Forget the video variety, the coolest games in town are played on table tops. Alexi Duggins visits London’s first board game café and discovers the old craze that’s sweeping the capital anew.
Think that board games are all about nostalgia? Think again. You only have to look at Kickstarter to see that they’re the future. The UK’s first video blog dedicated to the craze, Shut Up & Sit Down, was recently crowdfunded by a group of Londoners. As was Draughts, the city’s first board game café, which opened in Hackney earlier this month. Taking the lead from Loading, a retro video game bar in Stoke Newington which also stocks a healthy supply of board games, Draughts boasts around 400 titles that punters can play in return for a £5 cover charge. Future plans include speed-events, ludic and workshops budding games designers.
‘It’s just exploded over the last two years,’ says Paul Lister, the creator of London on Board, a group dedicated to playing board games. ‘For years, it was just five of us playing once a week. But now we have a meetup every day.’ So popular is it that when I visit one of their Saturday afternoon sessions at a pub just behind the Strand, not a single table is free. On every available surface, playing cards are being dealt, dice rolled and counters clacked around boards. It’s free to take part, but you quick about reserving a space – the waiting list for tickets could fill the entire venue all over again.
Even though the group has launched its own boardgame retreat, LoBstercon, in Eastbourne, the most exciting new development is happening here in London. Every few months, in a town hall somewhere in the city, a group of people get together to play ‘Megagames’. A single game involves up to 300 people playing in teams; the rules are fluid, and involve role-playing; it’s so forward-thinking that it feels odd to call it a board game at all. This isn’t that surprising, though. Board games have changed so much over the last few years that it’s debatable whether the term is still accurate. ‘There are a lot more social games nowadays,’ Lister explains. ‘They’re not so much about guys sitting staring at a board for two hours, not speaking to each other.’ Nowadays, as well as games set around a physical board, there are compelling card, counter and dice games. So there’s a new term doing the rounds that sums them all up: ‘table-top gaming’. Creators of new board games are fêted: you’re now as likely to see the designer’s name on the box as you are to find a directorial credit on a DVD case. These dudes are kitchen-table Spielbergs.
‘Board games are definitely becoming cool,’ confirms Toby Hamand, the founder of Draughts. There’s nothing trivial about this pursuit any more.
Draughts 337 Acton Mews, E8 4EA. Haggerston rail. We went and had a look around before it opened last week, have a look