Board Game Cafes in Asia

by Chris_in_Lijiang. Posted on Jun 30, 2020    3    15

Why did board game cafés become so popular in Asia before they took off in the west?


L_Moo_S 1

It's pretty common in big cities in china.

They're called 桌游店 but sometimes more for party games than board games


Is it still big in China? A lot of the examples I saw before have since closed.
Which city are you in and how many examples are there at the moment?

L_Moo_S 1

It'll take a while for anything to recover and big cities RE Shanghai Beijing..


I meant before the outbreak.
I have been stuck up in the Himalayas for years now and am a bit out of touch with the big cities.

InfuriatedBrute 1

Where I live there are board game clubs. No food, just pay for annual membership and you can play the entire library. Not sure about other places in the west. I guess there are more conventions than in the east too. But yeah the cafes in Taiwan were really cool.

I also agree with the "less coffee/tea houses means less board game cafes" idea.


Where do you live?

InfuriatedBrute 1

USA. Would not like to specify exactly.

  Chris_in_Lijiang 1

No problem.
Just wanted to see if you were somewhere in Asia as we were talking about Asia.

HeyLetsShareTheFish 3

This is an interesting question and I didn't even know they were more popular in Asia prior to taking off in the west. Could you provide more info on this? Where and when were the first board game cafes in Asia?

My answer:

In Korea I visited a baduk (Korean name for Go) store that had a large playing area with their boards, where you could order cups of tea (and probably coffee too). There were a lot of older men in the playing area, and the sets were fairly expensive so I'd guess they'd make their money off the sets rather than drink sales. I never bought a set since shipping would be too expensive to Australia, but the playing area of the store seemed to be an advertisement for the boards and the local community a testament to their quality.

I've visited some (huge) bookstores in both Singapore and Japan; I'd imagine the economics of board game cafes (or board game rentals) would strongly favour dense urban areas. Since Singapore has a strong "coffee house" culture and Asian nations have vibrant communities for classic games it isn't hard to imagine board game cafes would be more viable in Asia. In Korea you have a large public park with many baduk players while in the west (it seems USA in particular) has a culture around chess in parks.

I'd read that modern board games are popular amongst parents in Singapore since they believe it'll improve their children's performance in the education system; and Singapore has a very competitive education system (with some very engaged parents willing to spend a lot on extra curricula activities that could advantage their children).

  Chris_in_Lijiang 1

I can remember taking a friend to play Settlers at a board game cafe in Guangzhou in the late noughties. When I checked online, there were at least 20 or 30 similar establishments in the city to choose from.
Many of the small cities also had board game cafes. Around the same time, I remember seeing examples in many of the popular tourist towns such as Kunming, Dali and Lijiang.

I recently read that Beijing now has more than 200.

I also read that the owner of Spiel Games did a research trip to East Asia before opening his own board games cafe in Omaha.

There are board game cafes all over SEA. Manila, Bangkok, Penang, KL, Singapore and Jakarta. Singapore has at least a dozen to choose from.

I am guessing that games were so difficult to find at first, that the only place to play them was in board game cafes. In the nineties and noughties they were impossible to find at retail in Mainland China, even in the areas where they were being manufactured. Internet cafes dropped in popularity as more people got internet at home and on their phones but board game cafes remained.

JohanesYamakawa 1

I live in Chengdu. Most board game cafés run warewolf stuff for teenagers and that's about it. The fairly large group that play Euro games here tend to go to the same coffee shop which has become an unofficial gaming cafe.

  Chris_in_Lijiang 2

Thank you.
Western cities see to be a long way behind their coastal counterparts.
Kunming felt like decades behind GZ and SZ, while Guiyang was in another era completely. Maybe it is a geographical thing....

Can you find Euro games for sale in shops?

JohanesYamakawa 1

It's not common for there to be board game shops on the street. Some game cafés will sell popular favourites like Catan etc, but much like FLGS in the west they make most of their money from Magic events and similar games. Everything (and I mean very almost EVERYTHING) is bought on Taobao in China. So my "FLGS" is a Taobao shop that sells imported English language versions of games. I have a list between 20-30 Taobao stores that do this as well as a few that sell the official Chinese language versions if it is a language independent game.

Regarding the kinds of games that can be found. You can find almost anything that is commonly available in the west. We may receive it a month or so later, but typically we get it. Sometimes there are games in stock in China that are not available in the west. For example, Pipeline was officially sold out for a while, but there were at least two stores on Taobao that had it in stock the whole time.

Chengdu is making leaps and bounds towards east coast cities. It's a tier 1 city now.

Shandoral 7

I'm totally guessing right now:

  • Space: Especially in bigger cities living space in Asia might be smaller compared to western households. In addition to that, children might stay longer at their family's home due to housing prices. As we all know, boardgames take up some space and you need space to play them as well.
    In conclusion they need to go somewhere else to enjoy this hobby. (side note: LAN parties aren't well known in Asia as well. The problem is kind of similiar: Small living space, cost of a PC, space for a computer corner. Because of this "PC Bangs" or the like were/are the go-to solution.
  • Social differences: I often hear that there's a stronger sense of "commuity" in Asia compared to the west. So maybe they try to get together more and chose public places more often. Boardgames might be a catalyst for like minded people. Maybe the "Pub Culture" is more prominent in the west as the got-to choice when going out? Making a long shot here.

The sense of community that is valued in the West is very different to that of Asian culture. Asians are a lot more clannish in a negative way and much less open to strangers.

I think that you are right about the bar scene though. Asian nightlife focuses on a very different kind of pay-for-play, making it unpopular with ordinary people who are looking for entertainment rather than hook ups.