The Business of Board Games and Connecting With People

Joshua Boycott is the owner of a board game cafe in downtown St. Catharines, Ontario, called Ludology.
Joshua Boycott is the owner of a board game cafe in downtown St. Catharines, Ontario, called Ludology.

In a world filled with cell phones, Ipads, video games and all sorts of gizmos and gadgets it can be hard to pull yourself away from the whirling lights of technology and really connect with family and friends face to face.

But a Google search for “Board Games” suggests that more and more, people are turning away from their screens in search of a better way to connect with their loved ones and friends.

While board games have been around for centuries, they have quickly made a return as mainstream entertainment, and could even be considered as a new ‘social network.’

Instead of using a cell phone, or a tablet, people are using dice, cards and other game pieces to connect with each other on a more regular basis.

Classic games such as checkers, chess, and even Monopoly are still often played around the world, but seasoned players have started to develop more adventurous tastes.

Whether as a settler collecting resources and building settlements on an undiscovered isle, a traveller crossing the East Sea Road in Japan, or becoming a dragon slayer, your options seem to be endless with niche board games filling the market. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can even make your own board game.

Board games enthusiast and lifelong Niagara Falls, Ontario resident, Joshua Boycott is doubtful that the games will ever lose their appeal thanks in part to the internet.

“Years ago, there were only a “handful of creators including big toy makers that made board games, but with sites like Kickstarter we’re getting a lot of niche games we wouldn’t otherwise have,” he says.

But there has been a surge of niche board games as smaller manufacturers are able to enter the market, due to the low production costs and direct marketing channels like websites able to sell right to gamers.

Kickstarter is one great example that has brought about a variety of board and card games that would otherwise not exist, such as Exploding Kittens, and Unstable Unicorns. It is a funding platform where creators can share and gather interest on a particular creative project they want to launch. Kickstarter is entirely driven by crowdfunding, meaning that the general public’s money is what sends these projects into production as opposed to investors or traditional venture capital.

That means that game making isn’t limited to a few select toymakers anymore.

In fact, Boycott says board game cafes are exploding across Canada.

Before the introduction of the Internet, Boycott says creating board games were costly, and even challenging to sell.

“Now, you can have access to niche audiences because of the internet.”

WIth board game cafes popping up more frequently across Canada, Boycott wanted to create an open and inviting place for everyone, no matter their expertise, to play board games so he set to work opening his own board game cafe here in the Niagara region.

Making games accessible for everyone

Boycott recently opened Ludology, a  new board game cafe at 52 St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines.

The business may have opened in the middle of June, but it’s clear a lot of thought and planning went into it before the doors were ever opened to the public.

“You really need to have a population to sustain a business like this, a mix of residential and commercial buildings and you definitely want to have public transit.”

All of which he has at the St. Paul Street location.

His long-time friend, James McCheyne, who has years of experience working in fine dining and mom and pop shops, is constantly evolving a menu filled with comfort food like grilled cheese, burgers, fresh soups and salad and plenty of vegetarian and vegan items on the menu as well.

It’s hard not to feel welcome walking through the door of the cafe.

Customers’ are immediately met with the strong and delicious smell of freshly brewed coffee and jars of candy lined neatly on the top of the bar.

The cafe is decorated with Boycott’s tastes in mind. If you look carefully, you can spot hints of steampunk and geek art created by his friends line the walls. The main attraction, though, is a collection of more than 320 different types of tabletop games; board games, card games, dice games, and role-playing games.

It doesn’t matter if you’re nine, or 99; everyone who enters is welcome.

He played board games as a kid but was formally introduced to the industry during his time spent travelling around the country working the convention circuit, at comic conventions and fan expos. Whenever he had some spare time, Boycott would check out the local board game cafes.

“There are some excellent board game cafes out there, and some not so good ones. I borrowed the elements that I liked about some, and improved upon with others,” he says.

“I knew I didn’t want to open until I knew I could open strong”

Mainly, Boycott wanted his business to be accessible to everyone, with games for every skill level.

To help those new to niche board games, staff are available to recommend games and how to play them.

The growing popularity of board games

The sales of hobby games in Canada and the U.S. reached $1.44 billion, according to ICv2, an online trade magazine that covers geek culture for retailers. The magazine also reports a 21 per cent growth over 2015.

Boycott says board games are a good way to spend time together, and really get to know someone.

“We’ve had a lot of people come in here on their first date or first couple of dates. They don’t necessarily want to go to the movies and sit in the dark, they want to talk.”

Board games can reveal a lot of traits about someone’s personality.

Are they a sore winner? A graceful loser? Super competitive? Laid back?

While the game board industry’s niche game market seems to be geared toward the 18 to 30 something demographic, games are for everyone.

On a Saturday morning, you might see a family with parents, and kids ages seven and up walk into Ludology.

Later in the afternoon, the ages of his patrons jump from 30 plus, and late at night, the university crowd comes out.

“You just never know who is going to walk through the door. There are four women who come regularly who I’d say are in their seventies come and play a game called Hedbanz and they’re cursing each other,” Boycott says with a laugh.

“These games are communal. In an age where, despite having more access to each other with technology, more people want that social interaction face to face.”