Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the actual cafe or the games. I’ve taken to Yelp! to use some pictures here. I apologize for the small size.
Last weekend, I found out there is a board game cafe right down the street from where I live. What better way to get exposure to the vast world of board games than complete immersion?
After identifying the location, my significant other and I decided to head down after work. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to see what a board cafe is all about, try out some games before purchase, and, possibly most importantly, see what my SO was most interested in and get her some exposure to different types of games.
Entering the Cafe
We arrived in the late-ish evening, and I had not gotten a reservation (which they provide for $20), and it turns out that would’ve been a great idea. When we walked in, the place was brimming with people grabbing games, tossing dice, and ordering food. Luckily, since we only had two, we could grab a seat as soon as the first people left.
We got a small booth towards the front. We sat down and immediately an employee came up and told us how the process worked: each person needed to spend $6 on food, drink, or retail and full access would be granted to the board game library. We eagerly complied by grabbing a couple drinks.
The far wall of the cafe was stacked full of board games. You were allowed to take one game at a time to your table. There was no real enforcement of this rule, but it was fairly easygoing with the staff. I did notice that some of the larger games were behind the counter, including the new Fallout game.
The facility had tons of tables stretching all the way to the back. People were packed to the tables, and I noticed all ages were participating (it was definitely more cafe than bar despite the late hours).
The front of the store contained a few shelves of games to buy, which included both board games, as well as traditional pen and paper RPG books, and even Magic cards.
Right behind the front tables and shelves was the main bar. Food included various traditional bar snack food, as well as empanadas. Drink included coffee and juice, but also various beers both on tap and in bottles. The beer selection was surprisingly strong for a smaller establishment.
We were in a booth, sitting across from one another. The table was wide with tons of space, and they even installed coat hooks for each of the booth areas. Employees periodically stopped by to clear out snacks and empty drinks, as well as offering refills. After grabbing the first round of drinks, I made my way over to the wall of games.
Playing the Games
I sifted through all the games from wall to wall, looking for titles I had been eyeing for weeks now. My goal was to pick several small, quick games to expose my girlfriend to a variety of different styles and figure out what she liked. I was interested to see heavier titles available like Blood Rage and the aforementioned Fallout game.
With this criteria, it was difficult to pick only a few titles when so many titles were available. Fortunately, the titles I sought were not being played by other groups. It did appear that they had many games with multiple copies, so the more popular games could quickly get taken.
I was also happy to note that, despite the obvious popularity of the spot, the games themselves were still in fairly good condition. In all the games we played, no pieces were missing, and all the components worked as advertised. I figured that wear and tear would be a factor, but so far the upkeep for the games we chose was decent.
Games We Played
As noted, I went in looking for games that were primarily two player, had quick play times, and did not involve a deep dive into a robust rulebook. In addition, I wanted each game to be a bit different from the last for variety. Theme was also important (Zombie-based games for instance, would probably not be met warmly).
With those parameters in mind, here are the games we managed to fit in during our time:
I began with Patchwork, a two player competitive game centered around building a quilt and scoring the most buttons by the end of the game. The theme was on point and inviting, and my girlfriend has a fondness for Tetris, of which Patchwork incoporates as a main gameplay element.
Patchwork has each player take a large grid which serves as a quilt. Various Tetris-like pieces are placed in a circle around a board. The board contains the two players pawns, along with a little track that marks the players movement.
Each player takes turns choosing to purchase one of the next three Tetris patches to add to their quilt (paying the relevant button number) and then moving a certain number of spaces. Each time you pass a button marker, you get a windfall of buttons based on your quilt. Most buttons by one player once both players reach the center of the game board wins.
The quilting/sewing theme was quite unique. Furthermore, the theme integrates nicely into the mechanics of the game, with the patches being sewn on in a haphazard manner in order to prevent any open spaces that reduce your score in the final tally.
The game manual has an extremely quick set-up description, and the rules were fairly clear for our clarification questions we needed answered. Set-up itself was also fairly straightforward and easy.
The game itself did a great job of creating some meaningful player interaction, but without too much direct hate toward one another. While you can create suboptimal choices for the opponent, you ultimately are only slowing them rather than actually destroying what they’ve created.
This is a game I would definitely enjoy playing more and seeing how mixing up the patches could affect the gameplay. With how quick it goes, I’m sure this one will be making its way into my collection in the near future.
Jaipur is a trading game using cards and chips. Strictly a two-player game, each player must assemble the most money in 2 out of 3 rounds in order to win the full game.
