So in my last blog entry, I wrote about visiting a board game café in London called Draughts. Draughts was awesome, we had a great time and Valerie and I listed a few metrics that made the experience awesomer:

“…it is possible to create a board game cafe that I can get Valerie into for a period of time.  Said board game cafe needs to be well lit, possess good airflow, a decent amount of space, friendly staff, good food and drink, and have a nice library of good to great games kept in a clean condition”

Now, what I did know is that the folks over at Endgame, a game store in downtown Oakland have been working on expanding into an adjacent space to have their own board game café, appropriately called “EndGame Board Game Café” since some time last year.

I missed contributing to their Kickstarter but it’s safe to say that despite the delays with their building permits with the city of Oakland that I’m still doing my rendition of the lady in the old Mervyn’s commercial.

I’ve been watching them struggle, and hoping and wishing… that someday, I would have a board game café within driving distance of our house.

Additionally, after our family Draughts experience, both Max and Valerie are on board with this as well, providing that the previously mentioned metrics held.

Sadly, the EndGame Café is still not yet open. Last I heard was “maybe December” from folks at the store a couple of weeks ago.

But then… lightning hit! Another first in the Steelaraza Household!

Valerie scooped me on board game news.

As Yoda once said: “No, there is another.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 10.02.15 PM

Two board game cafes in the Bay Area…? WHAT?!?

The Victory Point Board Game Café is in Berkeley, and unlike the EndGame Café, it’s actually OPEN for business.

The hectic schedules of two working professionals and their active eight-year old made it a bit tricky to find a time to get out there.

Finally, an opening earlier this month presented itself, so Max and I (minus Valerie – she was jamming on her ukulele out in El Cerrito) managed to get out to play a couple of light games I’ve been meaning to try out.

 

But how did Victory Point Cafe measure up?

  • Games List

 The list of games available at Victory Point Games is here. There was an entire rack of games against one wall. Given the space provided, this is a pretty good list!

o

 

  • Conditions of the Games and What We Played

We ended up playing three games: Machi Koro, MouseTrap, and Forbidden Desert.

I started with the first pick, Machi Koro, based on a recommendation a few months back. It’s Dominion-lite – you buy cards from a tableau in order to buy elements of a town which give you more money to buy the four elements that help you win the game. Surprisingly enough, it was fun if a bit light. Max enjoyed it, and utterly destroyed his father’s sad attempts to get money by having card elements on his end that stole money from me on my turn.

   
Additionally, all of the three games themselves were in excellent condition. I was particularly surprised about MouseTrap, since that game is more of an activity about assembling this Rube-Goldberg-ish device and with one part worn or missing, the game itself falls apart, but surprisingly enough it was all there and intact.

MouseTrap, for most folks, need no explanation so I will keep this one brief. It’s a classic roll and move game while assembling a trap to catch a mouse at the end of the board, and Max picked this one because (a) he’s played it before and (b) he LOVES to assemble things. As many parents can probably attest, kids in the “Minecraft/LEGO” cult these days love to build stuff in real life, and we parents go along with it hoping they will turn into architects and engineers later on.

  
Our MouseTrap game boiled down to having a fully assembled trap and who would be at the “Turn the Crank” space when the other was under the “Cheese Wheel”. This turned out to be me at the Turn and Max on the Cheese Wheel, but he didn’t mind since (a) the point of the game is assembling the trap rather than who won, (b) he’s a good sport at losing a game and still having fun with it, and (c) HE ALREADY DESTROYED ME AT MACHI KORO. :/

So with Dad and Max 1-1, I let him choose the third game and he surprisingly came back with Forbidden Desert. Forbidden Desert is a co-op game that is very similar to Forbidden Island, one of our home favorites. In Forbidden Desert you are trying to assemble a flying machine but sandstorms and heat are getting in the way. You must excavate tiles on the board to reveal water (which helps when you get dried out), helpful items, or the pieces to the flying ship themselves.

  
Sadly, we didn’t finish this one since we needed to pick up Valerie from her event, but due to our familiarity with its sister game and great help from the guru (see below) we felt we would’ve won that particular game.

However, enough talk about our games – this is a board game CAFÉ review, after all!

