Edmonton’s Board Game Boom

Whether you want to purchase a custom table or play with friends in a cafe, there are plenty of ways to get in on the board-game boom.

High Roller/High Stakes Gaming Table, Black Walnut with Zebra Wood drawer boxes.

A long time ago, in a galaxy not that far away, Justin Bourassa was looking for The Game of Life: Star Wars. Since this was in 2004, finding something on the internet was its own puzzle. But, on the sixth page of a search result, he found a listing for Board Game Geek which had the game — and dozens of Euro-style board games that hadn’t been popularized in Canada yet. Intrigued, he found a meet-up group in Edmonton who played these board games and was instantly hooked.

Now, Bourassa helps others discover new and fun games as co-owner of The Gamers’ Lodge on 124th Street. It’s just one of many board-game cafes in Edmonton, a style of entertainment venue first developed in South Korea in the early 2000s that made its way here about five years ago. The concept is simple: Select a game from the cafe’s collection and play with friends and family while ordering coffee, drinks and snacks. Not into the game you picked? Return it and select a new one. Really loving the game you picked? See if it’s available in the retail space to buy and take home. Some cafes have per-hour, per-person charges, others charge a flat rate per person.

Unlike 15 years ago, there is no shortage of games for Bourassa to bring into his cafe and retail shop.

“Gaming is huge right now. There’s almost too many games coming out, it’s hard to keep up,” Bourassa says. “I listen to customer requests when I consider what to bring in next. They usually know about new games even before I do.”

Bourassa finds that most people coming into the cafe are there to play social games, rather than intense ongoing strategy games, though he will stock them in his retail space for people who are interested in getting into gaming at home.

When board-game cafes started popping up seemingly everywhere in the city, it could have been dismissed as a trend. Now, five years later, board-game cafes are ubiquitous and beloved attractions.

“They’re a very social place. You can go with friends and actually have a conversation instead of being at a loud bar, and you don’t have to drink [alcohol],” says Randy Wong, co-owner of Hexagon Board Game Cafe on Whyte Avenue. “The focus is just on having fun.” Wong sees people of all ages visiting the cafe, and says that it’s also a cost-effective entertainment option.

“From the day we opened, our goal [at Hexagon] has been to introduce people to the wide world of board games, to get people away from Monopoly and discover other games, maybe even more advanced stuff.”

Home Base

To bring the board-game cafe feel to your home, a stunning custom board- game table is a worthy investment.

Holly Carmichael of TruWood Artisans has over 23 years of woodworking experience, and has been making modern pieces with live-edge wood for the past decade. Now, Carmichael exclusively makes custom pieces for clients. She often has requests for large-scale dining and boardroom tables, but, along with cabinetmaker Dennis Shane, she’s started to focus on making custom gaming tables.

“They really bring families together,” Carmichael says. “All of our pieces are timeless and heirloom quality, but these gaming tables are creating lifelong memories.” One of the first gaming tables Carmichael made looks like a standard coffee table, but a removable cover reveals several layers of gaming surfaces, drink holders, storage areas and a vault full of custom versions of classic wooden board games — Chinese Checkers, Snakes and Ladders, Sequence — made by Kalex Custom Carvings in Parkland County.

“Part of the family could be playing a board game, someone could be doing a puzzle, and there’s a wood inset for long-running games like Risk that take hours to play — you can leave the game as is and close up the table and come back to it two hours later or a month later. You can have multiple games in progress at a time.”

Carmichael has also developed a high-roller table with a roulette wheel that can be worked into a coffee, gaming or dining table.

First Roll of the Dice

If Monopoly is all you know, here are some tips for trying out a board-game cafe:

  1. Try Late Night Game Night at The Gamers’ Lodge every Friday evening at 9 p.m. Bourassa teaches a challenging, intricate game that could be daunting for new players to try on their own.
  2. Board N Brew Cafe, Pawn and Pint and The Gamers’ Lodge frequently host Capital Region Alliance Boardgaming League events; with options for easy, medium and hard games, it’s an accessible way to meet new people.
  3. Just ask! Staff at board game cafes are friendly and knowledgeable and can help you select a game and work through the instructions.

This article appears in the December 2019 issue of Avenue Edmonton.

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