Last month, I got a chance to hit up a boardgame cafe, a place called Gamehaus located out in Glendale. While I’m no stranger to the concept of a boardgame cafe, this is the first time I’d be able to see how a board game cafe operates. And from that, I came away impressed by what I saw.
When I walked through Gamehaus’s doors, I saw a counter where you can reserve a table and place orders for entrees like soups and sandwiches, drinks, and desserts. But beyond the countertops and the tables and chairs were shelves upon shelves of games. They had everything from Life, Uno, Risk, and Monopoly, to modern classics like Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, and Carcasonne. They even had obscure titles like Glory to Rome and Targi.
But even as the game collection dazzled, what caught me off guard was how popular Gamehaus was. Sure, we went in on a Saturday afternoon, but even then, the wait was over 1 hour and 30 minutes to get a table! And after getting a seat, ordering, and getting to playing, the experience wasn’t as seamless as I’d have liked.
Much of it was because I wasn’t prepared for what’s in store. Had I known, I’d have done things a lot differently. So with that, I’d like to provide this guide for people who are thinking about going to a boardgame cafe for the very first time and what they can do to avoid making the same mistakes I did.
1. Avoid the crowded times or find some other way to pass the time
If getting the most out of your time there is important to you, you’ll need to have a good idea when the cafe gets crowded. My wife and I made the mistake of going there on a Saturday afternoon, a bit past lunch. If there’s a time when people would lounge about, playing games to their heart’s content, it’d be right about then. And sure enough, people gathered there, leaving no seat unoccupied.
The thing to know about a boardgame cafe is that the seat turnover rate won’t be as high as a restaurant. Unlike a restaurant or cafe where people eat, drink, and leave, a boardgame cafe’s patrons will order a meal and play games that take an hour to finish! So even if there’s only 3 couples ahead of you to nab a table, the wait can be very long indeed.
Sure, it can be fun to wander around, looking at the game collections, but that’ll occupy 30 minutes of your time, tops. If you’ve not prepared something else to do, you might find yourself bored as you wait for a table to open up.
2. Come in with an idea of what you’ll be playing
One of the great things about places like Gamehaus is that they have tons of games to choose from. But boardgamers all know what happens in scenarios where a gamer faces many choices: the dreaded analysis paralysis. It’s where players pore over different options and take forever to make a decision.
That concept holds true at a boardgame cafe where you’re spoiled for choice. You need to settle on a game to play. What happened was that you wandered around the cafe, gawked at the collection, and thought to yourself, “I want to play this, but this looks interesting… and whoa, I didn’t know they had this!” It’s easy to be paralyzed by indecision.
Luckily, Gamehaus does have a comprehensive list of games online. You can go to their BGG page and see which games are on tap and figure out which ones you want to play. With that list, you’ll be way more prepared than I was because you will have already come up with an idea of what you’ll want to play. This limits the downtime from choosing a game, allowing you to jump right on in to play. And if it’s a new game, you’ll have read the rulebook, making yourself doubly prepared to be able to teach the game.
3. Don’t play games that take too long to teach
Although it pays to make good use of your time by exploring new games at a boardgame cafe, teaching it can be a hassle. The environment isn’t as quiet as your own home and you’ll have people chomping at the bit to sling dice, place workers, or build decks. Because of that, it’s a good idea to either pick games that people are familiar with or, if it’s a new game, pick a game that’s easy to teach.
So if you’re deciding between Hanabi or Agricola and no one at the table has played either, then Hanabi wins every time. Short rulebook, easy mechanics to remember, and easy to dive into. Agricola may be a more epic experience, but it only works if everyone at the table is familiar with the rules. I know how hard it can be to teach Agricola! Having to teach it at a board game cafe where you’re bombarded by noise, distracted by food, and facing impatient gamers who had to wait a long time for a table, will not lead to an enjoyable experience. Better to go with the familiar or the short over the long and the epic… unless you planned better.
So what are some of your lessons and tips for going into a boardgame cafe? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below!