Don’t laugh. Or rather, please do. Strange as it may seem, scads of Silicone Valley techies get their after-work kicks in the wifi-free world of the likes of Dominion, Battlestar Galactica, Pandemic, Takenoko and other amazing board games with a lineage that goes back to well before colour TV, let alone cyberspace.
These days it’s hip to be square, if by that you mean shaping yourself around an ingenious board game with your peers, friends, family or fellow nerds.
What’s more, the trend is alive and well in Bangkok where “More Than A Game Café”, a dedicated games-with-eats outlet at I’M Park Community Mall, a stroll away from MBK, has emerged as ground zero.
Those not yet in the know may be surprised to discover that the customer profile of MTAGC – slogan: “Board Games are Life, Learning and Fun Packaged in a Little Box” – covers all kinds of demographics. You might think that social media had turned youngsters off anything analogue, and in fairness, in a lot of cases, it has. And yet Gens Y and Z still studying at school or uni are major dice-shaker takers of the roughly 300 games mainly made in the USA that are stocked in the shop, where you can play on the spot or buy from the store to take home, or give as a festive gift for that matter.
Moms come in with their kids after school. Undergrads make a bee-line after tutorials, many of them skipping across from neighbouring Chulalongkorn. Even junior high and high school kids whose lives are spent cramming for exams somehow squeeze in time to de-pressurize with a role-playing game that’s played for fun but also exercises otherwise neglected muscles in the mind and lifts the spirit. Those in the world of work are increasingly clued-in, too, many enjoying an innocent game or two in addition to their fitness regimens and rounds of golf.
Foreigners also favour board games. Newly arrived expats are quick to locate MTAGC through contacts and the popular meetup.com where MTAGC itself sponsors alternate Sunday gatherings of the games clans.
Moreover, corporate HR departments are getting in on the act applying ranges of games that can work wonders for massaging skills and the bottom line all in one.
Ensuring that the level of enthusiasm never drops and everyone gets a go are CEO (that’s Chief Experience Officer), Varangkana ‘Pui’ Tatsaphan, three CIO’s (chief inspiration officers) and two resident Game Masters who get you started and teach you the rules so you don’t even have to read them (which can be quite long in some cases).
“Our target is always non-gamers,” says Pui cryptically. “What we love best of all is when people come for the first time, get inspired by the experience, the touch and feel of playing live games and then come back,” she elucidates.
She contracted the board games bug as a grad student at Stirling University in Scotland where, besides picking up a statistics degree which she parlayed into a corporate career with Thailand’s largest independent consulting firm, she met her American husband, Robert Mullarky, a compulsive Kingmaker and Starship Troopers playing biochemist- raised in Seattle where Google, Microsoft and Amazon dominate the skyline, who doubles as MTAGC’s CFO (Chief Fun Officer of course!).
“Gaming stretches the brain in ways that are otherwise neglected,” explains Pui. “It’s pure fun and a little competitive with lots of games that develop things like strategic thinking and creativity as well.”
Story Cubes gets kids making up their own stories. Spot-It is an adrenalin rush ice-breaker. Little girls love Enchanted Castle where the objective is to free the princess from the tower. SET is a popular starter game you can play on your own, matching shapes, colours and patterns.
“You can also play SET online but it’s not as fun or fulfilling.”
Then you gravitate to games like the perennially popular Carcassone, Chateau Roquefort, both winners of their category for the Deutscher Spiel Pries (sort of the board games Oscar), Ticket to Ride, offered in its cool 10th anniversary version, and Pandemic, which is enjoying something of a rally amidst the Ebola scare.
“Games are like books – you have different genres and different authors, whether its science fiction or children’s stories or business,” says Pui.
And supporting you every step of the way is the team of experts. One of the game masters graduated graphic design, the other medicine. One of the Chief Inspiration Officers, meanwhile, majored in child psychology, which can also come in handy.
If things get a little out of hand, Pui takes control. “We had a big party come in and they were running riot, taking out games, not trying them properly, giving up, grabbing another one. I just said STOP! Then I told them my story of how I had fallen in love with games and how I wanted to share them with them, and everyone calmed down and got stuck in properly after that.”
But that’s not to say that there is a strict behaviour code. “When you play these games, of course you squeal with delight and get excited. Sometimes the parent will say ‘hush’ to the kids but I say go ahead, please scream if you like. If you’re having fun we feel good too.”
The eats and drinks from the busy open kitchen are pretty tasty as well. The food menu started with savoury and sweet waffle sandwiches made with homemade batter, along with coffees, non-coffee beverages, frappes, smoothies and a popular line of sodas made with Italian syrup. More recently, they’ve added dishes with rice, such as bulgogi pork and teriyaki chicken, and specialties like spicy Thai-style sausage rolls made with Chiang Mai Sausage, a salad, mixed sausages and a burger. Best sellers include BLT (bacon, lettuce, tomato) waffles and ice cream waffle sandwiches. There are also BBQ and seaweed flavour potato sticks for snacks. For sweet teeth there are things like caramelized apple crumble and cocoa toffee banana crunch. Prices are kid-and housekeeping friendly.
Don’t worry about sticky fingers on the games: hand wash spray is provided at all the 30 or so games-cum-dining tables. Indeed, it’s an altogether people-friendly environment: spacious with a high ceiling, lots of light, lots of perfect tables for playing at. There’s something of the international school class room about the setup but with more games and a café combined.
And all for only 50 baht for the first hour, 40 baht for the second, and 30 baht/hour thereafter. There is no limit on the number of games you can play. MTAGC also offers a membership card for buying games which entitles the holder to bring a guest for free and so on.
So game on!
MORE THAN A GAME No. 355 I’M Park Community Mall, Charoen Muang Road. www.morethanagamecafe.com