Rich Howells

EXCLUSIVE: Rolling the dice with The Game Chateau, NEPA’s first board game café

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Starting any type of business is a roll of the dice, but in Chris Moore and Elle Hammond’s case, they’re literally doing just that every night of the week. Thankfully, so are their customers.

The pair held a soft opening for The Game Chateau on Feb. 27, and word has continued to spread about Northeastern Pennsylvania’s first-ever board game café like a plastic army across a Risk board. Their strategy is simple – to bring gamers, friends, families, groups, and co-workers of all ages together for real social interaction around games that don’t require a screen – or even electricity – to play.

Located just down the highway from Mohegan Sun Pocono, next to Marc’s Tattooing in Wilkes-Barre, Moore, a 33-year-old Plains resident, gave NEPA Scene an exclusive look into The Game Chateau, explaining how it grew from a local meetup into a new venture, the work that went into this project, the partnerships they have already built, what types of games will be available, why board games mean so much to them, and their plans for expansion in his first interview about this unique business before its official grand opening and ribbon cutting on Saturday, March 26.

NEPA SCENE: When did you originally get into this type of gaming?

CHRIS MOORE: I started board gaming around 8; I was always into sci-fi and fantasy, especially mythic and Arthurian, which led me to dabble in “Dungeons & Dragons” and roleplaying board games. In my mid-teens, I moved into computer games and that stuck throughout my 20s. When the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG), i.e. “Warcraft” games, became cyclical (build a house of straw so you can build a house made of wood, then clay, then brick, etc.), I returned to board gaming. This was in my late 20s.

NS: How did you first come up with the idea to open a board game café?

CM: Between 2014 and 2015, I served as the organizer of NEPA Tabletop, a local group organized on focused on board games; this is where I learned a lot more about the niche genres and designer board games. While running the meetup, one of the biggest obstacles we faced was finding venues who would allow a group to come in and play games for four to six hours. Some members held meetups at their homes, but since the meetup structure meant new “strangers” could attend, those didn’t always work.

This experience prompted me to research gaming venues, and I came across Snakes and Lattes out of Toronto. A bit more digging and I found board game bars and several other cafés in the eastern United States. I reached out to a few of them, each was more than willing to speak to me, very helpful, and very excited to hear someone else was going to open a new board game café.

NS: How did you decide on this location, and what did you need to do to the space to make it fit your needs?

CM: My co-founder Elle Hammond and I took several things into account when looking at locations. The deciding factors on this location were ample parking, safe area, good neighbors (Marc’s Tattooing; Christie Bonnice, State Farm Insurance Agent; and The Cafe: An American Bistro), and our budget.

We put a lot of time into the space, with many 18+ hour days. We brought in a plumber and an electrician for some minor additions but luckily were able to do much of the work to adapt the space to fit our needs. I think the effort we put in is best illustrated in these start to finish photos on our Facebook.

NS: How much work has it taken to bring this from concept to reality?

CM: This all started as a conversation around the middle of May. After a few weeks of research, Elle and I had an idea of what we wanted to do and how we wanted the café to feel. The atmosphere is very important to us, and we put a lot of time into planning and executing in a way to keep The Game Chateau feeling welcoming and cozy. The furniture is refurbished; 90 percent came from local thrift stores. We spent countless hours sanding and painting tables and chairs. We did everything from grinding and laying floor to customizing a counter given to us by our landlord. There is a lot of our personalities in the space.

NS: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far with this business?

CM: The biggest challenge is that this is a new type of business; we are the second board game café in the state. Explaining the business and the business model to people has posed some difficulties. We have all the amenities of your traditional cafe – complimentary Wi-Fi, charging ports for devices at each table, etc.

Complementing this is our selection of locally sourced baked goods. We placed a heavy emphasis on our choice of coffee. We are the only Wilkes-Barre area coffee shop to serve direct trade gourmet coffee by NEPA’s own Electric City Roasting Company.

NS: On the other side, what has been the most fun?

CM: The most fun has definitely been designing and implementing the vision board. Creating the atmosphere based on Elle’s and my personalities has been incredibly fulfilling. After we laid the last floor tile and arranged the furniture, there were tears of joy at what we created.

NS: How did you decide on the name of the café?

CM: The name started off as a joke. We had gone through several names and nothing fit well. I made a pretentious remark in jest with Elle one night and she shot back with, “Well, why not call it The Game Chateau?” After several days, we both agreed that the name was well-suited.

NS: How did your recent soft opening and your first few weeks in business go?

