'They give a real human connection' - Rise of board game cafés in Norwich
- Credit: Danielle Booden
It used to be that playing board games was a rainy-day activity when all other plans went out the window.
But after the past two years of lockdowns and restrictions, many of us have had to find different ways of entertaining ourselves at home, prompting a boom in interest for table-top gaming.
The world of board games has changed dramatically in recent years, with an explosion of new games that are a far cry from the classics we all know.
And entrepreneurs in Norwich are taking note of their rising popularity, with several board game cafés opening up in the city.
In 2018, Kieran Meenaghan used a start-up loan from the University of East Anglia to begin the Games Table, a table-top gaming café that first opened in Anglia Square.
“I wanted to create a welcoming space that would help to shine a positive light onto the table-top gaming hobby," he said.
"I knew first hand the benefits of table top gaming, they helped me to read, write and add up, and in my former career in the Army, they helped me to unwind while on deployment.”
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Mr Meenaghan moved the business to a new premises on Lower Goat Lane in 2020 and has now grown to a seven-member team. It has more than 350 board games to play that range in difficulty.
"As we are a venue, not just a café, we have a shop area that sells a variety of products. We also serve alcohol, soft drinks and coffee from Symposium Coffee Roasters, another veteran-owned business in the area. Food wise we have a variety of snacks but our main food comes from working with local businesses such as Mambo Jambo's."
He said the public are now looking for more than just a place to sit and eat or drink.
"Retail and hospitality venues are going more and more towards offering an 'experience'," he said. "Board game cafes are a great fit for this future model."
One of the first places to champion table-top gaming in the city was Athena Games. Jamie Grinstead, along with his mother and brother, opened Athena Games in August 2013. It moved from its original location on Bank Street to St Gregory's Alley in 2015, occupying the old Kier Hardie hall, where it has remained since.
Mr Grinstead, an avid gaming fan, decided to create a welcoming space for people to play table-top games after finding inspiration from similar venues he visited on his travels in Europe.
Athena Games has become an important part of Norwich's gaming community, hosting regular events that have seen more than 130 people attend on some occasions. It offers a range of hot drinks and snacks and customers are welcome to bring food in from other nearby establishments.
He sees no signs of the rising popularity of gaming cafes slowing down.
"Board games give that real human connection which you just can't get from their digital counterpart. Board game cafés are a classic third space. A place for people to gather, to play, to laugh, to engage in their hobbies in a friendly atmosphere. Somewhere that isn't work or home where you can just be you."
On St Benedict’s Street, there is also Slice and Dice, a board game café that also offers a menu of freshly-cooked plant-based food for customers. Owner Samantha Whitehouse initially tested the waters for her board game café through pop-ups in Norwich.
Following its success, it sought a permanent home. It finally opened on May 17 this year, following a year-long wait due to delays caused by Covid.
It has a great selection of board games and a menu of vegan food and drinks. Cheese toasties, burritos and vegan breakfasts are all on offer, and its wine, beer and cocktail selections are equally certain to tempt customers.