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Never Board on St. Paul

Never Board on St. Paul

Guided by the philosophy never board, Ludology Boardgame Cafe is welcomed as one of the newest members of the downtown community. Speaking with owner, Joshua Boycott, we discussed the impact of his business in our community and how with a positive flow of feedback, Ludology continues to level up and unlock expansion packs in this real life version of Sims Cafe.

Growing up in Niagara Falls and doing this he explained that he is “always looking for what Niagara doesn’t have” and feeling a necessary responsibility to make your town better. In exploring the ins and outs of board game cafes across the country, Boycott came to.  “Opening Ludology is responding to a trend happening across the country… And in Niagara, why can’t we have the nicest one”.

Opening the doors late July 2018, armed with a team of committed staff, Ludology sustained and expanding popularity comes from the word-of-mouth impact it has on its patrons. Boycott described the consistent responses from the growing population of newcomers and regulars as “overwhelmingly positive” paired with shear excitement at discovery the cafe’s existence. Down to the details from the art on the wall to storage space for a board game box in the tables, there is no question this business has not only found its niche on St. Paul, but welcomes a broad audience of people into the worlds of board games.

Already a city buzzing with creativity, Ludology adds a significant element to the visual arts in Niagara, with each games hosting its own approach to the arts. Paired with strong visual elements, board games offer space for both creative thinking, with a heavy “focus on building community”. Boycott noted that the board game resurgence comes amidst the digital age where so many aspects of our lives, including things like video games are done alone, and “this is one of the things you can do communally. You are getting out of your house and doing with friends as a group”. Boycott also pointed to the advantage of being able to go to a board game cafe where “you are getting away from the screens, engage with others, have some drinks, and don’t have to clean up afterwards”. Boycott outlined space, housing, costs, storage, and the interest to try a diversity of things as elements that limit people from having board games at home, but rather coming to places like Ludology facilitates this culture of community in the most accessible way.  

For many the idea of playing a board game, while nice and maybe nostalgic, comes with hesitation around how long a game could take and navigating through a dense book of instructions. Realizing that not all games are for everyone, Ludology staff come prepared to minimize any barriers to having fun. Starting each newcomers’ experience with some baseline interview questions to gauge their interests, the staff are equipped with recommendations and a teachables list to ease you into the experience. With 300-400 games in their collections, games range from a matter of minute to many hours and there is such a range of options that you are sure to find something that fits your timeframe. Boycott highlighlighted one example, “one of the games I recommend often is Quarto. It plays like an advanced version of Connect Four but rather than four of the same colour, it’s four of the same colour, four of the same shape, four of the same height, four of the same top and rather than choosing the piece you play, you choose the piece your opponent plays. So the game only lasts a few minutes once you have it down”.

With a strong emphasis on the role the staff takes in teaching the games, patrons are also able to try things they hadn’t before to create a welcoming and more transitional experience.

“We are organizing the entire game wall on coded system, so green – any of the staff can teach it to you; yellow – you may need to know some of the rules; and red – you are on your own, because some games while fun to play, take 45 minutes to set up”. Offering this wide range of opportunities points to broadening the community to include those who sit down for the long haul and those looking for a more casual or nostalgic moment of fun. Accounting for all the potential needs of folks walking in the door, you can also ask about the single player board games for the days you want to take yourself out for a solo activity.

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Boycott noted how while people enter into the space expecting a elaborate board game collection, if they are new to the venue the range of food options, the punny cocktails menu, and the extensive craft beer list adds an element of surprise. Whether embarking into a bowl of chilli cheese fries, or exploring the Dark & Stormy, The Castle, or settling in for a late night bowl of flavoured popcorn, all the elements of the space host an opportunity to engage in everything Ludology has to offer.

Fostering the culture of community remained as core theme throughout my discussion with Boycott. One approach he is hoping to implement going into the summer is the role of “Looking for Group” signs, which opens up the opportunity for strangers to play together. No one is ever obliged to join a table, but gets people talking and intentionally holds space for expanding your community. This community-driven philosophy building a business that supports other local businesses is echoed throughout elements of the cafe from the local beer lists showcasing Decew Falls Brewing Company and Oast (among many) to the copper sign created by local artist, machinist, and blacksmith Tyler Thiessen.

Boycott highlighted how community events have started to take an increasing role in the programming for Ludology. Having hosted a few different murder mystery events, and the upcoming Crokinole Night in collaboration with the Niagara Crokinole Club, Ludology is striving to expand and ensure space for no person to ever get bored.

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