A Place at the Table Blogs

A Place at the Table: Board Game Cafés

Good afternoon board gamers! I was sitting at home the other trying to decide what I wanted to write about. I started thinking about newer trends in board gaming. One of the trends that came to mind is board game
cafés. Since I’m not familiar with board game cafés, I reached out to some online friends who either already own and operate a board game
café, Kathleen Miller of House Rules in Hudson, NY, or are in the process of starting a board game café, Bill Giles of The Innkeeper’s Table. This blog may be a little longer than normal, but I hope you will find it interesting.

Let’s start off with the basics. A board game café is a place where you can go and play board games with friends and have some food.

I wondered how Miller and Giles found themselves in the business of running a board game café or starting the process. Miller had originally been thinking of creating a restaurant focused on high quality comfort food. Living in a foodie town and having a career in the retail wine industry lead Miller to wanting something a little different. After poking around on the internet in 2016, Miller was led to the idea of having a library in a bar which, in turn, reminded her of her stock of board games. “From there,” as she says, “it was a quick and easy jump to board game café .” After some months of research, she had a business plan in places, and a little over 10 months after that, House Rules was open for business.

Panoramic view of House Rules courtesy of Kathleen Miller.

Giles entry into the world of board game cafés was a little different. He got the idea from a friend who mentioned that it would be fun to partner up and run a board game café. He let the idea percolate for a couple of years before deciding to go ahead and do it himself. He has been hosting gaming events since college and loves being a facilitator for other people to game even more than he loves playing games. 

Concept art for the upcoming board game café, The Innkeeper’s Table.

You may be thinking why should I go to a board game café when I can just bring my board games to any bar and play with friends.  “Board game cafés are more approachable than gaming or hobby stores. They are set up like restaurants, which is a familiar environment to most people,” says Miller, “It’s about creating communities around gaming. It’s more than just providing a space or bringing games to a bar.” When I asked Giles about the appeal of board game cafés , he expressed a similar sentiment to Miller, “A good café will have staff members who can talk to customers and get an idea of what sort of game they are looking for, and even teach the customers to play. It makes board games a lot more approachable if you don’t have to dig through a rule book. Their job is to aid the customer in selecting the right game(s) for their group and facilitate the entire gaming process.”

I may live in small town Michigan, but I consider myself to be a fairly decent board gamer. I’ve been playing board games for a few years now. But I’ve never been to a board game café myself. I think the closest one to me is in Grand Rapids, which is just a tad far to drive just to play board games. Since I’ve never been to a board game café, I wasn’t really sure if this was a market that would apply to me, or if this type of establishment is geared more towards newer gamers. Miller assured me that every board game café is different, and some are designed to attract hard core gamers while others have more of a broad focus. She also says that, “Every café is definitely working to bring new gamers into the hobby through demos and gaming events.”  It is reassuring to know that whatever your level of gaming, there is something out there for you when it comes to board games and board game cafés . As someone who plays board games pretty frequently, I’m starting to see the appeal of game cafés . It could give me the opportunity to try out some different games to see if I liked them or wanted to play them again. Let’s be honest, it’s not fun to drop some money on a board game only to find out that you hate it after just one play. I’m comfortable enough in my style of game play that I generally know what I’ll like, but sometimes I find a game that I didn’t think I would like until I actually played it.

Since I was talking to Miller and Giles about board game cafés and their thoughts on them, I couldn’t resist asking them what types of games they liked to play. Here is what they like to play:

Personally, I really enjoy games with heavy theming. I’m a sucker for pretty components and a lot of story. I love stories, whether theyre the ones that show up as an integral part of a Ryan Laukat game like Near & Far or Plaid Hat’s Dead of Winter or they’re the stories of the gamers enjoying each other’s company. But gameplay is definitely still important. When it comes to mechanics, I like cooperative games a lot, and I’m a big fan of engine building and deck/dice/bag building games.

Bill Giles from The Innkeeper’s Table

I don’t have a single favorite style. My tastes are varied and include modern social games like Telestrations, as well as old-school classics such as Diplomacy and Risk. At any given time, I can be found working on one of the various D&D games that I run (5th Edition or 5E) or putting together a group for another system like Fate.

Kathleen Miller from House Rules
The seating at House Rules. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Miller.

Board game cafés seem to be popping up throughout the country. So, if you’ve never been inside one, then I’d suggest stopping by and checking one out. You never know; you just might find a new hang out spot or even a new favorite game. I know if one ever shows up close to me, I’ll be giving it a try.

If you’d like more information about the Miller’s café or to keep up to date about the progress of Giles’ café, please follow these links: House Rule’s Café and The Innkeeper’s Table.

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