Board game lounges, and cafés. They are popping up like hotcakes. Okay maybe not as quickly as hotcakes but they are a growing trend for sure, but do they have staying power? I think they do, because there are so many factors to consider.
I have volunteered at a local game lounge, I have been on the ground floor of starting a local pop up store/mobile game night’s business where local pubs host the game nights, I have worked open gaming sections at conventions, and I have visited lounges in some of the neighbouring major cities. Some have succeeded, and some have not, and I will discuss my thoughts on why some have stayed, while others have faded away into the mist, and the future of growth for board game places.
I am actually writing this post from a local lounge, well started writing, and got distracted by the pretty games, and people inviting me to play; while listening to kids and adults alike playing games in the background; the staff helping to explain games or recommend choices for people in the store section.
So Why Are They Popular?
The ambiance is chaotic, fun, and so much awesomeness! This is one big reason why I think gaming places do so well. Despite the growth of technology, people still enjoy, or maybe miss, interacting with one another, although I do feel that sometimes they need a medium in which to do so; introducing a mechanism to help the interaction along.
These places brings us back to our childhood. For better or worse I, and many others, especially those who grew up in the 80’s, usually had a game night once a week or so. The games were the American games, so even though the modern games vary a great deal, the “mostly” happy memories brought us back to a time of childhood joy, and fun.
Licensed Versus Dry
This is actually trickier to pin down why some make it work, and some don’t. Is it whether they serve alcohol or not? To be fair, many adults of legal age like the option, and so it can be a sticking point if a place doesn’t offer it. Patrons will not always partake but having the option is nice. Now I have seen licensed, and dry places both succeed and fail, so this isn’t necessarily a make-or-break necessity.
Selection Of Games
Whether the locale has more party/classic games, a good selection of kids games, or a solid collection of euro/strategic games is dependent upon target audience, and geography. The two are not mutually exclusive though. Places that are near universities tend to attract the younger crowd, but I have been to two different locales next to their respective universities. At one there were quite a few modern games on the table, and the other there was tons of party games from the 80-90’s. A place in a suburb often tends to attract more teenagers, and families, so I see more Collectible Card Games, and kids’ games there.
The mobile pub night and club events have one of the widest age varieties I have seen of adults. From university to retired age, there is just as much variety of games types/styles as there are variety of players. I often see dexterity, and bluffing games, next to LCG, and Euro games.
Fixed Locale Versus Mobile/Club Locales
Fixed locales have the obvious advantage of walk by traffic; of being, well, fixed in one spot. A fixed locale has upkeep costs, and staff requirements, but having people there to offer food/beverage, to help teach a game, or simply to have an ambiance that is specifically tailored to socializing, and casual interaction, is an obvious plus. Hours vary, and are longer, allowing people to not feel rushed, so they attract people of all ages who can often only attend at specific times. Fixed locales can also attract the tournament gamers by offering day events more easily.
Mobile nights/clubs often tend to attract the same crowd of people. There is a sense of camaraderie as you sit beside the same group of folks week after week. I attend events in different areas of the city that have between 20 to 60 people attending, and a large portion of attendees at these nights are the same people, with some new growth every so often. So whether you like the environment of hanging with friends in a public locale amidst other groups of friends/families, or have a small knit community of the same gamers.
Cost Of Entertainment
In the grand scheme of things attending a board game lounge is actually a fairly cheap outing. The average fee is about $5. Some places charge nothing, hoping for more purchase of games at the store section or of food while they sit and play. Some are free for kids, attracting families to a nice cheaper outing together. Mobile clubs, at least from personal experience charge much less, from $1-$2.50 to offset operational/renting costs, but also offer membership bonuses, discounts at affiliated stores, and such. Most times, dependent upon length of stay you will buy food, but the flat entry fee is a way to offset those that don’t purchase other things.
I live in a small capital city that hasn’t even hit the one million mark in population, so despite the city atmosphere it has a small town mentality, and so my experience may be different than many others. Note: I have visited two gaming locales that were in neighbouring major urban city centres, and I had the same experience too.
Whether the gaming experience is at a fixed local like a lounge or café, or I am attending a club/pub night, I have always felt a warm, welcoming atmosphere. People I have interacted with are pretty open to inviting others into a new game, or if nothing else don’t sneer deridingly at you when you pick something they would never play. I know this is not the case everywhere but in the grand scheme of things I can say I have had way more positive experiences at game lounges than not.
The biggest hint that game lounges are doing well, and the trend is growing is that they are often at full capacity, even in the middle of the week, and sometimes with call lists for when a table opens. The fact that I still have people look at me funny when I say I play board games, or I get the ubiquitous “so you play games like *insert classic family game name here*?”, means there is still large portion of people who have not truly discovered the wondrous world of modern board games; so there is a whole slew of people to convert, ahem, I mean introduce to this fantastic hobby.
I think eventually the growth of new lounges will plateau but I am hopeful, and confident that those that are here, and those that pop up in the next few years will be sticking around for a good, long while; because when I am ninety I want to be sitting around a table with my fellow old timers, and be placing meeples, and rolling dice.
For now, go forth to your local gaming place and… Play all the games!