More than a dozen tables, a hubbub of noise in the background and a counter where drinks are served. Three of the elements you would find in pretty much any bar or café in Spain. But the difference here revolves around board games: 825 board games to be exact, although it’s a number that is going up every week at the Epic Board Game Cafe, which is located at number 3 Vascos street in the Ciudad Universitaria neighborhood in Madrid.
The owners are hoping that they will soon hit the magic number: a thousand games. “We are the only ones who have so many on offer,” explains Alberto González, 36, who is one of the three founding partners of the business. “Anyone can enjoy this kind of leisure,” he continues. “It doesn’t matter whether you’ve played a million times or never.”
The competitive atmosphere is palpable as soon as you enter. Unlike most bars, hardly anyone is looking at their cellphone – that could distract the player, of course. One group of youngsters has just finished a round of Camel Up, a family game in which a dice throw determines who is the lucky player who will arrive at the finish line with a camel loaded with coins. “We came by after work and we’ve been playing here more than two hours non-stop,” the group explains, while trying to work out the final score.
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve played a million times or never
Founding partner Alberto González
The shouts of winners and losers is mixed with the chinking of beer glasses, as well as the bustle of the waiters, who also act as teachers. “We call them gurus,” explains González. “They are responsible for explaining the rules of the games.”
They also recommend the ideal game depending on your character or interests. Not everyone arrives with a clear idea of what they want to play. And many simply inquire after the two that they know best: Monopoly and Cluedo. “Talking to the customers, the gurus can work out what they might like,” he says. “The other day we recommended to one couple Pocket Invaders, a transformation of traditional chess that has a retro feel, and they loved it!”
The business model is not new. The first café of this kind appeared in Canada, and in Europe, they are most popular in the United Kingdom. “It’s strange, but the idea of setting up the business arose in 2013 on a trip to Oxford,” explains Eduardo García, another of the partners and an engineer by trade. “I felt very comfortable, and the attention was very personal. I was surprised by the concept of ‘grab the game you want, open it, touch it, and if you get bored grab another one,’ as if you were at home.”
After that experience, both partners started to get excited by the idea. “We asked ourselves, why couldn’t it work here?”
The entrance fee of €3 is clearly not putting off the customers, who have the option of bringing their own games. Food and drink also form part of Epic Madrid. The menu is constantly updated with suggestions from the players themselves, while they have a beer made in the Madrid neighborhood of Vallecas, called La Jugona. “We have a lager and a bitter, and people love them,” the owners explain.
The entrance fee of €3 is clearly not putting off the customers, who can bring their own games
It’s 11pm and a couple of stragglers are still finishing off their dinner. “Why do we come? I come to get rid of the stress of work,” explains Jesús Martín, who works at an auditing company. He met his friend, he explains, at the chess board. “I prefer a good game rather than a soccer match,” he says. “Right now I’m obsessed with a train infrastructure game that’s called 1830, and the game itself is from the 1980s.”
Getting the café off the ground took a full three years. “A lot of people said that we would never open,” they explain. The three came up with the finance, but they turned to crowdfunding to increase the collection of games, raising €8,000 in the process. “We won’t take long to reach 1,000 games,” say the founders. “Even if we have to try them all ourselves before acquiring them.”
English version by Simon Hunter.
Real-life games with ever-more followers
The community of people who enjoy playing board games is growing all over the world, as is evident by the large number of cafés similar to Epic Board Game that have opened in recent times. If you happen to be one of these fans, here is a long list of establishments that you could visit when you are on your travels.
|Manhattan (New York)||The Uncommons|
|Omaha||Spielbound Board Game Cafe|
|Denver||Board Game Republic|
|Kansas||Pawn and Pints|
|Athens (Georgia)||The Rook and Pawn|
|Dothan (Alabama)||Board and Table|
|Monrovia (California)||Aztec Coffee and Games|
|Lakeland (Florida)||The Game Shelf|
|Los Angeles (California)||Game Haus Board Game Cafe|
|Berkeley (California)||Victory Point Cafe|
|Oklahoma||Loot & XP|
|Las Vegas (Nevada)||Meepleville|
|Belfast||Jack Straws Board Game Cafe|
|Calgary||Pips Board Game Cafe|
|Ontario||Brew Wizards Board Game Cafe|
|Toronto||Snakes and Lattes / Snake and Lagers / Snakes and Lattes College / Castle Board Game Cafe / Paragon / For the Win Cafe|
|Auckland||Cakes and Ladders|
|Amsterdam (Holland)||The Boardroom|
|Paris (France)||Meisia 1.0 and Meisia 2.0|
|Budapest (Hungary)||Board Game Cafe|
|London||Draughts London and Paradice Board Game Cafe|
|Bristol||Chance and counters|
|Nottingham||Dice Cup Cafe and Ludorati|
|Preston||Dice & Donuts|