About 2 years ago, when I started Boardgame Monkeys, one of my main challenge was to find a good place to be able to grow over time with my group of boardgamers. All of them will tell you that in the boardgaming world there are some challenges, amongst those would be:
- Finding gamers to play with you when you want.
- Find a place that is comfortable and overall good enough for all participants.
- For non-gamers (and sometimes gamers too), be able to try boardgames before buying them.
While some people find boardgames café a strange place to spend time, on the other hand, some of us do also have the need to connect with people in a public/private space, the need to have a meaningful interaction that doesn’t use emoticons, and perhaps the need, in an increasingly complex world, to work with friends and family toward a clear goal.
Below you will read about some thoughts I’ve collected over time on the “ideal place” to play boardgames. Of course, everybody can have different expectations – it’s not the purpose to satisfy everybody (is that even possible?) – therefore those are common items I’ve heard within my gaming group in the last 2 years.
Types of games available:
A good mix of all types of boardgames is always a must. No need to have 500+ boardgames available at all times. It would be better to do a rotation for each category (this way you “renew” the pick & play experience of your regulars).
The vast majority of games need to be played & explained within 1 or 1,5 hour. That’s because players will want to play several games (3-4 games ?) per session and have the impression they get enough action for their money.
Having a prototype shelf can always be a good – except if you plan to have dedicated events for those (see below under “events”). If you do have this space, make sure you also leave a system of feedback for the testers to comment on their session (like a notebook, feedback forms etc.).
Sometimes players will come with their own games – make sure you can distinguish which games are from your collection and from your clients/visitors. Stickers on your boxes will do the trick.
You might want to tag your “expensive” boardgames with a security tag that would ring if somebody takes the box outside of your place. Yeah, that can happen too … better be prepared than sorry about stolen games.
Have post-its or reference cards with the advices or recommendations from the staff on each box
The boardgames should be organized in alphabetical order inside groups ( family games, abstract games, etc…) to facilitate the search.
Will you also have some people from your staff explaining boardgames ? If so, how does it not impact the regular service you maintain (when a waiter is explaining a game for 30 minutes, who will be taking orders in the meantime?). A good system can be with “tickets” for periods of times (= fix hours) where a game is being explained. That way, you funnel all requests to a certain moment in time, keeping like this some control over the explanation requests.
Post your Top 10 of the month with some highlights on why your visitors should try out those games (and eventually you can have a deal with Publishers to get a few boxes for some tournaments you’ll run – as you’re displaying their game in your place).
Probably you will want to have some print-out at hand with a summary sheet of the most played games, maybe some BGG explanations or even a tablet with a quick introduction video already uploaded on it.
You might want to get rid of some games – or even propose a kind of 2nd hand service for boardgamers – with a section to sell your “old games” and the one of your clients (on which you can take a commission).
The Gaming Area:
Noise is always a pain when you’re playing boardgames. With some bad luck, you’re playing a wargame trying to be immersed into the theme while at the next table a bunch of party-gamers are yelling their guts out to find some words or make up a story. Somehow, noise separations or any acoustic support will be your TOP priority number 1 in setting your gaming area in place.
Your tables should be from small to big sizes to fit various types of gaming sessions; from the 2 players games up to the 10+ party games. Modular tables is still the most efficient cost-saving approach. When getting your furniture, think also about the material choice and what will it be used for (rolling dices over a gliding surface, picking up cards easily from the table, have a space to place safely your food & drinks). Having also a place to store temporarily your boxes and zip-locks is great (for example a 2-level table).
The light will be one of the first elements your players will be looking after. To read rules, cards or distinguish the colors on the board, you need enough light but not too much that it’s reflecting on the tables. It make sense to be able to dim the lights of each table (or at least of each area of your place) depending on the hour of the day and the types of games or events you’re hosting.
