They’re sprouting up all over the country- places that combine the comforts of a coffee shop with the atmosphere of a game store. I’d heard of these establishments, but not had an opportunity to visit one. On a recent trip to Seattle, I figured that there was no better place to have my first experience of a game cafe than the Mecca of coffee. What follows is my account and impressions of a visit to Meeples Games, the premier game cafe in Seattle, Washington.
Upon first entering, Meeples Games appears to be just like your average game store- stacks of cling-wrapped games sat atop shelves that stretch from floor to ceiling, separated by genre and with a section set aside for employee recommendations. But by stepping through a nearby doorway, one suddenly finds oneself in a small, cozy coffee shop. A tasteful mural adorns one wall opposite a small counter. Beside the counter is a glass case in which is arrayed an assortment of baked goods. However, it isn’t the delicious cookies, nor the assortment of beers on tap that impressed me (although, I must admit, the sight of a variety of quality beers available to drink while I game excited me quite a bit) it was instead the staff at this particular game cafe.
Gaming establishments sink or swim based off of one aspect above all others: staff. You need to have staff who are friendly and helpful- there on the periphery to assist, if necessary, but not pushing their way in where they aren’t needed. Staff at these establishments need to be not only well versed in various games, but also personable, outgoing, and possessing strong social skills. In this regard, the staff of Meeples Games did not disappoint. I had the pleasure of speaking to two different staff members during my time there, both of which have been employed by Meeples Games for a considerable portion of the time it has been open.
For instance, Chandler Sapp works in the back portion of Meeples Cafe, tending to the cafe portion and taking care of all that entails. I asked him if he was hired for his expertise in food or gaming. He replied, “Well, I was hired primarily to be here in the Cafe, but I’ve always had an interest in gaming. Now, I can do both- I get to make sure people are happy, and I get to expand the amount of games I’m familiar with. Who wouldn’t love that?”
I pressed him further on this issue, as a large component of game cafes is not only their selection of games that can be checked out, but also staff expertise when it comes to specific titles. As a customer, it’s vital to have staff on hand to answer any questions or clarify any rules. “Oh, all of our demo copies that we receive end up in our library,” explained Chandler, “that way, all our staff know how to play them. Yeah, every game in our library has at least one staff who really knows it inside and out.”
After hearing this, I had to check out this library for myself- and I have to say that it didn’t disappoint, either. Behind the front counter are sets of shelves with board games of every genre and age range stacked, like some colossal monument to cardboard and dice. At any one time, you can find a selection of 50-70 titles to choose from. “We like to rotate titles out if they’re damaged, or if we notice that interest is dropping off,” another employee, Stan Dolph, elaborated as he stood in front of the impressive library of titles. “We try to keep a good variety in here, from more hardcore titles to some of your standard introductory games [for the hobby]. We even make sure that we have some games for younger players, so they have something to choose from when they come in.” When I confessed to Stan that the selection of games to choose from was impressive, he replied, “Well that’s really our philosophy here: when you can play a game before you buy it, you’re more excited to buy it and share it with your friends and family.”
And I must admit, it is that sense of community that pervades every square foot of Meeples Games. Whether it’s the tournament tables in the back of the shop, or the room full of tables bearing “Reserved for: ____” signs in the cafe portion, it is clear that Meeples Games has a very devoted local following. “Friday nights, this place is packed,” explained Chandler, “You pretty much have to reserve a table if you want a place to play. We have both a lot of regulars and a lot of foot traffic that comes through off the street- people hang out and play games again and again.”
But this sense of community extends beyond the confines of this game cafe. Last year, a group of players who regularly frequented Meeples Games published their own card game: Helionox – The Last Sunset. “They were regulars who came in here pretty much every week to play X-Wing Miniatures,” Stan told me, “and the whole game was pretty much developed here- we got to watch the whole process happen, from the early planning stages, through the prototype phase, to the finished product. Now we have a copy in our library and we sell it in store.” As if to accentuate his point he showed me a copy. I couldn’t resist this temptation and promptly bought myself a copy. (A review will be forthcoming.)
Ultimately, for me Meeples Games was not only a fantastic introduction to game cafes, but a standard to which all other establishments should aspire. They offer a quality product in a warm and inviting atmosphere with friendly and helpful staff to guide anyone who visits along a path to fun and frivolity. I know that the next time I’m in this neck of the woods, I will certainly stop by for another visit and I urge any gamers in the Seattle area (or who pass through it) to visit this gem of the Pacific Northwest- you won’t be disappointed.