Hello and welcome to one of them updates where we discuss how being a geek affects our domestic economy. Today I am going to discuss with you guys my personal experience from two board-game cafes that have opened in the last couple of years in the UK and that I have now frequented enough times to have a formed opinion on the subject. These are Draughts (London), and Board-in-the-City (Southampton). First of all though, let me give you the background to what have been the parameters I have used to make up my opinion. As a board-gamer I have been brought up and developed in a space that was friendly and cosy: home. Mum and Dad always happy to give you a run for your money at any game we own. So, for me, cracking some board games and having fun is not just about being sociable with my friends, but also about being comfortable whilst having a good time. Some of you may relate to this: having being bullied for years for being “weird” and liking games, comfortable is important. What other things have influenced my thoughts? Well, the games, of course. This is again something I have inherited with my genes I suppose: back at home, my parents have cartloads of games. From the classical Cathedral which I fondly remember playing as a child in the 90s with my dad, to the most recent releases in the market – I would say it is thousands but that is an exaggeration. You get the just nonetheless. With such an extensive collection, you cannot help but develop the following characteristics: you care for your games (particularly when you have friends coming over), and a healthy diversity of length, themes, number of players, dynamics and formats. And now, on to the practical stuff. Gamers of the world, you sure must agree with me, when you are playing you require the following: space and food. Why? Because board games take up space, and you may be playing something as sweet and simple as Story Cubes, then the next thing you know, you are halfway through an X-Wing party. Therefore, you need a decent sized surface to be able to get around and spread yourselves. But also, you need food – snacks and a drink mostly, and these take up space too. When we have games nights, we usually order lunch/dinner as well, and for sure you cannot have always space for the game and your meal at the same time – plus what kind of heathen wants pizza grease on their tiles?! Sure you stop for a sec, right…?. I am more concerned about the snacking factor in any case. You know: we want crisps, little nibbles to share, that sort of stuff you can yell at your best friend with your mouth full for closing your own train track whilst in the middle of a Ticket to Ride; that sorta thing. These are, in my opinion, indispensable. So, let’s see how this battle comes across.
Let’s start with what matters most (Again, if you know me, you know, I eat loads). When you are going to a place like a board game cafe, you expect to spend some money if nothing else on a drink, so you probably have budgeted for this. I personally like the variety that Board-in-the-City offers. You can get anything in there: from breakfast to dinner. The food is affordable and home-made. (Drink and a lovely ham and mushroom omelette I had for lunch last time was just a bit over a fiver, 7 quid or something). You can get coffee, you can have juice, milkshake, soda, water, whatever you want. And of course: plenty of snacks. Good! From the Cafe side of things – splendid. Draughts on the other hand, has disappointed me. I could be wrong, and this could be my memory miscalling info, but I seem to remember that the first time I went, the menu was slightly bigger and marginally cheaper than this last time. Total expenditure: over a tenner. Yes, London is more expensive, I know that. But even so, I didn’t feel it as value for money. With regards to snacks: it must be a hipster thing, because I think snacks and I don’t think of jelly beans – not my first option in any case. However, I must say their drinks are nice, good coffee.
I do like that both places have their lists online so you can have a look and check beforehand what they have for you to play – what you can find to play when you get there is obviously another matter. Once again, I feel like Draughts have cut down their selection from my first time there. They have also brought more copies of the same game (so I can play a trillion different versions of Ticket to Ride and CAH if I want), but some of the other stuff has disappeared. Also, the games aren’t well-kept. I get it: lots of people through the door. But if with a bigger collection, the people at Board-in-the-City can tell me if they are missing something from a game…Clearly there is an issue there. The games should be checked regularly. And to be perfectly honest, they should be stored better: with on the edge of breaking boxes, you should ensure they are flat, not on the side to avoid accidents. Interestingly enough, both places are supposed to give you advise on games. First time on Draughts no one bothered and it was near impossible to get anyone because it was so packed – but I could see tables where there were staff members helping, so I thought it to be a good thing. Second time around, we have an issue with the rules of a game, and it seemed that the helper wasn’t explaining the rules quite right (which led to a small exchange of words between two members of staff…not the best impression). Every time I have walked into Board-in-the-City, I have been given plenty of help, guidance and support. Sure, they were considerably less busy…But on a bank holiday weekend, they had 3 times the amount of staff members…than the only games cafe in London…Again, details…
This is very simple: the tables at Draughts are too small. Period. Put a game such as Takenoko on the surface, and ensure you put everything else away from the surface – bar your drink – and the space is minimal. And this applies to All tables: even the one for the 6+ seater, where you obviously need more space, because, more people. We were 3, in a 4 seater with not enough room. However, they have one good thing which is very thoughtful: underneath the tables they have like a shelf where you can put stuff you are not using at the time (in our case, the empty dishes). Certainly, helpful, but a couple of inches more of actual surface would be appreciated. Again, I get it: space in London is coveted and you need to maximise what you have…But sometimes less is more. Board-in-the-City in that respect are great because whether you are a big or a small group they have tables of all sizes – their establishment used to be a pub, so they have inherited the space distribution that way.
I feel at home at Board-in-the-City. The staff members are friendly, games are good, food is good, there is plenty of room – they even have a back garden for BBQs! You know another thing that makes me feel at home there? You are welcome to stay for as long as you want. And you know what? That actually makes me pay more. The fact that if you turn up before a certain time you don’t have to pay is nice though, and even if you do, entry is just a couple of pounds. And Why do I pay More? Because I wanna be there. Because I am happy with their service. Because I want to ensure a place like that keeps going, and if an extra Cola helps, then have it. I Will Stretch My Budget. Draughts, is a different issue. You only get you table for 4 hours – clock counting. You pay 5 pounds per gaming session. And the noise can be unbearable. It’s because there are so many tables, and London being London a lot of people, there is a moment in which we could hardly hear each other when explaining the rules. It was louder than my local pub. You can’t play games comfortably that way – I can’t. And certainly, gamers get loud(er); happens in the other place too. But if this is the case, you see staff members putting order and ensuring everyone respects the ambient for everyone’s sake. In Draughts instead, the waiters were bumbling around, and seemingly not caring.
So, what is it? I suspect location and intent have something to do with it. I get the feeling that Draughts kinda wants to be a board game cafe, but favours the cafe and money-making aspect of the business instead of customer satisfaction, whilst Board-in-the-City seems to do the opposite. Are the people different? Perhaps. I kind of get the idea a lot of people go to Draughts as a one-off experience, rather than because the want to play games and be sociable at the same time. In that regards it looks very hipstery and trendy. What is better for your wallet? Well, that very much depends what you expect to get from this experience. For me, because of my circumstances and expectations, I could spend the same amount of money in both places. However, I’d rather spend it in the board game cafe in Southampton. I’ll rather know my money is well invested and spend 10 pounds feeling welcome, than spend 10 pounds and feel uncomfortable. This does not mean I’d never go back to Draughts. Not at all. As a geek I am well aware that places like this are few and far between. But that is now and choice is limited. For how long? I cannot say. Geeks are a good crowd, a loyal crowd: if we are happy we will come back. However, I suspect my next visit will not be happening that soon.
And this is all from me today. If you have visited other Board Game Cafes in the UK – Or elsewhere, and you have something to share, we would very much like that. After all, we probably cannot try them all 🙂