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Edmonton’s 1st board game café celebrates 5 years as gaming grows in popularity

WATCH ABOVE: Playing board games hardly sounds like a scintillating Saturday night, but as our Shallima Maharaj found out in 2014, it's an idea that quick gained traction in Edmonton.

Board game nights used to mean getting together at a friend’s house — but now you can find a handful of cafes catering to gamers across Edmonton, and the company that started it all is celebrating its five-year anniversary.

In 2013 — after more than two years of planning — Brian Flowers opened Table Top Café in a strip mall along 75 Street, just north of Roper Road.

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Table Top Café describes itself as a special blend of coffee shop, board game library and retail store. It also serves beer and wine, along with food such as sandwiches and paninis, snacks, and candy.

The goal: to provide an alternative to the typical “dinner and a movie” night out amid a resurgence in the popularity of board gaming.

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A game and coffee at Table Top Café in Edmonton, Alta.
A game and coffee at Table Top Café in Edmonton, Alta. Courtesy: Table Top Café

Customers pay a flat rate, and have access to more than 500 games to play ranging from old school classics like Monopoly and Risk to modern favourites like Settlers of Catan, Cards Against Humanity, and Ticket to Ride. There are options for every skill level.

“All staff know a wide range of these games and can teach you how to play them, saving you a lot of time, confusion and hassle,” Flowers explained. “Modern games tend to be marked by two major improvements from the games you grew up with: they don’t eliminate players and have accurate play times.

“Classics like Monopoly and Risk do hit the table occasionally, but most people are playing something that has come out in the last five to 10 years.”

Flowers initially wanted to open on Whyte Avenue, but decided against it because of high rent and a lack of easy parking. That isn’t an issue for his southside store, which is in an industrial area.

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“The free parking has been a contributing factor to that store’s success and we were so busy when I first opened the lack of public transit didn’t phase me,” Flowers said. “There still is no competition in the area and people come from Millwoods and Sherwood Park all the time.”

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Flowers said Valley Line LRT construction in the area was problematic for a short time, but he is excited for the trains to start running.

“With a huge station just south of the store, I see no way that it will do anything but increase traffic for the café.”

In January 2016, Flowers opened another Table Top café on 124 Street, which is larger, has plenty of foot traffic as well as nearby parking and patio space.

Now, you can find a handful of board game cafes across Edmonton, including Hexagon Board Game Café on Whyte Avenue, Board N Brew near downtown, Connexxions Café on 137 Avenue, The Pawn & Pint in west Edmonton’s Callingwood area and The Gamers’ Lodge, located just up the street from Flowers’ second café.

Most of the stores sell games, so people can try before they buy.

Flowers says the capital city now has more board game cafes per capita than almost anywhere in the world.

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Brian Flowers, owner of Table Top Café in Edmonton, Alta.
Brian Flowers, owner of Table Top Café in Edmonton, Alta. Courtesy: Table Top Café

The global board games market is expected to be worth more than $12 billion by 2023, according to the Board Games Market – Global Outlook and Forecast 2018-2023 report by market researcher Arizton.

The report said in the United States, over 5,000 board games cafes were opened in 2016 alone. Arizton said the growing popularity of chanced-based and strategy-oriented games among teens and young adults is driving worldwide growth.

The most popular table games of 2017 were Pandemic, Scythe, Sagrada, Azul, Gloomhaven, Near and Far, Settlers of Catan and Warhammer Underworlds: Shadespire, according to the report.

WATCH: Two Okanagan men created a board game based on one of their favorite television shows “Vikings,”and as Klaudia Van Emmerik reports, this isn’t the first time they’ve done it and it won’t be the last.

Click to play video 'Two Okanagan men create board game based on popular television show' Two Okanagan men create board game based on popular television show
Two Okanagan men create board game based on popular television show

Flowers said he is seeing more people getting into role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), and those players are his most consistent customers.

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He also sees people using his stores as a neutral location for Tinder dates, and families looking for games that all ages can play.

“The families that need games enjoyable for six-, eight- and 15-year-olds that don’t drive Mom and Dad crazy.”

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Another report by Beige Market Intelligence said a major factor driving growth is that board games are easy to understand and people can connect with the concept rapidly and can set realistic targets.

Some board game companies are putting out digital versions of games that can be played on smartphones, computers, video game systems and tablets.

“The increasing digitization of these games is one the emerging trends that is going to boost the market during the forecast period,” the Beige Market Intelligence report said.

This weekend, Table Top Café is marking its five-year anniversary with a Dutch Auction sale — where prices start higher and are reduced as the weekend goes on —  as well as special activities and prize giveaways at both locations, including a few lifetime memberships.

“Offering comfortable spaces where people can meet with friends, play a game, bond over shared interests, and connect face to face. It is no wonder that the popularity of this business has led to a move away from electronic gaming and growing demand for more ‘social’ entertainment options,” Flowers said.

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