The trend of board-game cafes started up in Britain around 2014 with the opening of Draughts in London, and Notts eventually followed with three offerings of its own. Our dice-rolling correspondent Toby Johnston has tested the waters of each local gaming gaff, and is here to report back with his findings...
I’ve been going to Chimera’s Monday Night Yu-Gi-Oh! League for over a year now, and it's amazing. The staff are welcoming, the atmosphere is calm – save for a bit of occasional excited shouting from the regulars – and it is, despite the slightly smaller size, probably my favourite of the three. However, it can be a bit of an acquired taste. With a focus on tabletop and card gaming, Chimera runs dedicated nights for specific popular games; many of the opportunities to play require groups of people who know the game, rather than those looking to book a table and choose new stuff from the shelf.
You can buy board games, card games, comics, and tabletop accessories from Chimera. The venue doesn't have a bar, but offers drinks and snacks, and there’s a great community vibe; you can play with people you don’t know, if you have a game in common. I’d definitely recommend this store to anyone who knows or is looking to learn games like Magic the Gathering, Pokemon TCG, and Star Wars X-Wing, or experienced D&D and Warhammer enthusiasts.
105 High Rd, Beeston, NG9 2LH. 0115 922 9880
The Dice Cup
Just up the road from Viccy Centre is the cafe that brought the Notts board game scene into the public eye. With felt-covered tables to ensure ease of play, the venue hosts many different card-game tournaments each night, with a specific focus on Magic the Gathering, as well as offering off-the-shelf play for £5 per table for four hours. There are stacks upon stacks of games to choose from, with physical, tabletop, card and board games all available, plus boosters. They’ve also got vegan-friendly food in the cafe, as well as comics and select memorabilia for sale.
The staff are more than happy to make game recommendations to anyone asking. Table hire and playing in a contained group is encouraged by the style of The Dice Cup. In the same breath, their specific game nights are great for going down on your own and meeting new people, so it’s a good middle ground between Chimera and Ludorati. For the animal-loving gamers out there, Merlin the dog is also regularly seen alongside his owner Matt, one of the many great staff members.
68-70 Mansfield Road, Nottingham, NG1 3GY. 0115 947 6116
I’m a bit of a Ludorati newbie, but I recently became sort-of hooked on the place. With an accessible, normie-friendly edge, Ludorati's huge selection of board games is what makes it stand out from the others. Alongside an awesome coffee house and bar that could rival big chains, Ludorati hosts an impressive, alphabetised library of over 1,000 games that include everything from window production in Azul, and fake gun frenzies in Cash 'n' Guns, to leading cities of the Ancient World in 7 Wonders. The place prides itself on its massive library and retail area.
On the whole, Ludorati's atmosphere is very beginner-friendly; they offer hirable Games Masters to aid you on your way, as well as courses for beginners. They can teach anyone how to play almost any game, so Ludorati would make for a great day out with the family or a group of mates new to it all. Their focus is on board gaming, leaving out other genres like card games and RPGs to cater to a more introductory-level clientele. That being said, the big selection is great for experienced players looking for some new, weird board games.
72 Maid Marian Way, Nottingham, NG1 6BJ. 0115 959 6998
The Role of the Roll
All three cafes are welcoming, open and fun places to be. Although each one caters to its own niche, these venues ultimately serve the same purpose of bringing people together through play. Ludorati even has its own “Ludentology” concept, and seeks to spread the "study, application, and impact of game playing in social and organisational contexts.”
Part of the increased popularity of board gaming has to be the social aspect. Spending time with other people is paramount to human happiness, and the rise of video gaming in the so-called “digital era” means that many are physically isolated in their pursuit of play and escapism. In the thick of an increasingly screen-based world, the rise of board games might seem slightly odd.
But instead of yelling at each other through headphones and mics, you can sit across from family, friends, or even complete strangers, and bond face-to-face over a game of almost anything. For so long, gaming has been about getting away from people, but since the rise of board-game cafes, people have gravitated towards playing more openly.
“I play video games to get away from people, and board games to get together with them,” says Matt from The Dice Cup. “Board games have more scope to connect people of different ages and abilities.”
I reckon that sums up gaming as a whole right now. We often hear assumptions about young people being "screen-obsessed", yet so many of the participants in this board game revolution belong to those age groups, and play together with people from all walks of life.
If you want to take advantage of the rapidly growing movement that is the board game cafe, I'd definitely recommend it. Especially since Nottingham has three amazing ones. The pinnacle of board gaming isn’t just your dusty old Monopoly set, as Matt concludes: “The gaming rabbit hole goes as deep as you want it to. If you come along to play games, no-one cares about your gender, age, race, class, sexuality, or nationality. We are all just humans who want to play.”