Each player gets a hand of cards which denote either goods or camels. Some goods are more valuable or rare than others. Each turn, the current player chooses to either “Sell” cards in their hand for the tokens, or can choose to swap or pick up additional cards laid out rummy style in the middle of the table.
There is a slight twist with camels, which do not great immediate tokens or coins, but which can be used in a mass swap of active cards in the market, and also act as an additional bonus amount of coins at the end of a round.
The market and camels and the incomplete knowledge of an opponents hand creates some interesting tactical and strategic considerations. For instance, if you flood the market cards with camels, the opponent is forced to take all the camels and deal out a fresh slew of market offerings that you would get first shot at. The key to the game is getting the highest scoring pieces cashed in, and working to erect the largest combos possible.
This game was built for two players, and it plays great with two players. While some games scale down to 2 but effectively require 3 or are mostly neutered below 3 or 4, Jaipur has found a great balance between engagement, and only playing with two players. Further, it was incredibly easy to set up and take down. Essentially you just shuffle the deck and then place the coins out in a certain order — done. Our scores greatly improved in rounds 2 and 3.
Overall, I really enjoyed Jaipur. The game does a solid job of integrating several layers of strategy into a two-player contest with hidden information. Timing of when to sell requires a balance of opponents hand, the remaining tokens, and trying to push your luck. Quick set up and take down (along with learning the rules) makes this a likely purchase in the future.
After the head-to-head nature of the previous two games, we settled on a cooperative title based on the widely known Codenames. I actually had to time picking this game up because several other groups had been using it before us. It was obviously popular.
For those unfamiliar, Codenames has you laying out 25 different words in a grid. Then, each player is given a secret card with a grid that marks certain spots as green, black, or tan. Each player takes turns giving one word, one number hints that indicate which words in the grid the other player should reveal. The goal is reveal all of the “agents” (the green squares) while avoiding an instant game over for the assassin (black) squares. In addition, the “innocent bystanders” serve as a clock of sorts, with only 9 bystanders (tan) squares to deplete, with each one also depleting at the end of a round.
The difficult part of the game is giving sufficient one word hints that your partner will guess multiple agents in a round. For instance, I had “Lumberjack,” “Manicure,” “Road,” and “Soup” left. It was very difficult to pinpoint a single word that would loop several of those together. Simply saying “Nails” to try to get manicure picked would end the round quickly and we’d lose a bystander. There are 15 agents to reveal and only 9 bystanders.
We were humming along quite easily at first and thought the game was a tad easy. Turns out we had some of the agent pieces stuck underneath the others so that we missed some agents we still needed to find and place. Thus, we thought we had more resources than we actually had.
The game is extremely easy to learn and set up. All ages could easily participate in the game, although some of the word associations can get quite tough like I mentioned before. However, that’s really the beauty of the game, as you contemplate a single word to string the others together, with the knowledge of how your teammate will interpret your single word.
I wanted to try this game out to see how Codenames worked in a co-op setting. I had also eyed it as a potential game for family or casual setting. I think it would work well for both, but it was a lacking something for me. I might come back to it.
I put Codenames back and grabbed Hive, although I think at this point my girlfriend was not expecting to learn yet another game. Too late! Hive is a chess-like abstract two player game where each player tries to surround the opposing players queen bee.
Each player has the same amount of tiles that each have a bug on top. Each tile must be placed next to another tile (they are hexagonal), and the whole “hive” can never break its chain. Each of the bugs denotes a special movement characteristic for that tile. For instance, the spider must move three spaces whenever chosen to move. The ant can move to any spot on the hive, and the grasshopper can “hop” over tiles and be placed on the other side.
Given each player has the same amount and type of tiles, along with all information open and available to both players, the game definitely invokes a chess feel, and has a lot of thinking required for each turn. I would say choosing this game later in the night was probably a misstep, but I really enjoyed the strategic elements.
There are additional bugs we didn’t implement in our game, and even more that can be added in expansion packs. I think this game is perfect for a surprisingly deep 2 player game that could easily be taken and set-up in any location. I will definitely be getting this game in the future, probably in the form of the “Hive Pocket” version which makes taking it about as easy as possible.
Overall, I really enjoyed the experience. Given my new found interest in designer board games, going to this cafe was perfect for getting a sampling of a bunch of different titles without having to make a large financial commitment. Reading reviews is helpful, but sitting down and playing them is the best litmus test. In addition, it was much easier to explain and show each game to my girlfriend, rather than just putting on YouTube review up.
I would definitely encourage others to go out and find a similar board game cafe/bar in your local area. Turns out we have more in my city, so I think that the recent board game resurgence means it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to have one within a reasonable distance. I’ll definitely be going back, and now have some new titles I want to try out!