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Cafe Has Monopoly on Board Game Enthusiasts

On any Friday night in Glendale, you can find shoppers up the street at the Americana at Brand, or people drinking at hip new bars in Atwater Village. But at nearby Game Haus, board game hobbyists and neophytes are setting out pieces, reading instructions, and sipping cappuccinos.

GameHaus bills itself as LA's first and only board game cafe. For a five dollar cover charge, anyone can play one of the cafe's over a thousand games while gobbling up apple pie. It's not unusual to see patrons staying all day to play popular titles like Settlers of Catan, King of Tokyo, and Dominion. If none of those games sound familiar, it's because over the past twenty years, board games have seen a resurgence. These games involve more complicated strategy and intricate detail than old family favorites like Monopoly or Taboo.

Owners Robert Cron and Terry Chiu say starting GameHaus was a risky roll of the dice. When they first opened their doors, they weren't sure anyone would understand their novel concept. But two years later, finding an empty table on a weeknight seems to be the biggest challenge.

Reporter Conor Knighton drops by the GameHaus, and also visits Mad Men's Rich Sommer who reveals his extensive personal collection of board games.

Featuring Interviews With:

  • Robert Cron, co-owner, GameHaus
  • Terry Chiu, co-owner, GameHaus
  • Rich Sommer, actor

Transcript

Conor Knighton: The coffee is strong. The food is tasty. But at this cafe in Glendale, the customers come... for the board games.

Customer: I come here all the time, basically come here to try out a bunch of games. Come here for 6-7 hours and try out a bunch of games.

Conor Knighton: Each table is playing something totally different, but there's one thing they all have in common.
 

Customer: On a busy Saturday night when I can get a chance to look around. I'll see 80 some people here and no one is on their phone. They're all laughing and having a good time at the table - present in the moment together. And that's a really great feeling.

Conor Knighton: Robert Cron is the co-owner of GameHaus, a board game cafe in Glendale. Opening such an analog experience in a digital world was a roll of the dice.

Robert Cron: Our greatest fear was that we'd turn on the lights, open the door, and tumbleweeds would blow in. There would be nobody coming in, or no one would get it.

Conor Knighton: People did get it. In the two years since GameHaus opened, business has been booming.But if you don't get why anyone would pay five dollars a person to play board games all night, well, you might not have played a board game recently. Full disclosure - I'm a board game geek. I own board game themed socks. Over the last two decades, trust me, board games have gotten way better. They're better designed and more complex. They explore every conceivable theme. GameHaus has entire categories devoted to Planes Trains and Automobiles, Adventure, Super Heroes/Pirates…

There's just an incredible variety, it's just a hobby that's gone so far past the conventional games like Sorry and Taboo that there's a whole new world for people to discover. And that's really exciting.

Terry Chui is Robert's business partner. The two are almost game sommeliers - they can give recommendations based on customers' tastes

Conor Knighton: Even if you have terrible taste. They stock a "hall of shame," full of awful games like Nickelodeon's Clarissa Explains It All and Trump, The Game.

Customer: I mean, there's over 1,000 games here, and so it gives us an opportunity to try out lots of different games, and, if there's a game that we really like, we could in theory and then play it at home.

Conor Knighton: That's part of Game Haus' draw. Some of these games can cost up to $80. To be able to try them all, for five dollars, for as long you want - that's a bargain.

Customer: It's one thing to a couple of board games stuck in the closet, it's something different to have access to 1,100 games...

Conor Knighton: Course, there are some people, who do have personal collections like that. How many games do you have? Okay, this is counting games and expansions. Alright, I'll allow it.

Rich Sommer: Thank you... I'm knocking on the door of 900 at this point

Conor Knighton: Oh my gosh

Rich Sommer: But.. Well, there's no but. God. I wish there was a "but."

Conor Knighton: You may recognize actor Rich Sommer from the six seasons he spent portraying ad exec Harry Crane on Mad Men. But what you didn't see on screen were all of the board games he kept just off camera.

Rich Sommer: We would set that on some secretary's desk in an office we weren't using an in between shots go and think about the Cold War and what strategy we were using...There were always games being played there. Whether I was there or not, it spread, which was good.

Conor Knighton: Rich is all about spreading the gospel of board games. When you're trying to bring in a new player, how do you pitch it to them?

Rich Sommer: Well, I ask them what game they like. And if they do say monopoly I say great, I’vee got a game that's sort of like Monopoly, will take some of the things you recognize from monopoly but turn them up a little bit. That's why I think a game like Settlers of Catan hit as hard as it did in the United States, because it was SO accessible.

Conor Knighton: Settlers of Catan was released in Germany in 1995.. and it was... a game changer. It's since sold over 22 million copies in over 30 languages. Settlers of Catan, like most European games, is strategy-based. But American games had often been very luck based. Serious board game players even had a word for American games. Catan proved that Americans could handle something a little more complex. Today, you can buy European games at Target, and American designers are creating strategy-based hits as well. And, in Glendale, Californians are rediscovering an old-fashioned past-time.

Customer: I think there's something almost calming about sitting down, going through the ritual, setting up a game, going through the rituals, reading the rules - agreeing to live by this stuff on this piece of paper. I think there's something really atrractive about that.

Conor Knighton: And so, apparently, do other people.

Customer: We came here for our first date, I loved it. It was really fun. And we had a little competition towards each other. So I don't know, it was probably the best first date I've been on. As Angelenos fall for board games, the greatest challenge at GameHaus might be getting a seat. I'm Conor Knighton for SoCal Connected.

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