Game cafe to roll dice on permanent location


Jacqueline Marie

Bonus Round Game Cafe will offer all-you-can-play board games for $7 when it opens its first official location later this year. The cafe received Kickstarter funds.

By Jonathon Sadowski

Sitting down with a cup of coffee, a sandwich and a game of Monopoly or Battleship to play with friends is no longer a rainy day pastime. Chicago’s first brick-and-mortar cafe dedicated to board games will open this year.

Bonus Round Game Cafe—which has been doing weekly pop-ups since 2014 at Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records, 3182 N. Elston Ave.; Beermiscuous, 2812 N. Lincoln Ave.; and Osmium Coffee Bar, 1117 W. Belmont Ave.—is scheduled to open its own location, the first of its kind in Chicago.

“There [are] a bunch of board game cafes around the U.S., and there [are] a whole bunch in Canada,” said Drew Lovell, owner of Bonus Round. “It’s kind of surprising Chicago doesn’t have a board game cafe yet.”

Lovell and his wife, Courtney Hartley, created a Kickstarter Aug. 30 to fulfill their dream of opening a permanent place. The campaign met its $8,000 goal in less than five days.

Bonus Round’s Kickstarter campaign was funded, but there is no set opening date or location for the new business. Lovell blamed the wait on the City of Chicago’s “notorious” slowness in granting permits.

Snakes & Lattes, believed to be the first board game cafe, opened in Toronto in 2010 and has since inspired hundreds of others around the world. It has since moved to a new, larger space and spawned a sister location called Snakes & Lattes College.

“[Board] gaming is having a huge renaissance,” Lovell said.

Jon Freeman, owner of The Brooklyn Strategist, a New York game cafe, credits the growth in success to a backlash towards digital lifestyles.

“Board game cafes are promoting this shared experience you don’t get in any other type of venue,” Freeman said.

Freeman and Lovell agreed board game cafes are not necessarily seeking the hardcore gaming crowd but, rather, are trying to appeal to a wide audience of people, including those who have never played board games before.

Bonus Round and Snakes & Lattes employ “game gurus,”  employees that are knowledgeable about all the games available in the cafes’ collections.

Aaron Zack, the head of operations at Snakes & Lattes, said all game gurus are trained in the games the cafe hosts, and some have teaching backgrounds to help newcomers learn to play games they are not familiar with.

To complement the games, the cafes serve typical cafe food—or in Snakes & Lattes College’s case, pub food, according to Zack.

Bonus Round will have a full espresso bar with a custom-made coffee blend from Chicago-based Dark Matter Coffee, a deli counter with cold-cut sandwiches and snacks to share with friends in order to emulate an “at-home game night feel,” Lovell said.

Lovell, Freeman and Zack all said their respective cafes have seen steady growth since opening, allowing the game libraries to expand and spaces to grow to facilitate more players.

“We have a very consistent group of people come every Friday,” said Dawei Li, who has regularly attended Bonus Round meet-ups for over a year.

“You’re seeing all these new people introduced to gaming,” Lovell said. “Having a cafe where there [are] people teaching the games just makes everything more approachable for everybody. That’s where we fit in.”