Board game cafes on a roll for top hangout spot

Photo by Castle Board Game Cafe.  Groups of all sizes can play hundreds of games at board game cafes.

Groups of all sizes can play hundreds of games at board game cafes.
(Photo by Castle Board Game Cafe)


You walk in off the street and are welcomed by sound. A couple sits to the left, sipping cappuccinos and setting up a game of Love Letter. To your right, a group of friends struggle to defeat the sickness in Pandemic. The noises vary from excitement at success to jeers of disappointment as a game turns on a player.

Welcome to the board game café.

Rising from interest in board games created by podcasts and YouTube series Tabletop, these board game cafes are one of the latest geek movements to conquer Toronto and the GTA.

Customers come in, pick a drink or snack from the menu, and then pay an hourly rate to sit in the café and enjoy a game of their choosing.

Most cafes offer hundreds of games, varying from classics like Monopoly to new fan favourites Machi Koro and Cards Against Humanity.

“It’s like a house party without the house,” said Gina Greco, 26. “It’s like having a bunch of friends over without having to host the party.”

“You can play games you don’t own for a lot cheaper than if we’d bought it and then decided we don’t like it,” said Sam Wald, 25. “You get to test the games for cheap. You can play games you find out you don’t like.”


Greco and Wald go to several different board game cafes in Toronto including Castle Board Game Café and 401 Games.

These cafes all differ ,whether it’s their business models or what food they offer.

“We go to 401 Games because of their lounge. They have games you can rent, and they allow you to bring in your own food, which is the appeal to me,” said Greco.

Castle Board Game Café offers a different style than 401 Games, following a more traditional model.

“We carry more of a party selection and promote bigger groups. Some places have a max seating, but we welcome groups,” said Gwen Von Harten, owner of Castle.

Castle offers several games toward people looking for something quick, as well as games catered for large amounts of people, like Telestrations. They also provide games for people of all ages, to promote a family feeling.

“When we first opened we expected it to be people who were interested in ‘eurogames’, but more of the demographic is casual,” said Von Harten.

Eurogames are social games that require a short to medium amount of time to play, and involve more strategy than luck – the games that have made board game cafes so popular.

The advantage of having different demographics for different cafes means that customers can pick and choose the atmosphere they’re looking for based on which café they feel like going to.

The consensus before walking in for the first time, however, is to come prepared.

“Do a little research into games first. Figure out what games you want to play. There’s people to help you but they might be busy,” suggested Wald.

“Have fun, and keep an open mind. See what other people are playing – that’s a good indication of what’s fun,” said Von Harten.

Preparing yourself before heading into your first game, and bringing a good friends seems to be the trick.

The best part is, there’s no real losing at a board game café. Even if the round isn’t yours, you still get a coffee.