When temperatures hover around –20 C for weeks on end, board game cafés can offer a change of scenery for those suffering from cabin fever.
The Hexagon Board Game Cafe in Hillhurst is one such spot, where groups gather over Fratello coffee or local brews and one of more than 400 board games they have on hand. The collection is still growing, they have space to accommodate 1,000 games.
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Owners Kellie Ho and Randy Wong met in architecture school and after graduating in 2008, they found themselves spending hours playing board games while struggling to find work. Often, similarly unemployed friends would join them.
"I found myself wondering, 'Wouldn't it be nice to go play games somewhere other than my friend's kitchen table?'" Wong explained.
The pair travelled to Korea where they spent late nights playing with fellow English teachers from around the world. Board games became the common element that brought them together. That unique social experience inspired them to get the ball rolling when they returned to Alberta in 2010.
"There's a demand for board games, for this sort of analogue social interaction," Ho said.
"The actual activity of playing board games is an old concept, but the games we're playing are new. People are looking for an alternative form of entertainment that's not on screen."
Here's how it works: you check in at the front, order a drink and some snacks (they go for munchies that aren't greasy and won't mess up your fingers as you handle the games), start a tab, choose a game and have fun, then pay at the end when you leave.
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The cost to play is $2.50 per person per hour, and the collection ranges from classic to party games, card games to adventure games, ranging from simple to complex.
They work with high school teachers, as some of the more complex games deal with issues of probability which can be a good fit with their curriculum.
There are open nights, for those wanting to play Dungeons & Dragons with a larger group, for example, and even a Monday Mingle, where you can go alone or with a group to meet new gamers and experience new games.
'I don't want junk games'
"We're careful of what games we have on hand. I don't want junk games," Wong says.
"Board games have evolved over the past few decades. We want to introduce people to a new type of gaming."
As for competitiveness, they have had to moderate a few disagreements over rules of play, but generally there's little confrontation.
"There's a huge trend toward co-operative games, where players work together," Wong says.
"For example, the world has broken out in disease, and each person has to take on a unique role to help find a cure for the virus before it gets out of hand. The social experience of games has changed since Monopoly. As a team, you all share the anxiety and heartbreak."
The appeal isn't limited to gamers, all kinds of people come to play.
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Sunday mornings attract more families, Saturday nights it's more university students and young professionals.
"It's a nice option of something different to do, and an affordable entertainment alternative," says Wong.
"A lot of first online dates too, it gives people something to interact over."
When the coffee is on and people are fully immersed in their game of choice, the sunny, windowed perch overlooking Kensington can be a cozy and social alternative to your own living room.