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Out of the basement and into hip cafés: Board games are now cool 

July 18, 2017

Digital Reporter

Cover Erka Capili Inciong

The geeks are finally getting their revenge with the things that once got you ostracized now suddenly becoming hip. The internet era has caused an upheaval in the dynamic between the jocks and the nerds, with the latter raking in cash at Silicon Valley. And so board games, an activity that once got you bullied or branded as a loser no matter how complicated and intellectual that game you’re playing, are now cool. New board game cafés are being set up here and there, and even cafés and food establishments that do not advertise themselves as board game cafés have shelves of games as decor that people can just pick up and play.

Among the first board game cafés in the Philippines is Ludo, which has two branches now: Ludo Boardgame Bar & Café in Scout Torillo, Quezon City; and Ludo Boardgame Bar & Bistro in Jupiter Street, Makati. These board game cafés were borne out of the geeky desire of board game hobbyists who wanted to play.

“My partners and I are avid board gamers, that’s really our hobby,” Jay Mata, General Manager of Alternative Forms of Tabletop Entertainment and Recreation (A.F.T.E.R.) Inc., told SparkUp in an interview at Ludo’s Makati branch last June.

With that came a quick clarification: “When I say board games, I don’t mean the normal things that you see like Monopoly or Clue, not that, but the actual games that you see around,” he gestured to the shelves behind him, all filled with different kinds of board games, with everything from card games to word games, and even a few based on popular TV shows like Game of Thrones and Attack on Titan. Contrary to the notion that board games are just for kids (although some are easy enough for the whole family to play), there’s something for everyone in their collection. And this is but a speck in the galaxy of board games all over the world. Just in 2016 alone, Mr. Mata said, about 800 new board game titles were launched.

“We started talking casually about starting our own board game café because as avid board game hobbyists we keep hearing about these board game cafés all over the world.” Mr. Mata said. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have one here, because it’s very hard to find a place to play without the restaurant kicking us out,” he explained.

“We kept talking as we played, and as the months went by it became less and less casual and more and more serious. Eventually we just went for it.”

Perhaps it’s the powerful love a hobbyist has over his activity of choice that makes Ludo one of the longest‑running board game cafés in the country, with customers choosing the café as a place to unwind and have coffee with friends over a game.

The Makati branch, being the larger of the two Ludo café branches, has also played host to several gaming events, both by Ludo or in partnership with other companies. For example, The Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Asset Management last October launched a board game that they made at Ludo.

And if you’re curious about a game but don’t know how to play, don’t worry. The people at Ludo will gladly teach you how. So next time, if you want to play, you can bring your friends in and teach them. And then they’ll get addicted to the games that you play. And then they bring their friends in. Welcome to the growing club of casual and hardcore board game hobbyists, enjoy your coffee and pasta while you game. Look inside your heart and accept it: you’re a geek now. You’re one of us, one of us.

Still, Mr. Mata admits that board games is a niche market. The idea of board games being a childish activity is hard to defeat. “But it’s growing,” Mr. Mata said. “First of all, people are always looking for something social to do. That’s why escape rooms are popular, that’s why airsoft is popular. No matter what the situation, people always want something to do with their friends. That’s the appeal of board games.”

Board game hobbyists, despite having collections of their own, are also a part of the board game café market. “In terms of hobbyists, part of the appeal is trying out games that they’ve never seen before,” said Mr. Mata. It’s an expensive hobby, so some hobbyists play games in cafés to help them decide if they’re worth purchasing for themselves and adding to their own collections. That’s also why some cafés, like Ludo, also have a collection of games for sale. These establishments also serve as a good place for different gaming groups to meet up and for people to make new friends.

Millennials are the main drivers of the board game market—understandable, since it’s our generation that pushes trends forward. “Most of our customers are those who come in with their friends, mostly young urban professionals,” said Mr. Mata when asked to describe the people who go to Ludo. “We do have the occasional families and students but for the most part I think what’s driving the board game revolution are generally young people, 20‑30 years old, because they’re the ones seeing these things and want to try them.”

Is he worried of what the future has in store if the demand of board games plateaus? Mr. Mata, who has experience teaching entrepreneurship, shrugs it off. “Just like any other business that has entertainment as a value, itrsquo;s going to have ups and downs. That’s normal. For sure that it's going to stabilize like everything else but I do think that board games will continue to grow and develop.”

“As more and more people realize that board games are a legitimate source of entertainment, I think we’re in a healthy place.”

And so board games have joined the big boys of sports in the list of popular activities for millennials, and the jocks will just have to learn how to share their popularity with the geeks.