Since opening in May last year, Chance and Counters has quickly become a magnet for millennials, families and dedicated gamers alike. Offering over 650 different board games ranging from Viking’s Gone Wild to Obama Llama, the café has been drawing in crowds to its snugly tucked away position at the foot of Bristol’s iconic Christmas Steps. The café is owned and run by friends, Steve, Luke and Richard who used a Kickstarter campaign to help fund their venture. I spoke to Steve about what makes Chance and Counters stand out, the idea behind the business and why board games deserve an image re-think.
Do you think Bristol is a good place for Chance and Counters to start out?
For sure. Quite a lot is said about the character of Bristol and its willingness to experiment. But it’s hard to put the right word on why the city is exactly right for us… We’re not hipster, we just genuinely believe that board games are really fun. Bristol is really good for us in that respect, as people seem more willing to accept that board games are just a really lovely way of spending time together.
But they don’t always have the best rep…
We do a lot to challenge expectations. It’s very much a conscious thing, we have to be aware of the fact that when people think of twenty-somethings playing board games there are certain stigmas around it. People think it’s a bunch of dudes in a dark room with candles… And that’s not to say that this is a really poisonous image; fair enough if that’s what you enjoy, that’s just what you enjoy. But the industry has quite a lot of work to do around selling itself. People have played Monopoly, Cluedo and Scrabble but there are thousands of other board games and people just think ‘that’s not my thing. I like board games but I don’t like new board games.’ They see it as more of a nostalgic, family thing. But board games aren’t just something you have to be really into or passionate about.
How is Chance and Counters different from other board game cafés?
There are 50 board game cafés in the UK, so just about every city now has one. But we’re part of quite a small group that try to broaden the appeal and challenge the stereotypes. We try to give people who don’t self-identify as board-gamers a reason to come in; because we sell beers they have at bars that they love, or food that stands up on its own for example. We want to give them more than just the games as a reason to come in.
Do you know how to play all 650 of your games?
I do not. The Games Gurus do.
How did you find them?
All of our full time Games Gurus have worked for us since before we opened. They got in touch with us when they found out what they were doing. Our head Guru is a guy called Dickie, who Luke (one of the other owners) and I met when we were living in Birmingham.
Who owns the café?
The café has three owners; myself, Luke (who I grew up with in Cheltenham) and Richard who we met separately on Reddit!
How did you come up with the idea?
To give Luke his dues here, he has been into board games for longer than I have. He introduced me to board games through Settlers of Catan, which is a bit of a ‘gateway game.’ It’s a competitive but simple civilisation building game. So that’s kind of how it started, Luke hooked us all on Settlers of Catan.
What is your favourite game in the café?
I’ve got a reputation in the café for being the kind of guy who doesn’t like playing long games. One of my favourites is Scrawl; it’s like Chinese whispers mixed with Pictionary. So you basically start off by drawing something, then someone writes down what they think you’ve drawn and then the next person has to draw what they’ve written.
Who is your clientele?
We thought we’d get more students than we do, but we do get quite a lot of postgrads. The vast majority of our customers are about 25-35. And in the school holidays we get loads of kids, which is really cool to see. The bulk of our customer base is millennials, so it’s hard to say that the appeal of board games is necessarily linked to a sense of nostalgia. It’s a collective social activity when everyone is trying to catch up, we’ve had a few groups of old uni friends come in for example. It provides a talking point. We get students coming in with their parents, for the mid-term debrief. It provides a more fun alternative to a dry lunch. We get a lot of dates too.
What is the most popular board game in the café?
Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride get a lot of play, because they’re gateway games. But the bulk of it is probably games like Scrawl. There’s also a game called Rhino Hero which we’ve had since we opened, and which instantly became our go-to game to recommend to groups of two. It’s like reverse Jenga with a bit of Uno thrown in there. You’re building a tower out of walls and ceilings and you have a little rhino you put in it. It gets crazy amounts of attention.