Ah, board game cafés. Such a simple concept, and yet so effective. For those of us who love both board games and delicious drinks, there’s no greater sanctuary. It’s the perfect place to just relax and have fun for a few hours. But what exactly are they? What can you do there? How should you behave in one? Never fear; this guide is here to help you navigate everything you need to know. By the end of this article, you’ll feel ready to hunt down your local board game café and have the time of your life. So, let’s dive into it!
Play It Your Way
You can find board game cafés in most densely populated areas, although their size and frequency may differ. They can be either independent or franchises, and your experience will likely differ depending on which one you go for. Personally, I prefer franchises as I find them to be busier, and I feel less self-conscious with more people around me. You can usually find a range of games in the café, or you can bring your own. Get the most out of your experience by keeping an eye out for special events.
What Is a Board Game Cafe?
A board game café is exactly what it sounds like – a café where you can play board games. And sure, technically, any café could be used to play board games, but these places are special. They’re specifically dedicated to playing games, and so you’re going to have a much more relaxed and welcoming experience than you would elsewhere. Not only that, but you wouldn’t have to bring your own games, and could instead use theirs. Most places will have a pretty wide range of options. Plus, the best part is that you won’t struggle for space, as they’ll have large tables that you can use.
Not only can you play the games provided, but often these places will also sell things. You can test out a board game you’ve had your eye on, and if you like it, you can purchase it directly from the café. Some places even offer special discounts whereby you can get money off everything in the shop if you buy a membership card. These places are great as it encourages loyalty, and so over time, you’ll be able to make some serious savings.
You can also just go for a drink and to enjoy the atmosphere if you’re not feeling like playing a game. In a sense, they’re just like any other café, so there’s no obligation to play a game or stay for a set amount of time. Although these places have a target audience, some of them will also want to appeal to passers-by who are just thirsty. As such, you can expect the quality of food and drink to be just as good as anywhere else, if not better. I had a truly delicious Oreo milkshake at my local Geek Retreat.
Where Can I Find a Board Game Cafe?
It used to be the case that these places were few and far between. I remember just a decade ago stumbling upon one in the town over from me, and being so shocked and surprised that it even existed. But these days, they’re growing hugely in popularity, and you can find them in most towns, and they’re especially common in cities. I would advise hopping on to Google and searching ‘Board Game Cafe near me’ to see what pops up.
One thing to note is that it might not necessarily be best to go for the one nearest you. Each one is likely to have a different vibe, and you want to make sure to pick the place that’s right for you. With board game cafés as opposed to regular cafés, you’re more likely to become a regular, as there’s a heavy emphasis on the community side of things. And so you want to make sure that you feel perfectly at home there. If there are multiple options near you, then check out their website as well as the reviews. Maybe even make a visit to each of them to see which place has the best drinks/ the friendliest atmosphere.
It’s also a good idea to check out their social media. If they’re active on there, it suggests they have a pretty fun atmosphere, and you can get a good idea of their store’s vibe. You can also see whether customers seem to be interacting with their posts, as that gives you an idea of whether you’re likely to make new friends there.
Franchise Vs. Independent Store
Now, this is probably the biggest choice that you’ll have to make if you’re picking which board game café to attend. There are two main types of businesses here – independent stores, and franchises. They both have their pros and cons, and I’m not here to tell you which is best. Instead, I’ll provide you with the information so you can decide for yourself. Instead of making an individual pros and cons list for each type of store, I’m simply going to list the main points for each, so you can easily compare them against each other. Obviously, it’ll differ based on the specific store, but these points will generally be pretty accurate.
- Often larger in size, more spacious
- Reliable, you can expect consistent customer service as they’ve got to reach company standards
- Tend to have a wider range of games to play, as their budget is larger
- Tend to have stricter procedures in place as it has to be run the same regardless of location
- Tend to have events more frequently
- Tend to be smaller, but this means a cozier vibe
- Customer service can be more personal, but it can also be bad as they’ve got nobody to answer to
- More likely to have unique board games available to play, as they may have partnerships with indie creators
- More varied events as they don’t have to stick to suggestions from corporate
What Kind of Games Are Played?
