Out on the Town: The Boardroom and the Promise of Board Gaming
Wednesday, March 2, 20160 Comments
Want an affordable night out that greases the wheels of social interaction with an involving activity? That’s the pitch of The Boardroom, a new board game café coming to Guelph this spring. The café has existed as a service since last May, hosting regular board game nights at The Ebar, but its just-launched Kickstarter campaign is seeking $10,000 to help turn that service into a business, complete with physical space, deli food (and beer) and at least 300 different board games.
It’s a very compelling pitch, made by a team of four guys- Kevin Bowman, Rodrigo Goller, David Gundrum and Jonathan Feddema- with the kind of passion for board games that warms the heart to look on. Kevin, the originator of the idea and general manager of the new business, describes the need, in Guelph, for a social space like The Boardroom when we met at last Thursday’s Kickstarter launch party. It seems like it might be good business, too. Rodrigo says that ten years ago, Ontario had three gaming cafes. Today, it has more than 20. Guelph, incidentally, has two. The other is an establishment called The Roundtable, which opened last year, and seems to be geared towards a slightly different crowd, as evidenced by the décor being made to look like that of a medieval castle.
But I digress. Thursday’s event is a small party meant to generate buzz around The Boardroom and its Kickstarter fundraising campaign. I’m told that between 50-100 people usually show up at one of the game nights at The Ebar. That’s pretty good, I think to myself, before Kevin points out that entry fees alone don’t usually generate a substantial profit margin. In this business, he says, most of the money is made through food and beverage sales. Hence the plans for the deli within. The Kickstarter’s stretch goals, therefore, relate to more such features- a popcorn machine, smoothie/milkshake blenders and a cappuccino machine, at one, two and six thousand dollars above the goal, respectively.
This is all pretty neat stuff, but I’m curious as to what drives the decision to set up a board game café, of all things. I mean, it’s a neat idea, but if one were to tell their parents, say, that the business they were planning to set up was a board game café, they’d probably get looked at agog. To that end, I sit down with Kevin to pick his brain.
I’m curious, mainly, about the sort of market Kevin and Co. are targeting. Kevin says that the audience they have in mind are young professionals- graduate students and recent graduates- who are looking for a night out that ‘doesn’t involve too many screens’. The team’s market research has shown them that this is a substantial market, and one which would be interested in an establishment like The Boardroom.
The other thing that’s interested me is the organization of The Boardoom, as a worker co-operative. I ask Kevin about this, and got an answer that’s very Guelph. He tells me a worker co-op is essentially an employee owned business. In this setup, employees are ‘not merely cogs in the machine’ and so create an atmosphere of greater accountability. An employee in such a worker co-op has a direct incentive in the success and prosperity of the business, since they’d receive a dividend at the end of the year.
Encouraging news indeed, to see a business that explores a new market opportunity while also attempting to account for the things that are important beyond the bottom line. I had a couple other questions, though, these focusing on board gaming as a pastime. Kevin talks about the social aspect of such games, highlighting the emergence of board games, like Pandemic, that focus on cooperation, rather than competition. However, a good friend of the founders is also at the launch party- Mark MacKinnon, Guelph City Councilor and occasional board game designer. He’s brought out two of the games he’s designed, putting them on display just inside the doors. They’re called Worker Placement and Upon a Fable, and they’re both management tactical board games surrounding the gathering of resources and the management of units- temporary workers in the first case, and knights in the second. In both cases, he talks about the potential for tactical play, and like with all the conversations I’ve had with the people making The Boardroom happen, the enthusiasm is palpable.
All in all, The Boardroom is an exciting development as a downtown business and social place, but also as means of further popularizing board gaming, and perhaps, even Guelph based game designers just like Mark MacKinnon. After thanking the guys for their time, I grab some chips and look around. People have filled the Royal Electric, browsing games, discussing the merits of different titles, bonding over a drink and a game board. If all goes well, we’ll be seeing scenes like this at The Boardroom, come spring.
The Boardroom plans to open this spring at 99 Wyndham Street South, Downtown Guelph. Their Kickstarter is asking for $10,000 and runs until March 22. At press time, 58 backers have pledged a total of $4,312.
Watch the interviews here!