CM: Our soft opening went great! We were really elated about the support we received from both friends and members of the local board gaming community. We are now beginning to see the word spread to casual board game players.

NS: What kinds of games and services do you offer customers?

CM: On the gaming side, we offer a little of everything, from kids’ games to Monopoly and Connect Four, as well as heavy Euro-games like Agricola and Versailles. Both Elle and I are big horror fans, so you’ll see quite a few horror-themed games. We even have Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots!

We are also setting up youth group nights and various meetup events. We have plans to bring board gaming to companies as a tool for fun team building and trust building exercises. Our team building games and trainings are a great way for workgroups and sports teams to learn important skills like communication and collaboration using our selection of co-operative games.

NS: How do the different games vary? It looks like there are games for all ages.

CM: The games cover a wide variety of interests. We have everything from the classics (Monopoly and Risk) to tile-laying (Carcasonne), worker placement (Agricola, Castles of Burgundy), to even more complex economy (Acquire) and socio-political games (Article 27, City Hall). We are expanding the game selection monthly. We also have a selection of games geared for children and families.

NS: Tell us more about the food and drinks you offer.

CM: We are excited to offer several varieties of specialty gourmet coffee from local roaster Electric City Roasting Company and baked goods from Sanitary Bakery. For those looking for an entrée, we have a great menu available Tuesday through Saturday daily through a special arrangement with The Cafe: An American Bistro. We also carry a limited variety of sodas and bottled water.

NS: What do you personally enjoy most about board games?

CM: My favorite aspect of board games is cooperative. I really enjoy co-op games, especially games with a negotiation mechanic. Pandemic and Dead of Winter are some of my favorite co-op games. I also enjoy deduction games like Letters from Whitechapel. Board games pull you away from the bitter cold of the Digital Age and put you into a fun atmosphere of positive social interaction. It can get real silly at times – a great outlet for stress.

NS: What are the most popular board games you’ve seen people gravitate towards in events you’ve hosted or in the few days you’ve been open so far?

CM: Games with a lot of social interaction seem to be the most popular – games like Resistance, Masquerade, Dixit, and Mysterium, where there is an aspect of group discussion. We have seen a lot of interest with customers in the Euro-games in our collection.

NS: Do you have to know anything about these games before coming in and playing them?

CM: You do not need to know anything. Between Elle and I, we have played a majority of the games or have watched playthroughs. We both are able to look at a game and its pieces and understand the mechanics being used. Once you have an understanding of the mechanics, it is easy to pick up how the game is played. There are also sites like BoardGameGeek where forum discussions can clear up any questions about a situation or rule conflict.

NS: What has the reception to the café been like so far?

CM: We have seen real positive reception from both the online community and people who have come into the café. We have had ages from teens to 40s and 50s come in; everyone has been excited to have something so different in the area. It’s been very uplifting.

NS: This is really the first business of its kind in the area. Does that make you nervous or more confident and excited as a business owner?

CM: Both are present; both in equal quantities. We are the first board game café in NEPA region. Any time you do something different, there is always the chance it won’t be received well. There has been a lot of support both in the gaming community and from people who came across our Facebook page and website.

NS: What others plans do you have to grow or expand the business?

CM: We have placed emphasis on quality; atmosphere; a friendly, knowledgeable staff; and have partnered with like-minded organizations. We do plan to hold multiple events here. While designing the layout of the space, we incorporated and considered the needs of various event types, from meetups to arts events.

NS: What do you see in the future for The Game Chateau?

CM: The same thing we do with every business, Pinky – try to take over the business world!

NS: Well played. Narf! Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

CM: I want to thank a few people for their support. Dawe Consulting for all the advice and assistance. Carlton Farnbaugh and Zack Hammond for their advice. Gabbie Piper for being so wonderful, designing our logo, and being patient with us when we were going through the iterations. And, of course, Elle, for being so amazingly supportive throughout this adventure.

The Game Chateau is open now Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-11 p.m.; Friday, 4 p.m.-midnight; Saturday, 10 a.m.-midnight; and Sunday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

The Game Chateau grand opening and ribbon cutting
Location: The Game Chateau (1112 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre)
Date: Saturday, March 26
Time: Noon-6 p.m.; ribbon cutting at 12:45 p.m. by Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber
Cost: Free

There will be a performance by comedian Ted Hebert and music by harpist Chelsea Smarr, Vanessa Marchiano, and DJ Newpy Hundo, along with catering by The Cafe: An American Bistro and coffee by Electric City Roasting Company. For more information, see the Facebook event page.