The Exciting Rise of Board Game Cafes

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Every room is crowded with gamers at tables surrounded by circles of gawkers; the passageways between the rooms are teeming with people squeezing through gaps of huddled groups of friends chatting about the latest in sci fi, fantasy, or whatever else is on their minds; some are admiring the local geek art on the wall, watching the foster cats through a window, or searching for games to check out. At the counter, busy employees rush between customers to serve them tea, snacks, or to ring out their game purchases. This is the grand re-opening of Geeky Teas on Magnolia Street in Burbank, California, and the place is hopping.

It is one of many board game cafes that have been popping up across the country recently; places where gamers can meet for a beverage and a game for a small price. The way it generally works is patrons pay an entry fee or a table rental and they can choose from any of the games on the shelves. Then, just like any cafe, they can hang out there as long as they like, buying beverages and snacks, but with the added benefit of trying out any game from the store’s library.

This idea spread around the world, and now board game cafes can be found in most major US cities, including Denver, Kansas City, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Omaha, Galveston, New York, and many more, as well as overseas in countries like China, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom. In Beijing alone, one can find more than 200 board game cafes.

And there are many more to come. Currently, you can find 44 board game cafe projects on Kickstarter, some already fully funded. And many of those that have opened have seen tremendous success. Approaching GameHäus in Glendale, California on any weekend night, one sees a line snaking out the door. The sight is reminiscent of the city’s most popular clubs; people have literally waited for hours just to get a seat.

Like most other cafes, gaming cafes each have their own unique flair that sets it apart from others. The Brooklyn Strategist focuses on attracting children for after-school activities.  The Uncommons in Manhattan prides itself on how seriously it takes its coffee and beer.  Board Game Island in Galveston, Texas resembles a pizza parlor, complete with a patio for parties, along with a complete organic menu and Mayan shade grown Arabica bean coffee. Geeky Teas in Burbank stands out by serving all sorts of flavors of tea with geeky themes, such as Boomstick tea, Agent Coulson’s BLEND, Groot Root, and Goblin King tea.

All of these cafes have several things in common. Most notably, a member of the staff will help customers learn games if they’re having any trouble with the rules. Additionally, they often sell the games that patrons play at the tables so they can take them home.

Also similar is the way these stores began. In most cases, they were started by individuals who had game nights with their friends which grew so large that they decided to open a business. Kellie Ho and Randy Wong at Hexagon Cafe in Edmonton, Alberta had been playing games with an ever-expanding group of friends during the recession. At Geeky Teas, owner Donna Ricci was running a steam punk costume shop but decided to change when she grew disillusioned with fashion and saw how the board games she was playing with her ever-widening circle of friends brought people together. “I think people are seeking places to socialize,” Ricci said. “I think they’re seeking community, to find closer, in person relationships… where they can build communities and friendships.”

This is a benefit that has not been lost on sociologists, who have warned that the constant separation of our online world has created a “trust crisis” in the world today. The belief is that the lack of face-to-face communication causes a rift in human interaction, which in turn leads to a lack of empathy and other societal problems.

Board game cafes are part of the solution to that problem, providing locations for people not only to gather for drinks and food, but to interact through competition, or cooperation, in fun and games, and awesome drinks.

What is the nearest board game cafe near you?  Tell us all about it in the comments!

Image credit: Game Haus Cafe

Featured image credit: Geeky Teas

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