Bringing Back the Board Game

With recent studies finding millennials to be the most anti-social of all current age groups, some might find it surprising that board game cafés—public spaces that promote in-person social interactions and competition—are a growing trend within the generation. Toronto’s Snakes & Lattes is North America’s first board game café; opening its doors in 2010, it has now expanded their venue and added a second location due to its immediate success. They kicked off a worldwide demand for the experience of people sharing food, drinks, and games. In an era where technology is everywhere, millennials are putting pro-social ventures in high demand.

“The first time I ever heard of a board game café is [sic] when my young adults group decided to go [to Snakes & Lattes] for one of our event nights. I’ve been about three times now and I have fallen in love,” says Meghan Leck, a millennial who spends most Monday nights participating in her church group’s social outings.

Unlike most chain restaurants and pubs throughout the city, these cafés don’t surround their patrons with TV screens and too-loud music. Out in the suburbs of Pickering is Spin Dessert Café and Bistro, which until recently had only been a trendy, high-end hipster dessert bar but which recently added a selection of board games for their guests to enjoy. Nestled into the side of the Pickering Town Centre, the Spin Café’s trendy atmosphere caters to the millennial generation, and they often make up the majority of the guest list. The walls are absent of the flat-screens you see in any Boston Pizza or McDonald’s, and the music plays gently in the background so that the young diners can actually hear each other speak. Last Friday, a group of young women sat at a table with four of their favourite board games and a stack of waffles with ice cream between them.

The board game cafés promote socialization on a large scale. “Board game cafés prevent you from breaking off into little groups, which can happen frequently in other activities. You have to get to know everyone,” Meghan says. Her young adults group usually comprises of 5-6 people, and with the addition of the game gurus who help initiate café patrons into their games, that’s approximately 7 people interacting with each other at once. For a generation that’s supposedly not into socializing, that’s a surprising number of people interacting outside of the online sphere.

These numbers are reflected in board game sales as well. Aleteia.org reports a board game sales increase of 20 percent in the last few years, in addition to a rise in hobby store sales. If that isn’t enough, just take a look at your local Indigo or Chapters; it makes sense to pair “reading” socks and candles with books, but you can’t read a novel and play a board game at the same time—and yet you’ll find an entire section now dedicated to board games. And as if Snakes & Lattes aren’t successful enough, they also act as a board game distributor. At snakesandlattes.com you can browse their entire selection of games and purchase them with the click of a button.

If you check out the Yelp reviews for Snakes & Lattes, you’ll see posts like Marcie K.’s (who, if her profile picture is accurate, is of the millennial generation), who wrote that the café is “one of the best places to come [sic] on a date or as a group of friends.” The Yelp reviews for the Danforth’s Time Capsule Board Game Café are similar, with users recommending the venue for large family or friend gatherings as well as birthday parties.

So in this age of the stereotypical anti-social millennials, are the ones frequenting these cafés simply different from all the rest? Are they web-averse or tech-unsavvy? Apparently not. When asked what online games she plays, Meghan was quick to come up with a list of apps.

“I do play a lot of apps. [They’re] easier since I can carry them around with me on my phone,” she says. The millennials that frequent the board game cafés aren’t freaks of nature; they are your average millennial that loves to get together with large groups of people to drink beer, eat nachos, and play board games.

“I like board games because you can play with other people. I get really competitive. It gets annoying yelling at a screen. There’s something about playing with live people that are actually beside you,” Meghan adds. It seems like they’re acting against all odds, having been born and raised into the internet boom. The truth is that this supposedly technology-addicted and anti-social generation loves to return to favourite childhood pastimes like board games and, you know, talking to people. When it comes to the current ease of buying a new game or your next outing to Snakes & Lattes, you have your friendly millennial to thank.

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