It's official: board games are hip — and that's long before The Queen's Gambit came along, too. Pros and novices alike are welcome at the board game cafes and clubs we've listed here.
Board game cafes
The Ludoquist (Croydon): Both board game shop and cafe, The Ludoquist is a wonderfully welcoming place to play — whether you're well-ingratiated into the scene, or require a guiding hand from one of their 'Games Gurus'. A ludicrous stash of 1,400(!) board games is at your fingertips here, and you can play as many as you like for three hours, for £5. Graze with your free hand on snack bowls, pizzas and paninis. There's also an accomplished array of craft beers and cocktails. Oh yeah, you can have your stag or hen here, too.
Draughts (Hackney and Waterloo): This mini-chain of board game cafes appears in two super-cool London venues, both secreted under exposed brick railway arches. Each Draughts has a library of over 800 games (and counting), so you can dive into anything from A Game Of Phones to Zombie Dice. Korean fried cauliflower, steak tacos and Brooklyn lagers on tap will keep you going through that mammoth session of Risk.
The Library Pot (Richmond): EAT PLAY LAUGH is the mantra of this west London board game cafe, which has hundreds upon hundreds of titles to choose from — and even lists the latest arrivals. Of particular interest to us is a game called 'London', where you rebuild the city following the Great Fire. (There's also one called Secret Hitler, where you can accuse friends of being fascists. Erm.) Like other cafes of its ilk, The Library Pot will do its best to have you stick around, offering a gut-busting spread of curries, burgers, cakes, beers... and even sake and plum wine.
Bad Moon Cafe (Elephant and Castle): The library of games at Bad Moon is somewhat daintier than at other board games cafes on this list (although it's still got 150 of them — probably more than you've got on the shelves at home). Still, it's a fantastic airy space with amicable staff. Sip a bottle of Kernel and munch on a diavola pizza, while doing your best to destroy your mate at Fury of Dracula.
Tanuki Gaming (Deptford): Book a table (£5 per person for three hours), and dig into Tanuki's dizzying games library, boasting everything from Deadwood 1876 to Kingdomino to the rather topical Pandemic. Next door neighbours Badger Badger provide the eats; think yakitori skewers and miso tiger fries. Yet another venue that signals Deptford is one of the coolest parts of south London.
D20 (Watford) Not strictly in Greater London, but well worth visiting if you're in these parts. This board game cafe has pushing 1,000 titles to get your mitts on (it's £1.50 per hour, per person, and the fourth hour's free). Wraps, nachos and bao buns are on the menu, alongside slushies, smoothies, indulgent shakes and plenty of booze. D20 also prides itself on its homemade cakes; it'd frankly be rude not to nosh on a slice or two while you're here.
Board game clubs
The above cafes host various meet ups; check their websites for details. Aside from that, there are a couple of major board game clubs you should consider checking out, namely:
London On Board: This band of dice-rolling fanatics gathers in central London every weekday evening and all day at the weekends, welcoming all and sundry (whether you're a Russian chess champ, or don't know how backgammon works). Games are piled up on a table, and you take it from there.
Playtest: Although not exclusively London-based, Playtest hosts events a fair bit in the capital; it's particularly exciting because it's where game designers let you try out their brand new products in exchange for feedback. Maybe you'll get to play the next big thing before anyone else.
There are no lack of clubs to pretend you're Beth Harmon in London:
London Chess Community (King's Cross) gathers in the Thornhill Arms every Wednesday for a beer, socialising and a game or two of chess. Greater London Chess Club (Bloomsbury) meets on Tuesdays (September to June) — hosting leagues but welcoming all-comers. Metropolitan Chess Club (Liverpool Street) meets on a Thursday, offering free one-to-one coaching for beginners or near-beginners. London Chess Club (Elephant and Castle) is another welcoming club, meeting every Sunday.
There are oodles more chess clubs, including ones in Streatham, Dulwich, Pimlico, Hammersmith, Muswell Hill, Hendon... in fact there are far too many to cram into this article; if none mentioned here are in your area, you can probably Google one that is.
Pubs and bars with board games
In today's London, it's not unusual to find a boozer that's as well stocked with board games as it is beer. So much so, it's impossible to produce a comprehensive list. We do recommend any Antic pub; these often offer board games — try Pepper Saint Ontiod (Isle of Dogs), Clapton Heart (Clapton) or Balham Bowls Club (Balham), among others, for post-roast gaming fun.
Similarly, pubs owned by Portobello Brewing Company (they took over much of Antic's stable) offer a shabby-chic environment in which to cosy up with a pint and a game of Scrabble or suchlike.
For more pubs stocked with board games, go to our pub database, and tick 'board games' on the search filter.
Al fresco board games
Maybe you've already spotted one of London's giant chess sets. We know of one in Norfolk Square Gardens (Paddington), another in Holland Park (Kensington) and a third in Victoria Embankment Gardens by Charing Cross. For those worried about putting their back out with a bishop, we also found this more regular-sized outdoor chess board in Spa Green (Clerkenwell).
Meanwhile, in Brick Lane at the weekend, you can pit your wits against one of the chess masters; be warned — they're savvy enough to take on numerous competitors at once, and will strip you of your dignity in seconds flat.
Where to buy board games
The board game cafes in this article will all sell you games — and these places are often your best best for more niche and rare titles.
Elsewhere, Leisure Games (Finchley) knows its stuff, as does Orcs Nest (Seven Dials). Dark Sphere (Shepherd's Bush and Waterloo) has some decent board games in amongst the Warhammer gimcrack. Village Games in Camden Market is a smallish (yet lovely) shop which stocks a few different board games. It's also got thousands of dice; if they tend to go missing in your house, this is a great place to buy in bulk.
Have we missed anything important off the list? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org