With the thousands of games out there, there’s really no limit on the titles you can play at a board game café. However, I’ll be focusing on the most common ones, as these are most likely to be found here. You’re likely to find that your local place might have special events for these games, or that the other people there will want to play these with you. These are the most popular categories of games.
Collectible Card Games
Probably the most common type of game for themed events, my local board game café has one day of the week for each of these TCGs. You’ll probably have to bring your own deck with you unless it’s a draft event, but you’re likely to be able to purchase new packs once you’re there.
This is the big one, and nearly all board game cafés should have a dedicated fan base of Pokémon fans. The TCG was initially released in 1996, and I remember it being really popular when I was a kid. We used to make trades on the playgrounds, which could result in fights if people wanted to do take-backsies afterward, and in the end, my school banned them. But they’ve exploded in popularity over the years, and as of March 2020, they’d sold over 30 billion copies. As such, you’re likely to find events where you can battle other trainers, and maybe even enter a ranked tournament.
Magic: The Gathering
Although it has a smaller player base than Pokémon, there are still estimated to be around 40 million active players (as of 2022). As opposed to Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering tends to be more popular amongst older players rather than children. This is probably due to the grittier lore and more complicated game mechanics. If you’re looking for a card game that you can really dive into, M:TG is an excellent choice. You’ll be able to find other players who are really passionate about it, and they’re often very welcoming of newcomers. I played this for a couple of years whilst I was at university, and I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and helpful the other players were. You should be able to find events at board game cafés, and even if not, you will probably still be able to connect with other players there.
This is my jam. I really liked collecting the cards as a kid, although I had no real idea how to play properly. I sold my collection and forgot all about it for a while, until my younger brother got grounded when I was a teenager. He suggested playing YuGiOh to pass the time, so I bought a bundle on eBay, and we divvied them out between us. From there, I was hooked, and started collecting more and more. I now have at least 7,000, although I haven’t counted, so it could well be more.
Board game cafés are a great way for me to find other players in real life, and I have five different main decks which I whip out for battles. I’m particularly fond of draft events, although, in my opinion, this game went downhill since Link cards were introduced. At some point, I’d love to host my own event where Pendulum cards and Link cards are not allowed; it would be interesting to see how that would play out against the current meta.
Board and Card Games
Although, in recent years, collectible card games have really taken off, board and card games are still the classics for board game cafés. There’re so many different ones out there, and new ones are constantly being invented. It’s great to see the creative range of products out there, as there’s something to cater to everyone’s taste. In this section, instead of just listing game names, I’m going to talk in a broader sense about what types of games to expect.
Interestingly, at a board game café, you’re unlikely to find a lot of the most popular mainstream board games such as Scrabble or Monopoly. This is because the people coming into one are usually deeper into the world of board games, and seek out more exciting titles. As such, the most popular games amongst board game nerds tend to be very different to those of mainstream audiences.
Large Board Games
This is a great way to take advantage of the fact that you’ve got access to large tables. Depending on where you live, it might be tricky to find space at home for games that require quite a bit of table space. It’s also useful if there are going to be a lot of you, as there will be plenty of chairs for you and all your friends. There may be a table fee, but some board game cafés waive that if you buy food and drink, so you could potentially spend several hours playing these larger board games without it having to cost you very much.
One good choice would be Gloomhaven. It’s absolutely huge, and takes a lot of time, making it impractical to play in your own home. Being able to play it across a large table with plenty of room for all the pieces would be a lot more convenient and help make the game more enjoyable. It’s one of the best campaign board games out there, so certainly worth checking out if you’re thinking about what game to take with you.
Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne are also very popular choices, and much more likely to be found in the café’s existing library than Gloomhaven is. Settlers of Catan is one of the most famous board games out there, and it’s estimated to have over 20 million regular players. It requires intense strategy, and it’s one of those games that you continually improve your tactics for the more that you play it. Carcassonne is also a strategy game, but it’s easier to learn than Settlers of Catan and tends to be quicker to play, so it’s a good choice if you’re only planning to be there for an hour or so.
