Playing to win: Why a Victoria board game cafe is booming
Board games line the shelves at Interactivity, a board game cafe based in Victoria, B.C. Owners of the cafe say despite living in the digital age, business has never been better. Aug. 29, 2018. (CTV Vancouver Island)
Christina Stevens, CTV Vancouver Island
Published Tuesday, September 4, 2018 4:53PM PDT
There is a low hum of chatter, but looking around you can’t spot a single cell phone in anyone's hand.
It might feel like you've stepped back in time 20 years, but Victoria’s Interactivity Board Game Café is at the leading edge of a modern phenomenon.
“Board gaming has really kind of exploded over the last decade as to something that has come a long way from just being, you know, when someone says board games, people think Monopoly,” said Doug Hancock, looking up from a game of RoboRally he was playing with his wife and another couple.
In RoboRally, players program a robot to travel through a maze.
It sounds high-tech, but the maze is a physical board, and the players have to move their pieces from space to space.
From day one, the café’s founders were confident the need for that tangible, tactile feeling shared with friends would be a winner.
“People like to hang out and play games, and they like to talk to each other and the game is just a medium to force you to interact really,” said Bill Heaton, who started the café in 2013 with co-owner Jack Pinder.
It has been so busy that Interactivity has already expanded, taking over the lease of the store next to them to add a licensed area where people can have a drink while playing.
Heaton said the new breed of games which have been developed in recent years are key to their success.
“The industry is growing gangbusters, like six, seven-thousand games come out every year,” said Heaton, adding with a laugh: “It’s brutal to try and keep up with it.”
He said the games are more creative and appeal to all different demographics.
In a strange turn, it has been the online world which has allowed the board game world to flourish.
Game creators can get attention and raise financial backing on sites like Kickstarter, so they no longer have to rely on a major publisher like Hasbro, explained David Leach, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Writing at the University of Victoria
“You would be amazed by the variety of types of games, let alone number of games. It’s impossible to even keep up anymore with all the board games that are out there,” he said.
Leach described it as a “renaissance” for board games.
That's where a place like the Interactivity Board Game Café fits in, with hundreds of games to choose from, and staff to help.
“You’ve got these experts there who can tell you, ‘It sounds like this game would be right for you,’ almost like a game sommelier,” said Leach.
He feels there is a new appetite for going analog in reaction to our high speed virtual world.
“We spend so much time behind our screens, including socializing, so to kind of slow down and sit around a table with friends for a couple of hours is really welcome. It’s a genuine community and conversation and unexpected laughs,” he said.
While others might be surprised at the success of their café, Pinder is not.
“No, not at all, in fact I can’t believe that the world hasn’t known that this is needed,” he said.
For Pinder, board games are first and foremost about fun. But there's also a serious side and he thinks they should be part of the school curriculum for students.
“You're learning how to win gracefully, graciously, learning how to lose without losing your cool. These are things you need to learn in life,” he said.
Back at Hancock’s table it isn’t clear who is winning RoboRally, but that isn’t necessarily the point.
He likes that trying to keep two or three different moves ahead of his friends is good for his brain.
But he said mostly it’s about just enjoying the experience.
“To have a place where you can have something to drink, something to eat and engage, one-on-one – that’s really valuable.”