés and pubs (well…maybe not CaH….that you play at home, with people you know won’t judge you).

But with all this in mind, is the board game café a completely new concept? Of course not – I was drinking in pubs 10 years ago (god that makes me feel old) that would allow you to get drunk around a table playing Jenga or Monopoly. As long as you bought a drink, you could play a game. These things are not a sudden thing, what’s new is the fact that the perception of tabletop gaming is starting to change. No longer is it something for only children or groups of people that avoided sunlight and human interaction for long periods of time. Board game culture is becoming an acceptable social activity that is on the verge of even becoming cool. Because of this, it isn’t just the odd quirky pub that is providing this service, it’s actually becoming a viable mainstream business idea.

With that being said, I can’t be all Hipster about it and say Board games becoming mainstream is a bad thing – in fact I encourage it! The more cafés and bars that allow me to eat and get drunk whilst playing games with friends the better. And if anyone fancies creating one in the Cambridgeshire region let me know – I promise to be your first customer.


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