Popular Card Games
I really enjoy card games, and they’re probably my favorite subset of board games. I think part of the reason I enjoy them so much is because of how easy they tend to be to set up. They don’t require long and complicated processes to start them; you just place the cards in the right place, deal them out as necessary, and jump straight into playing. They also are usually less time-consuming to play, so they’re great if you have a short attention span. These work really well in board game cafés, as you’ll be able to play and eat/ drink at the same time, without having to make room on the table for your food.
One popular title is Exploding Kittens, which was released in 2015, and has sold over 10 million copies. It was a Kickstarter game, and at the time, it earned the record for most backers in Kickstarter history. I see Exploding Kittens as the perfect bridge between experienced and casual players, and almost like a gateway game to get people into the more interesting titles. It’s got more unique mechanics than mainstream card games, such as Uno, without being so complicated as to put newer players off.
Coup is another great card game, as it’s not only quick, but also exceptionally fun. It’s a game of strategy and deceit, and you’re bound to have a great laugh while playing it. And if laughing is what you enjoy, then Cards Against Humanity could be a good choice for taking with you to a board game café. Its unique blend of dark humor can make for some hilarious combinations of cards, and it takes advantage of the extra space you’ll have at a café, as it’s best played with lots of people.
Dungeons & Dragons
Whilst not the only role-playing game out there, it’s easily the most famous. It’s been around since 1974, and even though it’s been nearly five decades since its original release, it’s gaining new players all the time. The hardest thing with Dungeons & Dragons (colloquially referred to as D&D) is finding a group to play with. The campaigns are long and played over several sessions, so you’ll need to make sure to find people who can commit to regular sessions.
Board game cafés serve an additional purpose in this regard. Not only are they a fun setting for playing your game, but they also help you find other people to group up with. They may have a group on social media that’s dedicated to matching people up. They also sometimes hold specific D&D events. The downside with that is that they choose the date and time rather than your group working it out amongst themselves. However, it still means that everyone who does attend is likely going to be able to make the same time and place every week. Routine is very important when planning a campaign, or it can fall apart quickly.
If you’ve always wanted to play D&D but have been nervous or haven’t known where to start, then this is perfect for you. Try going down to your local board game café to ask about it; or otherwise, you may be able to check their social media pages. Hopefully, they’ll have events that you can join in with.
Should I Bring My Own Games?
This is a tricky question, as it depends entirely on what kind of player you are, and which café you’re going to. Most will have games available for you to play, and if they don’t, I’d question their reasoning for calling themselves a board game café in the first place. Some will allow you to use these games for free; others will want you to pay a small fee to use their games for the duration of your stay. That’s an important factor to consider if you’re thinking about becoming a regular, as you’ll want to keep your budget reasonable.
Most places will also have a selection of games available for purchase. This can be a solid plan, as often the games in stock will change as they’re bought and replaced. That way, you can buy one of the games they have in stock, and play it right there and then. Of course, most board games aren’t cheap, so you’d have to think about how often you could afford to do this. Still, it could be fun as a once-a-month treat to yourself to go to your local board game café with some friends, buy a game, and play it together. You could even do it more frequently by alternating which of you purchases one.
However, if you want to guarantee that you’ll have a fun time playing the game you want, then it’s always safest to bring your own. If you’re not picky, then this isn’t necessary, of course. But if you tend to be pretty specific about which games you’re in the mood for, then you can’t go wrong with bringing your own. Plus, that way, you can 100% guarantee that all the pieces will be there, although missing pieces is rarely a problem with established board game cafés as customers tend to be respectful.
Should I Go Alone?
In short, no, but there are some caveats. Going alone to a board game café is usually a pretty bad idea. The whole point of board games is to play them with others (unless you’re like super into Solitaire or something). If you go by yourself, you’ll probably end up having nobody to play with, as board game cafés aren’t really a place to meet strangers. People usually attend with their friends, or go just for the food and drink, rather than to meet somebody else.
