Next month, London’s first board game café — Draughts — will entice fans of old-school gaming with literally hundreds of board games (although we give it a week or so before half the dice have mysteriously disappeared). Patrons of the Hackney establishment will be able to get stuck into classics like Monopoly and Cluedo, as well as new kids on the board like Zombicide and Game of Thrones — fuelled by helpings of sandwiches, cakes and milkshakes. London already has a proud board game heritage, and here we open the lid on the best places to play.
Board game societies
For a regular fix of board gaming, you could do worse than go along to London On Board. This group of dice-rolling fanatics meets up a couple of times a week, and welcomes all and sundry — whether you’re a Russian chess champ, or don’t know the basic rules of backgammon. Games are played at various venues around London (pubs usually), the ritual being they pile up a load of games on a table, and you take it from there. They’re a welcoming bunch, flush with a smorgasbord of board games (recently they’ve pulled out the likes of Ivor the Engine, King of Tokyo and Cosmic Encounter), and they’ll always explain the rules if you need them to (although, come on, we ALL know how to play Ivor the Engine).
Elsewhere, try Board on a Monday (a group that meets in Hither Green), Croydon Board Gamers (they meet up regularly in pubs across the south east), or Playtest. This last group, although not exclusively London-based, is particularly exciting because it’s where game designers let you try out their products in exchange for feedback.
If you’re only game for chess, there are clubs dotted all over the place: Greater London Chess Club has been going since before Jack the Ripper got his mitts dirty (1887, to be precise) and reopens at the beginning of September. Metropolitan Chess Club near Liverpool Street is only slightly younger, and there’s free one-to-one coaching for members who are beginners or near-beginners. There are oodles more chess clubs, including ones in Hendon, Dulwich (who are looking for new members), Streatham and Muswell Hill. There are actually far too many to mention them all, but here’s a good list.
We won’t go into the many, many role-playing game societies, but Orcs Nest (more about them later) provides a substantial list.
Boozy board games
Let’s not fool ourselves — the nights are drawing in, and before long we’ll be retreating into the sanctity of the toastiest pub corners the city has to offer. Few things accompany a pint of ale better than a board game. Antic pubs are often well-stocked with board games — try Westow House in Crystal Palace, Pratts & Payne in Streatham, or Balham Bowls Club. The Camel in Bethnal Green does a good line in the likes of Scrabble and chess — and you can get a decent pie there too. The website of the Pembury Tavern in Hackney handily lists all the board games they have, including draughts, chess, backgammon and the intriguingly-titled War on Terror (perhaps left here by former resident Tony Blair). If you’re up north, try the Hawley Arms in Camden. Another form of boozy board game (sort of) is pub Monopoly — in which ‘players’ aim to sink a bevvie in a pub that’s located on each of the streets or areas on the original Monopoly board (we strongly recommend if you do this that some of those drinks are orange juices).
For loads more pubs stocked with board games, go to our ever-swelling pub database, and check ‘board games’ on the search filter.
Al fresco board games
Not all board games have to be played within four walls. Not all of it has to be able to fit within four walls, either. Maybe you’ve already spotted one of London’s giant chess sets. We know of one — in Norfolk Square Gardens, Paddington. For those worried about putting their back out with a bishop, we also found this more regular-sized outdoor chess board in Spa Green. Meanwhile, in Brick Lane on a Sunday, you can pit your wits against the chess master (pictured at the top of the article) — who’s so good he takes on numerous competitors at one time, switching between them on his swivel chair. Still in Brick Lane, you can have a crack at carrom — an Eastern (world, not London) game that’s a kind of draughts-billiards hybrid — courtesy of Carrom Paul.
Where to buy your board games
Specialist games shops have been gradually on the wane even before the advent of the Game Boy. However, this being London, there are still places to find board games old and new. As well as browsing the shelves of big toy shops like Hamley’s, (which is bound to have all the classics plus more modern games) and sifting through various boot sales and charity shops, call in at a specialist like Leisure Games in Finchley (a rudimentary browse of their online store reveals Camel Up and Heroes of Normandie) or Orcs Nest in central. This stocks the likes of Zooloreto (“Game of zoo building and management. Oh yes.” and Cash N Guns, a “Bluffing Humorous Gangster Card Game”. That brings us onto the weirdest board games you’ve ever spotted in London, but that’s definitely another article.
Which board games do you like to play, and whereabouts in London do you play them? Tell us in the comments below.