A few weeks ago, Alex and I decided for once and for all to go to Oxford and visit Thirsty Meeples. We wanted to geek out, play some board games, and meet properly the place that seemingly set the standards of board game cafes in the UK. Well folks, the reason why it has taken me so long to write this up, is because the experience was not what I was wanting or expecting. I didn’t want to write a mean review all hot headed so, I decided to give it some time and reflect back. So, without more hesitation, here is the final report, I guess.
Just to set the scene, we went at the end of June on a Saturday at midday, and it was pretty hot and busy in Oxford itself. The total crew was us two and 2 of our friends, seasoned geeks with knowledge of board game cafes here and abroad. In fact, one of our friends has been working as a games master for different projects since 2017 so, we’d like to think we had some pretty decent background.
The first thing that struck me was how uninviting the space was, although that’s not completely their fault. I understand rent prices in the city centre are demanding and you do the best you can with what you get. However, I had this issue as well when I went to Snakes & Ladders (Bristol). The games for sale are right there as you come in, the space left between them and the first set of gaming tables is of one person, and this is the only way in and out. Needless to say it is tight. In Bristol this is even worse: the playing games are right in front of the bar which is at the entrance and gaming area at the back so, if there’s a queue you have to go through people. If it’s busy, you can’t afford to take your time to have a look in either of these locations, not without getting in the way of the staff and the other customers. I could have got past it in Thirsty Meeples, but then, you ha e the same problem with the actual playing board games. The shelves run along the walls, okay, cool, but then there are playing tables, big ones as well, right by them. And the section that is most heavily impacted by this is strategy games so, what, 70% of the playing collection? If I wanted to play something as simple and iconic as ticket to ride or catan, or even long game like scythe, I would have had to disturb a table of 6. Not great. Never mind though, because there’s no chance I’d have liked to play a long game there. Not only is the gaming space on the tables limited – an issue we had addressed for other places like draughts, though, mind you at least the have the trays under the tables which is useful – it’s so bloody noisy!!
Again, I appreciate space, but we had noise problems that could have been avoided and we’re manageable by the staff and we’re very poorly handed. There was an incredibly disturbing group next to us that got looks from the entirety of the cafe at several stages. Not a single member of staff came to tell them to be mindful, to keep it down, nah, instead hey here is more beer so you can keep getting pissed guys! Have a blast! That’s poor customer service and care. That would have never happened at DICE, or Board in the City for that purpose… The staff in general… I mean I get it, I’ve worked in customer service and had an awful day myself but that doesn’t mean your new comers have to see your grumpy face and see three of you moaning at each other, on the shop floor. Bad business.
There was only one chap who was pretty friendly and who was supposed to be our games guru but I could tell he got wrapped up with all the other stuff going on, so we decided to not disturb him and make do without him. That was our decision and I have nothing else to say on that front. However, it seems the policy was, once you’ve said no once, you can stay that way. We were hardly checked on for drinks or clearing the table. And in a place where your tables are small and you don’t have a proper bar to return things to, you gotta be on top of it.
Now, about the food: you know I’m a hungry person, so I can happily say it was alright. But, in hindsight, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend 7 quid for eating there given the circumstances and having the market a stone throw away. But, that’s due to the other circumstances, not the food itself -, credit where is due. The meal was tasty, the drinks were actually really good and the prices were reasonable. I am not so happy with the price of the gaming session for the amount of time you get though, which is only 4 hours and that’s it, off you go, but I understand the business has to run, so, I’ll make do.
In conclusion, I appreciate what thirsty meeples does for the gaming community. But it seems to me that it is far too easy to live off the fame, and scrap by with no improvement. I appreciate no one has it figured out when you start a new initiative like this, but there has been time to learn.
In summary, our visit was a bit disappointing. We did still play a few games and that was fun. We played Las Vegas, the cyanide and happiness game, and that was about it because we didn’t have time for much after we struggled to hear ourselves playing anything else. I still think it’s worth going up there and seeing the place, but I wouldn’t be looking to go back unless some changes take place.