What Board Game Bars and Cafes Are (and How They Work)

emily mini profile pic By Emily

Instead of playing board games at home or at one of our friend’s houses we sometimes go to our local board game cafe to play games. I realized that not everyone has been to a board game cafe so thought I’d write about what they are.

But what is a board game bar or cafe? A board game cafe or bar has hundreds of board games for people to play. They have Game Gurus who can advise on games you might enjoy and give you a quick rundown of the rules so you can start playing right away. There is usually a small charge for access to the games library.


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Board game shelves at the Treehouse board game cafe Sheffield
Board game shelves at The Treehouse Board Game Cafe, Sheffield, UK

There a few things which make a board game cafe unique and they work a little differently to a regular bar or cafe. And while people do play board games at home or in a regular pub or cafe, there are many reasons why people go to board game cafes instead.

How do they work?

Pay the game keeper

A board game cafe has hundreds of games!

It’s exciting to walk in and see hundreds of games neatly lined up just asking to be played.

But before you can get your hands on them you usually have to pay the game keeper.

The charge is quite small, about £5 per person on average. Our local board game cafe has a membership option. People can pay a yearly fee to get a discount on all gaming fees for that year. It pays for itself in just a few visits so is definitely worth it if you go regularly.

The fee is to cover the costs of expanding and maintaining the library. When a popular game is used hundreds of times, it does start to wear and break and will need replacing. Plus, games can be quite expensive. (See my post Why are board games so expensive? Are they worth it? for more info).

Even for a seasoned gamer like me, it can be difficult knowing which game to choose. I could read the sides of the boxes, have a look at the number of players, the playtime, the style of game – but that takes a long time and I just want to get playing!

That’s where the Game Gurus come in.

Meet your Game Guru

A Game Guru is your nerdy board game expert. They know all the games, how to play them and what you might like.

They’ll ask you questions to figure out what type of game you’d like to play. They might ask questions like:

  • How experienced is your group with board games?
  • What games do you like?
  • How many people are there in your group?
  • How long do you want your game to last?
  • Do you want something strategic, light, silly, luck based?

When you’ve selected a game, if you’ve not played it before, the Game Guru will come over to your group and give you a quick explanation of how the game works. Perhaps show you how a typical player’s turn might go.

While you’re playing a game if you have any questions and the rule book isn’t helping you figure out what to do, you can find your Game Guru and ask for their help.

They’re there to help you have fun.

Eat, drink and play merry

board game cafe

When you’ve settled at your table, your Game Guru will take your food and drinks order. This is one of the brilliant things about going to a board game cafe. Table service!

You can play your game uninterrupted while they bring you drinks and snacks.

When playing games at home, this usually falls to the host, who ends up having one mind on their guests while playing games.

Our local board game cafe serves drinks, light meals such as bagels and quiche, and finger food such as crisps and brownies. You won’t be eating a 3 course meal while trying to play a game. It just wouldn’t fit on the table!

Whenever we eat there, I’m always trying not to spill food and drink on the games. I think it’s an occupational hazard that comes with the territory.

Why do people go to board game bars and cafes?

While I do play games at home and at friends’ houses, sometimes it’s nice to go to the board game cafe instead. Here are a few reasons why.

Try out new games

The board game cafe gives you a great place to try out lots of games with your friends without needing to buy copies of each game.

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I’ve bought games in the past based on recommendations from other people, but I personally haven’t enjoyed them and have sold them on.

The only way to know if you enjoy a game is to play it.

If your gaming group all really enjoy a game and can see yourselves playing it again, then you know it’s worth buying. To save money, one person in our gaming group will buy the game so that we don’t have multiple copied between us.

It’s nice when someone else hosts

Of all the people in our gaming group, we have the house most suited to hosting board games days in. So we end up hosting more often than not.

While I love having my friends round and playing board games with them, sometimes it’s nice to have all the cooking and cleaning taken care of and have someone bring food and drinks to you!

Better for playing games in than a regular bar or cafe

Sometimes we take some of our smaller, more portable games to play in our local pub. Which is fine – when the pub is quiet. But our local board game cafe is so much better than a pub! Here’s why:

  • No sportsball on TV
  • No loud music
  • Clean tables not wet with drinks that damage games
  • Tables large enough to play games on
  • Like-minded people go there
  • It is in the city centre so is easy for everyone to get to
  • It has bigger, heavier games which are too big to take to the pub
Flick em up board game
Playing Flick ‘Em Up (link to Amazon) at The Treehouse Board Game Cafe

Take part in events and meet other gamers

The days of the stereotypical overweight, balding male nerd being the only type that plays board games are thankfully over. Board games attract all kinds of people.

Because games are social, it makes sense that board game cafes put on events for tabletop gamers to meet.

Just some of the events our local board game cafe put on last year were:

  • New Years Eve party
  • Playtest sessions for game designers
  • Social gaming
  • LGBTIQA+ gaming night
  • Gaming night for people with disabilities
  • Game tournaments
  • Role-playing game nights

Go along to an event if you are looking to meet more tabletop gamers.

What kind of games do board game cafes have?

Every board game cafe with have curated its own collection but they will have something for everyone. From quick, simple games for beginners, right through to long, complex games which take several hours per session.

Can you go on your own?

Of course! Games are social by nature, so your board game cafe may well have a social night where you can meet other gamers. If you can’t make a social night, then give them a call and see if they can introduce you to a group.

They will have regulars who they know are open to having a new player join them.

If you really don’t want to go on your own, find other board gamers near you and meet them there. Check my article on finding local board gamers for some ideas on where to find them.

Is there a board game bar or cafe near you?

They are a growing trend but they aren’t everywhere. Try a Google Maps search and see what pops up. If not, check out your local friendly board game shop. They often have gaming events where you can meet other gamers.

Conclusion

I hope you’ll give a board game cafe or bar a try! They are great fun!

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Emily
Hi, I’m Emily, the tabletop gamer behind My Kind of Meeple. If this article helped you, I’d be honoured if you’d say, “Thanks!” with a £3 coffee on Ko-fi.

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