At the end of September we visited London for a family gathering. It was a fun-filled weekend of sightseeing, museums and art galleries…but…we had to find somewhere to get our board game fix. Hidden away under the railway arches of Haggerston, we found a board gamers’ paradise: Draughts – London’s first board game café!
This was my first visit to a board game café, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Sure, I knew we’d be able to play any games we wanted from the library, but other than that I was venturing into the unknown. To my surprise, the first thing I noticed when I walked in was that Draughts wasn’t just about games. It was actually a very cool looking café with a stylish industrial design. It’s the kind of café I would love to relax in with a coffee on a weekend afternoon (or with a beer in the evening)!
We were greeted by a friendly Draughts employee who took us to our table, which was ideally placed next to the games library. Like a kid in a candy store, I scoured the shelves looking for the perfect game – there was so much choice it was hard pick what to start with. Then I found it: 7 Wonders Duel, published by Repos Production.
7 Wonders Duel is a two-player, card-drafting game where players are the leaders of opposing civilisations trying to win supremacy over the other (either by Civilian supremacy, Military supremacy or Scientific supremacy). We had so much fun playing this game!
The game is played over three ages (Age I, Age II, and Age III). Players take turns to choose a card from an arrangement in the middle of the table, with each layout being unique to the Age you’re playing. Each card represents a type of Building. Players choose from the available Buildings to try and grow their city and build Wonders, in an attempt to progress towards supremacy; or hinder their opposition. Building types include Resources, Manufactured Goods, Civilian, Military, Scientific, and Guilds. We played twice, and despite the vast wealth I accumulated each time, I was overpowered by my wife’s military prowess as she won Military supremacy twice!
The only negative to our 7 Wonders Duel experience was that the copy of the game was very tired. It had damaged and missing components that had been replaced by small ripped pieces of paper with scribbled blue biro. However, from the look of the other games on the shelves I suspect that 7 Wonders Duel was in worse condition than most others, and this is something that you may expect from heavily-used communal games.
So, what to play next after I was absolutely decimated in 7 Wonders Duel? Perhaps something a little more cooperative! I ventured to the shelves once more and came back with two options: Flashpoint (Indie Cards and Games) and Unlock! (Asmodee). As Unlock! had been suggested by a member of staff, we decided to check it out.
If you’re into escape rooms then something like Unlock! is for you. It’s an escape room in a box, played in real-time, with a 60 minute countdown just like the real thing. The game comes with 3 scenarios: The Formula, Squeak and Beans, and The Island of Dr Gorse. We went with ‘The Formula’: locked in Dr Hoffman’s office, we had 60 minutes to find the formula and escape!
The game is played using a deck of cards that form the locations, items, puzzles and clues, and the companion mobile app. This obviously wasn’t as immersive as a real escape room experience, but the mechanic is actually pretty clever and it’s surprising how much the tension builds as the minutes dwindle. The location cards (e.g. Dr Hoffman’s Office) have numbers or letters at various locations within the office. These numbers/letters relate to clues and puzzles and items on cards within the deck, and when you uncover new letters/numbers, you find the corresponding card in the deck and reveal it. Solving puzzles, clues and pairing items together, you uncover more of the scenario and get that little bit closer to escaping. The game continues in this fashion until you succeed in escaping with the formula, or time runs out.
The companion mobile app was actually an essential part of the gameplay. It included a timer but was also used to key in codes and solutions to unlock some of the steps in the game. As an example, at one point in our scenario we had to dial in a code which then played a recording. In this way, the app was an essential part of the narrative and did help with the immersion factor.
We failed on our first attempt, but as the game is so quick and easy to set up we went for a second go. The second play-through we noticed a couple of new clues which helped us narrowly secure the win with seconds to spare. We were smug with our win as we’re far from escape room aficionados. We did enjoy playing Unlock!, but to be honest this game probably isn’t really our thing.
So, I’ve talked about the board games, but what about the café? During our time in Draughts we had some delicious food and drink (and even some board game inspired cocktails!). We ordered off the specials menu, with me ordering a delicious pulled pork and cheese toasted sandwich and my wife ordering a tomato and mozzarella salad with crusty bread. My descriptions really don’t give the food the justice it deserves (and unfortunately it didn’t last long enough to take a photo!), but trust me it was great. As we were there for a few hours, we also treated ourselves to some flat whites and brownies (which we did manage to photograph before scoffing). We were really impressed with the quality of the food, cocktails and coffees – Draughts wasn’t just about the board games, it would be a great place to go just for the food and ambiance!
Our first board game café experience was a big success! We had a great afternoon at Draughts and will definitely be back the next time we venture into London!