The Rise of the Board Game Cafe

In this golden age of board games, we’re a bit spoiled as fans of the hobby. The number of great titles that are being published gives people countless gaming options. Scores of new gamers are born into the hobby every day, ensuring its continued growth. One of the major driving forces in ushering new people to gaming has been the modern day board game cafe. More and more game cafes are popping up around the world. They have taken off across Canada, the States, Europe and Asia. The models change depending on where you go, but the core idea of getting together with a group of friends and playing board games for the evening no longer sounds ‘nerdy,’ it’s actually a pretty cool thing to do. 

One of the first game cafes to hit the scene was Snakes and Lattes in Toronto, Canada. Five bucks gets you unlimited access to their entire game library, which is one of the largest public collections of games in North America. Snakes has been around since 2010 and now boasts two locations in Toronto and over 70 staff. It has a bit of a mythical reputation with gamers from around the world making pilgrimages there. 

The first big impact Snakes made on the game cafe model was the development of the Game Guru position; the heart of any great game café is their Gurus. These are the game sommeliers, trained at finding the right game for any situation or group and then expertly teaching the rules. A talented Guru can take a group of inexperienced, but eager players and find games that will open up a new world to them without being overwhelmed.

Steve Tassie is the Head Guru and Library Curator at Snakes and Lattes (you can also see his excellent videos on The Dice Tower’s Board Game Breakfast). He is an expert in not only assessing the gaming needs of a table, but also teaching the game in a clear, concise way, ensuring they’ll be able to start playing in no time. People tend to underestimate the amount of skill it takes to teach a set of complex rules to new gamers. Learning how to layer information in an effective way is just like any lesson plan a teacher may have in school.

“In an industry with razor thin profit margins, board game cafes have shown themselves to be a way to get more customers in the door, and the model provides more revenue streams than just selling games,” explained Tassie.

“Some publishers spend a fair bit of money and energy on demo teams. Their job is to show off the publisher’s games to as many potential customers as possible. At Snakes and Lattes, we see close to a quarter million customers a year, and demonstrating games is what we do.”

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