  • Food and Drink

So in terms of food and drink – my son and I both had the same sandwich – the Grilled Cheese. We both inhaled them, as we were pretty hungry. The sandwiches also came with a mini-cup of their “cup menu”. We opted for the yogurt pretzel thing, and that was okay. The food wasn’t AWESOME, but it was definitely a higher grade than standard fast food.

Food pricing was a little higher than I would have thought (maybe a dollar less), but let’s face it — it’s totally understandable… the café business model has folks sitting for as long as they’d like, so the profit to keep the store going has to come from the consumables, and in the Bay Area, “the rent is too darn high”!

The drinks, however, were about rightly priced and they were pretty darn good. Anytime I can get my son something mango-juice based he will consume it all and the mango lemonade hit the spot for him.

4397980_orig

With me, the choice was an automatic “shut up and take my money” response in that they have Sudwerk Pilsner on tap. Back in my college days at UC Davis —Sudwerk was a frequent end-of-week treat for me, so finally getting to have a pint of Sudwerk was a really easy choice.

  • Service (both food and guru)

Service was quick. We received our drinks and our sandwiches in about ten minutes. The game guru (sorry I didn’t catch her name!) came to us when Max brought over Forbidden Desert.

A good sign of a gaming guru is being able to adjust to the people and the game itself – and she did both! She was able to adjust her instruction for Forbidden Desert based on me mentioning that both Max and I were familiar with Forbidden Island, which to me indicates a few things: (1) She knew both games well enough to change her instruction accordingly, (2) It was clear from our demeanor that we just wanted to get into the fun of the game quickly – and she was quick but helpful! Sometimes less is more, and I was pleased with her explanations!

  • Space

This is the one area that’s hard to judge simply because Draughts’ spacious area and room between tables definitely ruined me in this regard. So here it is – I wish the space rented by Victory Point Games Café was larger and had more tables, but to be totally fair — I bet they do too. Given that constraint, however, the spacing between the tables they have given the space they are working in is acceptable.

  • Entry Fee

Each person playing is $5, whether they are 6 or 106. This is completely reasonable, as there is NO time limit. You can stay at the table for as long as you’d like.

  • Crowd

Victory Point Café is right up against UC Berkeley, so naturally there is going to be a large college crowd. The place was full on a Sunday afternoon, so we had to get on a waiting list. This didn’t take long for us (about 20 minutes) until something freed up, but because folks can stay as long as they’d like, predicting how long the wait would be may be challenging for all involved.

Once we entered and sat down, what surprised me was that there were at least two other families with children present. So like most public venues, the crowd is primarily time-dependent.

Side note:  I want to give a shout out to the two nice young women (early 20s) that were sitting right next to us whose names I didn’t catch. You gave us a rundown on Machi Koro before even the gaming guru could jump in and assist us and for that, thank you! Hope you enjoyed playing Gloom!

  • Store/Selling Space

Small, but again, understandable. MSRP prices but with a 10% reduction if you are playing there.

  • Suggestions?
    • More space?

I’d love to see it expand and have a larger physical space, but with SF Bay Area rents as they are now, I think this may be too tall a request. The real question is with a larger area, would they have the proper increase in clientele to support the increased rent/more support employees, etc.?

    • Games to Add to the Library

There would be a few I would suggest getting – but these are my own selfish choices based on my own holes in my collection and recent play, so your mileage may vary:

Overall, I can definitely say we enjoyed ourselves, and we’ll be back.

So what about the other place?

Despite EndGame still having some permit issues, they believe things should be resolved soon, and both organizations believe that there’s enough board game love in the Bay Area for two local board game cafes.

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 10.13.36 PM

I hope they are right, and we hope to enjoy both establishments for the entertainment they provide as well as their promotion of a hobby we at the Steelaraza family all enjoy.

So with that, I’ve now got a goal… to visit more board game cafes as they come within my travel radar.

There are at least two others in California that I know of:  Game Haus Café in Glendale and TableTop Commons in San Diego.

 

And eventually, I’ll make it out to Snakes and Lattes in Toronto… someday.  🙂

 

Thoughts?  Comment below!

Advertisements