The State of the Hobby

Our hobby is expansive.

One could almost speak of tabletop gaming experiences in admiring terms, such as those a certain Professor Snape uses to describe the dark arts: “many, varied, ever-changing, and eternal” (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince). O.k. maybe not “eternal,” but you get the idea.

Every time I think I’ve done and seen all there is to see in tabletop gaming, I find another facet.

This time: board game cafes.

The High Water Mark of Gaming: The Board Game Cafe

A glass from The Malted Meeple board game cafe.

Board game cafes are a sign to me that our hobby has reached its high water mark; after all, when a hobby has an eatery attached to it that turns an otherwise private pursuit into a public one, the hobby has arrived.

Think of golf, for example. The clubhouse serves the purpose of allowing golfers to relax and connect–I assume–with each other before or after enjoying their hobby. Otherwise, they could simply play a round, and disappear. To give another example, In Nashville, where I once lived, there were blues bars, where performers and fans of that style of music could gather and connect.

I’ve known about board game cafes for some time, now. But, I’ve never had the chance to visit one. Until this summer’s vacation. My in-laws generously agreed to watch our daughter so that my wife and I could go on a date.

And, I found the perfect spot, not too terribly far from where we were vacationing: The Malted Meeple.

To give you a brief rundown of the board game cafe concept: you order food and drinks and sit down to play games.

But, you might say, that’s something I could do at a coffee shop! Well, not like this.

My wife points to a prospective game like the finger of Fate, pointing inexorably to our doom! Or something like that.
My wife points to a prospective game like the finger of Fate, pointing inexorably to our doom! Or something like that.

See, my guess is that your coffee shop doesn’t have an extensive game shelf with some games that you haven’t yet tried. But this one did.

And a scant few days after GenCon, it even had some new games, such as the much-hyped Mysterium.

Feel the hype!
Feel the hype. Join the cult of the new!

Not that we ended up playing Mysterium–for some reason the theme of conducting a séance gives me the creeps (one too many horror movies, perhaps). Yet, the mechanic of interpreting Dixit-like pictures to solve a murder sounds fun.

In any case, more than two players would’ve made Mysterium better, in my opinion.

My point is: the fact that it was there and newer than not was a testament to the power of the board game cafe: providing access to new gaming experiences.

In this instance, my wife and I belatedly celebrated our 5th anniversary by playing Flash Point: Fire Rescue (her choice). She felt like we ought to play cooperatively, given that we were celebrating our marriage and all.

So, we ordered some shakes, and off we went.

The fire, it burns!

The staff offered to teach us the game (another benefit: your own personal game tutor), but I’d played it once, and felt comfortable enough to muddle through on my own. Long story short, the house burned down around us, kind of like in that movie: Mr. and Mrs. Smith, only without us actually having saved the day.

But we had fun, and my wife learned a new game. We could have stayed all day–literally. We paid $5 per person to reserve our table, indefinitely. No guilty feelings for buying a $2 coffee and sitting for five hours taking up table space from another customer that might have–you know–actually spent slightly more. I don’t think a coffee shop could rival that pleasant feeling of not having to worry about taking up space longer than I ought.

As it was, we could only stay through this one game, but we did take a moment to appreciate the geeky decor, before hitting the road.

Nerdy decor.
Nerdy decor.

There was what appeared to be a picture of Charizard on the wall, as well as some wizards working their magics. The space felt like the common room of a tavern, only more cleanly and well-lit than the stereotypical depiction. We were there quite early, so the place lacked the energy and bustle that I imagine is typical of an evening crowd.

That social energy and validation of knowing that you and your company aren’t the only people into good games and good times would be another boon of a board game cafe. We got a taste of this, just from talking to the staff.

Before we left, my wife stopped me. “I don’t usually go for this sort of thing, but I’ll make an exception,” she told me.

Confused, I looked at her, and she said, “I’d like you to take my picture.”

“Oh, ok.” I fumbled for my phone, thinking she’d stand by the shelf of games or the sign outside. But, then, I saw it: the giant meeple standee.

“Ah.” I said. And concluded our visit.

My wife, the best meeple I know.
My wife, the best meeple I know.

So, to recap, if you want to:

1. Try new games

2. Learn them from an expert

3. Enjoy good food and good games in a social setting

Then, a board game cafe might be for you!

Twitter: @ptboardgames

YouTube: Playthrough Boardgames

2 thoughts on “Board Game Cafe Soiree

  1. Great article!

    having watched the industry grow since my teenage years in the '80s, we went from hobby shops to gaming shops in the early-to-mid '90s; gaming shops developing areas for playing…from card and board games, to role-playing, and full battle dioramas during the next decade.  Over the past ten years, we've seen the steady growth in the "gaming cafe" market…now I'm just waiting for one in the D.C. area.

    Cheers,

    Joe

    1. Hopefully one will come to D.C. soon! I was honestly suprised that there was one a bit off the beaten path in Ohio.
      In the 90’s I used to play at my game store. I still do most of my gaming at my game store; I think there’s a game cafe in Chicago, but it’s not close enough to make me a regular customer…

      Glad you liked the article.

      — Dave

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