Boardgamers will also be glad to lay down in a lazy couch with a journal, a geek magazine or the comics of the month. Ensure you have an area separated from the gaming tables that allows people to chat, relax or just sit around talking without having to be next to players (avoiding this way that people start yelling louder than the next table).
Why not have a kids area ? You know, boardgamers eventually also become parents … good way to initiate the youngster and work on your future clients list !
Ventilation is equally important in winter and summer times. You will have some “geeks” who did not see a bathroom since decades that might come in and sweat on your chairs for a whole evening. That “ugly” thought put aside, sitting hours on the spot, being reflexive over the game will need also some air to stay awake and keep your brain working. Just think about the practical side; you don’t want your place to turn into a Saturday night steam room either !
The staff/Your team:
You need some boardgamers – or at least some waiters that are into boardgames because they will connect with your visitors. They will help find the right game for boardgamers depending on the level of experience, the number of players in the group, the type of games they enjoy and how much time they have available to play.
You should provide a table service so gamers don’t need to leave the table to order drinks and food!
Your menu should be fun to read, fun to order … if you want clients to consume ! So start by making a selection of themed burgers or cocktails. Maybe even some drinks created together with a game designer ? Like a cocktail named “Only for Munchkins” created with Steve Jackson.
Along with the theme decoration, you need to have thematic nights (up to you to decide on the frequency); this will boost your activity keeping regulars happy and attracting new customers as it shows that you’re being proactive. Along with this you can adapt the type of games that will be played and type of food/drinks served.
Offer a “full menu” entertainment night, with guest designers or other personalities from the gaming world dropping by and play with the boardgamers on an exclusive VIP special night. You could have dinner with a author and then play one of his published game (or even prototype for a future game). That’s a fantastic moment for a gamer.
Have you ever done a boardgaming marathon ? Yeah, I’m talking about a 24h crazy Zombicide campaign or a thrilling pitch-car or Formula D racing tracks tournament. Amazing experiences that people do not forget. It also gives you the chance to take great pictures to make some free advertising on social medias.
Events and Activities:
Why not organize a Master Class on boardgames design ? This can be followed up by regular monthly meet & exchange sessions. Outside of fairs, there are not a lot of places where professionals can discuss about the job and meet new people.
Don’t forget that not everybody is a “pro” boardgamer. You will definitively want to attrack also youngsters/kids and/or families with dedicated games for them. It’s the parents that have the money, make sure somehow you can reach them through the kids. For people looking to try some new games and possibly meet some new people to play with as well you can always have a “monthly Game School” concept. Month 1: tile placement games. Month 2: workers placement games. Month 3: deduction games etc.
Your opening hours should be when your clients are actually around; this means, mainly during afterwork hours and weekends. If you have a “hard stop” at midnight, that might cause problems with some players in the middle of the game. Keep that into account for both your regular hours and your special events.
Show Me The Money:
Sure you’re not there only to have a good time, being successful means also having to work on your notoriety and having space to welcome all players. Check out existing associations of board gamers and offer them a place to play, organize some big tournaments (you can get sponsored by Publishers in some cases – like for example a few years back the Ticket To Ride championship with Days Of Wonder). People attract people, so get some groups energized about your place.
For the gaming fees; you can have several types of deals like “play & 1 drink” or a “half day” or “night out” proposal. The cover charge only applies for those sitting down to spend time playing games from our board game library but not for somebody just dropping 5 minutes to say hi !
Don’t forget that your gamers might have already a lot of games at home, so just having games available on your shelf is not what will make it. You need to ensure you get the new games in (maybe through a sponsorship with your local distributor or shop that you can back-reference in exchange). Hosting some “new games of the month” sessions while you make them also available to buy (at a discount price) during a special night, can also get you some cash in.
If you’re having a good success, you can always setup a “booking system” that is free or paid – or included in some kind of subscription (monthly/yearly) that gives you a priority seating for example. Yes, it can get crowded and people will start to fight for a table in such case.