However, an exception to this is for the planned events that the café hosts. These ones are often intended as socials, and there will be plenty of other people going alone. The host would then match you up with others to play the games. The downside here is that it’s for specific games, and so you couldn’t just turn up and do your own thing with a stranger. But the good thing is that you can meet new locals who are into board games, and you might end up becoming friends. Then you’d always have somebody who you could go and play board games with if your other friends are busy!
Although events can be wonderful, I still think the real fun of board game cafés is being able to go with some friends and have fun in that safe and welcoming environment. You’ll have plenty of space to play your games, and you can get delicious drinks whilst you’re at it. Thus my recommendation is to try and find some friends who like board games, and invite them to come along with you when you go.
Board Game Cafe Etiquette
- Buy a drink – Yup, even if you’re not thirsty. An exception to this is if they charge an hourly table fee, in which case, fair enough if you want to conserve your money. But otherwise, it would be rude to show up and take up their tables without giving them your money in return. Of course, many cafés will have snacks as well, so you could buy one of those instead if you really didn’t fancy a drink. Just make sure that you buy something, whatever it is.
- Don’t be too loud – You don’t have to be silent, it’s not a library, but you also don’t want to be shouting either. I know that board games can get pretty intense, and sometimes you might feel like screaming in frustration or collapsing into animated laughter. However, you have to remember that this isn’t your home, it’s a place of business, and there are other customers that you need to be considerate of. Have fun and chat with your friends, but make sure that you’re not disrupting the enjoyment of other tables.
- Don’t bring your own food and drink – A delicious snack table is a staple of a board game night when you’re hosting from home. But not at a board game café. They have their own snacks that they want to sell to you, and I understand that you may not want to pay the higher prices, but in that case, it’s best to just go for nothing at all. Even though they’re intended for playing board games, they’re still also cafés. And much like you wouldn’t bring your own food to a restaurant; you shouldn’t do it here either.
- Read people’s body language – Board game cafés attract a pretty eclectic mix of people. Some are extroverts who love chatting with everyone and making new friends. Others can be pretty socially awkward or introverted, and may struggle to have conversations with strangers. Take your cues from them. If you’re going to an event and you’re paired with someone who just wants to play the game and not really chat, don’t try and force a friendship. It can be a little disheartening, but usually, it’ll just be for a short time before you’re matched with someone else. You don’t want to cross someone’s boundaries and make them feel uncomfortable.
As you can see, board game cafés are an excellent places for people looking to have fun and meet new people. There’s such a variety as to what you can do there, and you’ll be able to tailor the experience to your own preferences. Whether you go alone or with friends, take your own games or play theirs, these establishments create a fantastic environment for you. Hopefully, this guide to board game cafés has helped you figure out where to get started with finding one and making the most of your time there.
However, as with anything, there’s only so much you can learn by reading about it. Use this article as a starting point, and go and find a local board game café that really jives with you. The more you visit, the more comfortable you’ll feel, and you’ll have a better idea of what you find fun. Enjoy yourself!
Question: What’s the most played board game in the world?
Answer: Unsurprisingly, the answer is Chess. It’s been around since the 6th century, and is hugely popular worldwide, with people dedicating their entire lives to becoming grandmasters, and massive tournaments where prize winnings can go into the millions. Hundreds of millions of adults play it regularly, and it’s the ultimate strategy challenge.
Question: Do board game cafes charge a table fee?
Answer: The answer to this one will vary wildly depending on the specific establishment. Some places charge a flat fee no matter how long you stay. Others charge an hourly rate. Some make it completely free. Some charge a flat fee, but give it to you an in-store credit, so it ends up essentially being free as long as you buy from them. Some charge per person. Some charge per table. You’d need to investigate your local board game cafés to see what their policy is.
Question: Are board game cafes a good place to make friends?
Answer: They can be. Whilst you’re unlikely to become best buddies with someone just by walking in during regular hours, there are ways to go about it. Try and attend the events at your local board game café, and you may well find others that you can play with, and eventually become close with.