Face to Face in the Same Place

Board games – be they classics or new-fangled, role-playing editions – foster in-person interactions at specialized cafés.

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Not so long ago, board games were considered … er  … dorky, especially by those favoring video games. But in recent years, with endless entertainment available literally at one’s fingertips, the appeal of in-person interaction is reflected in the growing presence of board game cafés bringing people together to play.

Mike Shipp’s Edmond Unplugged comes with a warning at his downtown shop: “You may find yourself distracted from your phone, looking into your friends’ eyes and listening to spoken words.”

This wry observation demonstrates why many are drawn to gaming venues with their relaxing lounge spaces and game-friendly furniture. It doesn’t hurt that eats and drinks are available. Most cafés offer an extensive number of board, card and role-playing games, along with game libraries and spaces for club meetings and parties.

Shipp’s passion for games led him to exit his career as an internet technology executive and research successful gaming cafés across the nation. He discovered that creative foods, quirky craft sodas, alcoholic beverages and a plethora of games appeal to a broad audience.

“There is a game for every type of person, from brief and simple to long and complex – games that reward for reasoning or social cues,” he says. “Pretty much anything you might enjoy, there is a game for that.

“I like real, in-person games and have played Magic: The Gathering since 1994 and have seen the shift to video games, to the computer console. Because tabletop games are meant to be played face to face, you get something you don’t when it’s on a screen.

“People are always plugged in. When I got out of the IT world, I wanted away from electronic devices and to provide a place that encourages you to chill, have fun and laugh at what is actually in front of you with actual human interaction.”

Shuffles, a board game café in downtown Tulsa’s Archer Building, has a full-service restaurant, bar, coffee shop, milkshake counter and retail store with board games and accessories. Owner Eric Fransen welcomes newcomers.

“We have over 1,000 board games and offer corporate team-building, parties, summer camps, a chef’s dinner and much more,” he says.

Jack Claxton and D.C. Bueller opened Loot and XP in Norman about four years ago as (arguably) the first game café in the state.

“We have classics like Monopoly to the very new and obscure, like History of the World, Captain Sonar and Twilight Imperium,” says Claxton, adding that the largest customer demographic includes those in their 20s and 30s, but overall “it’s a really uncommon social environment and we get all ages as you see the generations teaching each other. Game stores used to be a boys club. Now it’s a 50-50 mix because it’s a social thing for showers, birthdays and a lot of groups who meet regularly to play their preferred games.”

Children and teens no longer consider board games dweebish.

“It’s a good way to physically socialize in the same room with a shared focal point,” Shipp says. “Bottom line – it’s very fun. The basement Dungeons and Dragons stigma is gone.”