The Rise of Board Game Cafés

With a library of board games to choose from, Gamer’s Geekery & Tavern in Cary has something for all ages.

Things can get pretty dicey at a board game café (pun absolutely intended), but if you haven’t tried it yet, it should be a RISK you’re willing to take (sorry, not sorry). If you think these exist solely for serious gamers, you’d be wrong — shelves are stacked with everything from Jenga and Monopoly to games you’ve never heard of and probably can’t even pronounce. In other words, board game cafés welcome newbies and hardcore gamers alike, so if you’re expecting something gatekeepy, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. When was the last time you put your phone down and played a game with your family with zero distractions? If you can’t remember, you’re missing out. Board games have risen rapidly in popularity, and sales of hobby games have increased every single year for the past decade. Capitalizing on this trend, board game cafés offer a warm and inviting atmosphere for those who want to learn how to play games, get lost in role play during a night of Dungeons and Dragons, or simply destroy a loved one over Scrabble and coffee. Don’t worry, you don’t have to head into the city to experience this novelty. What you’re looking for is closer than you think.

Gamer’s Geekery & Tavern

Tucked away on the second floor of the MacGregor Village shopping center in Cary, Gamer’s Geekery has been harboring an extensive collection of board games since it first opened as a retail-only location in 2013. From the beginning, owner Lance Shrader dreamed of eventually adding a restaurant and a bar. In August 2019, the dream became a reality.

Raleigh gamer Harrison Perry looks over his cards while playing Magic: The Gathering at Gamer’s Geekery & Tavern.

Gamer’s Geekery & Tavern offers a wide range of food and beverages, including flights of beer.

“Nowadays we’re all on our phones or focused on work or things like that, and when you come in here, you feel at home,” said Allison Laidlaw, the bar manager at Gamer’s Geekery. “You grab a board game. You play with your family. You get delicious food, a good atmosphere, and great bartenders. We like to get to know our regulars and what they order and things like that.”

Popular menu items include scratch-made chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies, Patchwork Pretzel Bites, and the Super Mario Sandwich. All of their dressings are made in-house. If you’re thirsty, they have local beer, cider and mead on tap, plus nonalcoholic drinks and a wine list.

First timers at Gamer’s Geekery & Tavern, Garret and Heather Palmer of Raleigh enjoy snacks while playing a family game with their kids, Lorelai and Gabriel, 8 and 10.

A visitor chooses from hundreds of board games at Gamer’s Geekery & Tavern.

“People always come in here and expect a Hot Pocket,” said Shrader. “But we have cooks, and although it’s not a huge menu, it tries to be quality.”

For $10, customers can reserve a table for the day and play as many games as they want — and with approximately 530 board games on the shelf, the choices are endless! Popular games include Catan, Ticket to Ride, Terraforming Mars, Werewolf, and (of course) Monopoly.

“It’s a place I thought needed to exist, and that’s why we’re in here doing it,” said Shrader. “Here, we never see families sitting on their phones.”

Gamer’s Geekery & Tavern serves beer, wine, coffee, and a full menu of sandwiches and snacks.

Harrison Perry and Raj Zaiavadia face off for a game of Magic: The Gathering at Gamer’s Geekery & Tavern.

On Wednesdays, parents can bring their small children in for a game of Connect 4 or Guess Who? while the older kids participate in the Youth D&D Adventures League (ages 8–14). Other themed nights include MtG (Magic) Commander Nights on Mondays, adult D&D on Thursdays, and Tuesday night trivia once a month. For busier nights, especially Saturdays, feel free to call ahead and make reservations in advance so you don’t have to worry about finding a table.

If you’re a regular, it might make sense to purchase a membership—$15 monthly or $150 yearly — and never pay a table fee! Members also receive 15% off of merchandise and $15 off renting the private room, which is often used for birthday parties, private D&D nights, bachelor parties, corporate events, you name it. If you’re a fan of video games, four TVs in the back are ready to roll, provided you bring your own electronics/consoles.

A variety of action figures adorn the Dungeons and Dragons room at Gamer’s Geekery.

“We attract all types of people from all walks of life,” said Laidlaw. “I just truly enjoy seeing people connect again, especially after Covid. Regulars come in all the time, and they light up when they walk in the door. It makes me so happy to see them as well. It feels like Cheers.”

Meeple’s Brew

Sandwiched between an Indian restaurant and an O2 Fitness sits Meeple’s Brew, a small-yet-inviting board game café in Morrisville that first opened its doors in January 2020. Owner Sean Kim and his husband, Justin Sargent, were inspired to open the café after visiting a similar one in Toronto, Canada.

Joel Salda, head game master and events planner, leads a Star Wars themed trivia night at Meeple’s Brew in Morrisville.

“We thought it was a really cool concept. It’s a coffee shop mainly, but they also had a large selection of board games, and you can purchase game passes to play in-store,” said Kim.

Kim and Sargent, both avid board game fans since high school, took the idea and ran with it. The name Meeple’s Brew was inspired by the person-shaped tokens in the popular board game Carcassonne, in which “my people” got shortened to “meeple.”

“When we first opened, 90% of our customers were board-game focused,” said Kim. “After Covid hit, we lost most of those customers because no one could gather. That’s when we started focusing more on the coffee shop side.”

Gamers work in teams to answer Star Wars trivia during trivia night at Meeple’s.

Visitors participating in trivia night take advantage of Meeple’s Brew outdoor seating in Morrisville.

During lockdown, Kim came up with many new in-house recipes, making all of the syrups and batters from scratch. Meeple’s Brew currently offers breakfast items — the most popular being the waffles — as well as lunch items, hot and cold brews, smoothies, milkshakes, and more. They also serve beer and recently started offering cider and mead. At their newest location, located in Cary, they have begun experimenting with food geared more towards the evening crowd.

There are approximately 850 games between the two locations, with roughly 650 in the Morrisville location and the heavier, more involved games in Cary. Joel Salda, the head game master and events planner, acts as a sort of game sommelier—walking people through the game selection, providing recommendations, and aiming to make learning a new game a quick and proficient experience.

Dressing in costumes and bringing memorabilia, like this miniature R2-D2, are part of the fun during trivia nights at Meeple’s Brew.

Dressed in her Sith queen costume, Jordan Skaggs of Cary carries sandwiches to her table during trivia night at Meeple’s Brew in Morrisville.

“Many times people want to play a new game, but they don’t necessarily want to read all of the rules, or they may have processing issues, so I try to bring it down to a level where they can get started,” said Salda. “It’s a $5 game pass per person to play from sun up to sun down. Or they can pay $10 to rent a game from our library for seven days and then bring it back. We started doing that during the pandemic, which is another thing that kept the board game side of the business alive.”

Every week, six games are taken out of the library to play free of charge. In addition to a library day pass, customers can purchase a monthly pass for $25, giving you and one friend 30 days of access to the library. If you bring your own game, you play for free! You are only ever charged to play games from the library. And children under 12 always play free with an adult.

“In the library, we have games organized from easiest to hardest, so most of the things in the first third of the shelf tend to be the most popular,” said Salda. “As people continue to come in, I start moving them along the shelf.”

Meeple’s Brew’s Morrisville location offers more than 500 board games to choose from.

Weekly events include an ongoing D&D campaign on Tuesday nights, free play nights on Thursdays (where any purchase from the café gets you access to the board game library), weekend art markets, and monthly trivia nights.

“My favorite thing about owning Meeple’s Brew is getting to know the people, especially repeat customers,” said Kim. “On top of that, making specialty drinks and coming up with new recipes is really fun. Our staff is absolutely wonderful and very personable and friendly and always happy to see you walk through the door.”

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