WASHINGTON — Are board games and beer enough to draw in the barhopping crowds?
Board game bars and cafes have seen great success in cities such as Toronto, New York City, Beijing and Berlin, among many others worldwide. Two local spots are enjoying their popularity as well. Board Room in Dupont Circle and The Board and Brew in College Park, Maryland, offer an alternative kind of night out — one spent gathered around a game instead of a screen.
“I think what people enjoy about it is that it’s a way to gather around a table,” says Rich Whittington, the manager of Board Room. “If you think about it, you’re at a bar and it’s kind of hard to have more than a one-on-one conversation. It gets chaotic. But when you’re sitting around a game it organizes everyone, gets people to form groups and interact that way.”
He says that even though the bar offers beer, wine and cocktails, oftentimes the downstairs bar will clear out while the game room upstairs is still busy. However, having a drink or two while playing a game may take it to the next level.
“Our biggest, most popular games are Jenga and Cards Against Humanity. And those two things go hand in hand with drinking. It really loosens things up. You’ll have people at a table of four playing monopoly and it tends to be more of a quiet, ‘isn’t this fun’ thing. But as a rule those two games are the ones people are playing and it’s more of a raucous thing.”
At The Board and Brew, which operates as a cafe, not a bar, the crowds are generally quieter. Open from morning ‘til night, the cafe serves coffee, snacks and sandwiches. The cafe boasts a collection of 600 games, according to co-owner Ben Epstein. While that number may seem daunting to some, the Board and Brew has ‘Board Game Gurus’ who can help you decide what to play, based on your interests, and teach you how to play it too.
“We see time and time again that people who get the opportunity to come in there and teach them a game that they’ve never played, and teach it well, that they’re much more excited about trying new games in the future.”
And it seems people really are excited. Epstein says there are over 75,000 board games out there and people are certainly buying them.
“If you look at game sales over the last 6-8 years, you’re talking about 10 to 20 percent growth a year. That’s huge growth. Every single month, there’s probably five to 20 new games that come out.”
Whittington pins the recent interest in board games on the idea that board games aren’t just about luck anymore.
“They’re getting smarter, more adult-oriented. Not necessarily off-color, but just more interesting to play. And with the bar aspect it’s a no-brainer.”
Epstein says he’s noticed a cultural shift that may have something to do with it.
“I think dorks, nerds, whatever you want to call them, are becoming sort of the ‘in crowd’ now. There’s a lot more swing toward playing games that require you to think, not just roll the die and hope you get something good.”
“But also when it comes down to it, I think people just enjoy each other’s company. Computers and video games often don’t encourage that.”