Certain games came and went— 3M Bookshelf games like Twixt and Feudal were a big deal in the 1970s—and certain games were given a joyous second life with the arrival of my own children. Stratego came roaring back, and how I loved to play it with the boys. Even before the game started, just setting up your side, arraying your forces, planting your bombs, getting ready to play, was challenging and fun.
Ebay shepherded home lost games: another 3M Bookshelf game, Breakthru, a great game with each side has a different set of pieces and a different goal, somehow vanished along the way, and it was a joy to play it again. The pieces were polished steel cylinders, marvelous to behold.
Some games weren't really that fun—the Game of Life, with their insurance policies and college tuition and little cars filled with pink pegs. Maybe the point was to acclimate children to the tedium and responsibility of the adult world. Some games were little more than coin tosses, barely more than luck: Trouble, which we played more than we ever would if it just used dice, just for the joy of their clear plastic hemisphere containing the dice, the "Pop-o-Matic." Battleship was basically the board version of blind man's bluff. You felt around in the dark for ships. The cool little plastic ships made the effort worthwhile, sort of.
Games were location specific: my grandmother had a Cootie Set. We would assemble the odd primary bugs out of their primary-color parts sprawled in her living room and nowhere else. Our family buying Cootie was an unimaginable as our covering our sofa in clear plastic or or subscribing to Reader's Digest or any other practice that was the exclusive provenance of Cleveland Heights.
Some games I loved as a child then stopped playing at some point—Dogfight, with little plastic biplanes to maneuver over the European countryside. And a few games showed up late, just before we pretty much stopped playing: a wooden Quarto set, bought on vacation in Canada. A shifting Labyrinth game. I was the one urging, "C'mon, play!" as the boys wandered off, into their own lives (where, I'm happy to report, games are still played on game nights at the New York University School of Law. So it isn't just us).
A few games never left, continuing into adulthood. Chess and checkers, of course. Scrabble, the godhead of modern games, that can be played throughout the day on my iPhone. A favorite new game, The Settlers of Catan, that our dear friends from Ohio gave us (the same couple that gave us a beautiful wooden game, Cathedral, as a wedding present. It involves walling off a larger part of the board, and has been on our coffee table for 30 years).
So I was interested to see Cards Against Humanity is opening their Chicago Board Game Cafe in the Margie's Candy Building next week. Block Club Chicago posted a news story about the opening.
I would seem to be their intended audience. But I greet the news with more skepticism than excitement. What I'm wondering about is the idea of eating dinner and playing board games, at the same time. How does that work? Yes, in college, drinking and certain board games—particularly backgammon—were a thing. And back in the day I liked to pour myself a dram and play chess with anybody who'd sit across the board from me.
But dinner and Monopoly? At a restaurant? Or Risk, which takes forever—I remember waking up, face down on the board, at a sleepover. Or some other game selected by the cafe's "team of professional board game teachers [who] will help you pick the right game for your group and teach you how to play." That sounds kinda strange, right? A board game sommelier. "Might I recommend a 1965 Milton Bradley Mystery Date Game to go with the paella?" (The cuisine will be Spanish and Vietnamese, a combination I had not heretofore imagined and can hardly imagine now).
And won't the games quickly get dirty? Greasy? Spotted? Part of the appeal of board games is their clean perfection, these square folding cardboard worlds. Or their gentle wear, the result of your parents' play Not something manhandled by 100 strangers. The games tokens, armies, die, piles of cash, action cards. Sure, games get old, as do we all, and accommodations must be made. But a game of chess with a wooden spool standing in for a missing a rook just isn't the same. It loses a certain dignity.
Maybe it'll work. Max Temkin, the guy behind Cards Against Humanity, a fun, wildly obscene game my family played exactly once (a dinner guest brought the cards) is a good businessman and obviously thinks this is a good idea.
This isn't the first time it has been done. The web site mentions a few other game cafes around town. And I remember places like the Blue Frog, a River North bar that had stacks of games. No one ever seemed to be playing them. Now that I think of it, games in public establishments are like apartment balconies: you never see anybody using them. Still, best of luck to the Chicago Board Game Cafe. They're shaking the dice, beginning a game where 90 percent of the players lose. Let's see if they can win.