January 2017

Games People Play

“I’m really on a mission to get people out of their devices and to look at each other face to face and have social interaction.” - Timm Metivier

By Jaq Greenspon

These are the words of Timm Metivier, owner of the Meepleville Board Game Café. He means it, too. “This younger generation has grown up with phones and computers and Internet and having relationships that don’t exist with what they can hear or see.”

So in order to make his dream a reality, Metivier, a long time gaming fan, decided to create a space where the object was to get people sitting across a table from each other, interacting. “There’s been a big backlash,” he says. “People are starting to realize, ‘wow, I really am not spending time with other people on social stuff. Even if I am sitting down at dinner, or out to coffee, I have my phone out and I’m in my phone’.” But when you step inside this open-plan space, you see people actually keeping their phones in their pockets for several hours at a time and interacting with each other. “And when they’re done, they realize how much fun they’re having doing it and how much they missed really being connected with other people.”

While Meepleville, which celebrated its first anniversary back on January 2nd, is unique to Las Vegas, the concept has been around for a while. When Snakes and Lattes opened in Toronto, it became the first such shop in North America, but in Asia the concept of a board game café has been around much longer. “In Asia, people don’t have big apartments or a lot of room to have people or store stuff,” explains Metivier, who became enamored with the idea in 2010, when Snakes and Lattes opened. “I really wanted to open up one here,” he recalls now. Except that wasn’t his first time thinking about the concept. “A friend had reminded me, I used to do magic at Dave and Busters and I always wanted to have a thing like Dave and Buster’s with board games.”

Getting people out of their Internet connected comfort zone, though, would that be a problem? Metivier gave it a lot of thought before he opened. As a professional entertainer himself, he knew that what he was selling, more than anything else, was the experience of coming to the café itself. “People can buy a game anywhere,” he says. “They can get a cup of coffee or a sandwich anywhere, but when people come in to my place, I make sure it’s going to be memorable to them. We always say their name, we say hi, we give them a tour, we show them around, we have game gurus who teach them games. We really make them feel appreciated and offer them an experience when they come in.”

It seems to be working, too. In just over a year, the café has already expanded once and gets hundreds of people through the doors every month (even with the nominal cover charge). And while there are certainly couple and groups who come in together (you get a discount if you buy a couples monthly pass) a good number of patrons are flying solo. And while there are a number of single player games, it’s more fun to play with someone else, right?

Don’t worry, Meepleville has you covered. “We have a lot of people who have made good friends, people who are dating,” says Metivier. “One of my employees met his girlfriend here. We have lots of people who come back on a regular basis, meet certain days and certain times to play games. It’s a great, social place for people to do just that.” And even though it can happen any day of the week, Wednesdays are specifically for “meet-ups.” Additionally, Metivier and his staff of “Game Gurus” will do their best to make sure that anyone who wants to get into a game, can. “We ask,” he says. “It’s a kind of a sticky thing. Some people come in as a group and you don’t want to intrude some stranger on them, so we’re very cognizant of that.” At the same time, there are regulars who are more than willing to include a stranger into their midst. “It’s a tough thing but we always do our best to try and get somebody into a game if they do come in by themselves.”

According to Metivier, they’ll have families come in together, birthday parties and even school groups. But this should come as no surprise if you’re following trends. Gaming is the new thing everyone is talking about. Last month, on the red carpet for the Golden Globes, actress Kirsten Bell and husband Dax Shepard were asked about their after show partying plans.

“We’re going to going to play Settlers of Catan,” explained Shepard.

“We have a very strict eight o’ clock start for game night tonight back at our house,” confirmed Bell.

If you don’t know, Settlers of Catan is, according to Dax, “the nerdiest, it is the most wonderful, two hour…”, while his wife, talking over him, suggested the game is “wonderful, intense, strategy driven…”

And true to their word, at 8pm that evening, the pair, still wearing the formal attire they had worn when attending the awards, tweeted a picture of themselves, sitting at their table playing the game. To be a little clearer, Catan is a strategy board game, designed by Klaus Tauber and first introduced in Germany in 1995. The game play consists of resource management while trying to build settlements on the island of Catan, while at the same time, trading with and preventing your opponents from doing the same. This can lead to tension, as Bell pointed out: “It causes riffs,” she explained in mock seriousness. “It has broken friendships. It causes fights when we play it.”

It’s also, quite possibly, responsible for the rise in board games we’ve seen over the last two decades.

While the Internet has been getting bigger, and the world has been getting smaller thanks to it, board games have become increasingly popular. Since 2012, geek raconteur Wil Wheaton has hosted a YouTube show called Table Top where he teaches, then plays, a board game with celebrity guests. Kickstarter, the crowd-funding go to source, constantly has new games being proposed and some, like Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5raised over $12.3 million, considerably over its proposed funding goal of $100,000 – raising the first million in only 19 minutes and ultimately landing it in the top 5 all time funded projects. In mid January, there were 135 tabletop game funding efforts active, many already past 100% of their goal, while the site itself lists over 10,000 games overall which one could presumably have contributed towards over the years. And that’s not counting the games coming from established manufacturers (even more so than the latest iterations of Monopoly or Clue).

That’s a lot of in person games already in existence with more coming out all the time. And it seems people want to be part of that. They understand the possible wedge technology is driving between them and are making a conscious effort to reconnect with those in close physical proximity, not merely those only available through the ether of a wifi connection. Metivier recalled a recent group of 45 students, all aged between 13 and 15 who had come to visit the café. “The teacher said it set a record. They were there for about two hours and they saw one phone in the entire time.”

It’s a good bet some of those kids will be back and bringing their parents to share in an evening of trying out new games which then might be purchased for home play. In a few years, they’ll be leaving messages on the café’s old fashioned cork bulletin board, where notes are still put up with thumb tacks, asking to see if anyone wants to play the latest hot game. And they’ll be making friends and building relationships while rolling dice and drinking coffee, not while staring into an electronic device. Which, ultimately, is what it’s all about.

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