On Saturday 15th October Maisie and I went to Draughts, the board game cafe in Hackney, 10.20-2.20, roughly, and had a very good time.
On weekends you can't book, but pay for a 4-hour slot, £5 for adults, £3.50 for children. My friend Ginny from choir had recommended it, having been there recently with her nephew, and Victor at work had also spoken about it, and when I mentioned it to Maisie as a possibility the evening before for something to do together (Bethan being away at her dad's) she was very keen. Ginny had gone in the afternoon and it had been very busy, so we thought our best chance was to get there as soon as we could after it opened at 10, guessing that the stereotypical users might not be up and about by then. We were I think the third table to be occupied, and it was pretty much full by about 1, so we made a good decision.
We bought cappuccinos after a while, then got the smoked platter for two (salmon, chicken, cheese and bread) with glasses of tap water for lunch. If you're going to stay for the four hours arriving when we did, you pretty much have to eat there, unless you have a bigger breakfast than we did and then get a coffee and a cake a bit later. But still, it was about £26 all in, which isn't bad for food and four hours of entertainment. It felt a bit odd to pay to play games, but you are really paying for a well-stocked library of games (with no pieces missing), and people working there who you can get to teach you games or give you advice on which to try if you want (though we didn't). And for people like us, it's a good way to try out new games without just buying them based on reviews or being in a games club (or having friends with games to try out). I'd say most people there weren't there for our reasons, but just as a sociable place to play games with friends. The demographic was broadly as I'd expected, except probably more women and fewer student-and-younger children/young people. Heavily 20s-30s; Maisie possibly the youngest, few of school age, not many older than me.
With the food and drink menu there was a flowchart to give advice on some starter games to try - I guess all what they called 'Gateway games', games which were quick/easy to learn which led into one particular genre of games. They had games labelled with colour-coded stickers to indicate those, ones good for two players, ones which were very complicated and long, and a couple of others. That coding was within the main shelving classification breakdowm, which included three levels of strategy games, cooperative games, small two-player games, cooperative games, family games, party games and I think a couple of others.
We started with a game from the flowchart - a strategy small-deck card game called Tides of Time, which I don't remember seeing before but was my favourite of the day. We got our drinks then played Camel Cup, which I'd seen before in Orc's Nest and similar; it was a well-structured game, but not my kind of game at all, too gambly and luck/dice-driven (Maisie liked it). While we had lunch we learnt the rules for King of Tokyo and then played it; neither of us that keen, probably better with more players, but heavily dice-based, which I don't like. Then when we knew we only had 30-40 minutes left (when I'd arrived I wondered if they'd just leave us on beyond four hours if they weren't busy, but it was clear it was busy; they gave us a 30-minute warning, and brought the bill with about ten minutes to go; on the way out we noticed the entrance desk had a write-on-wipe-off plan of the cafe, on which I guess they wrote the times tables were occupied) we looked for a quick game to play and Maisie spotted a pile of various Timeline, which we've seen in bookshops; we took the general interest version; it was interesting but hard, and probably felt a bit too educational and a bit not enough fun.
We'll definitely go back there. We decided that one thing we could do is think about new games we want to play before we go, then look online for videos which run through the rules and/or an actual playing of the game (knowing that there are such things on the internet), to save time at the cafe. They have a shop in the cafe where you can buy some of the games, probably all of which you can also get at Orc's Nest.
We made a note of a couple to look into - Time Stories and Mysterium - and I looked at info on both that evening and Sunday. Time Stories was well reviewed, even by those who had complaints about it (and also ideal for 'renting' rather than buying, because it looks like once you 'complete' it, which you might do in one or two sittings, then that's it), but it seemed a bit too adult yet. Mysterium got glowing reviews, however, and we watched a rules video and a game video for it. I thought it looked and sounded excellent; Maisie thought it fine; Bethan (who saw a bit of the end of the game, and got my description of it) was doubtful that she would like it. Another good reason to try it at the cafe.
Interestingly, one review of Mysterium said that Mysterium was to Dixit what Artic Survival and Trains were to Dominion - by which I think they mean that they took the mechanics of the gameplay of the 'original' and set it within the gameplay of a bigger, more conceptual/storified structure. Which echoed a conversation I'd recently had with Victor about types of games, and also makes me want to look into Arctic Scavengers and Trains, since Dominion is the game Bethan and I have been playing all the time since we got it. In fact, Maisie had picked up Arctic Scavengers in the cafe, but we thought it looked too long to learn and play.