Roll the Dice and Try a Board Games Club
Tabletop games are often a family affair, but they have the potential to facilitate social connections further afield as well. In a big city like London there are plenty of opportunities to meet with fellow enthusiasts of board games, either traditional or modern, or find a place to play chess or bridge. We’ve uncovered a raft of London venues, clubs, shops and cafes where game players, experienced or completely green, can find a welcome and some friendly competition!
Board Game Cafes
The Ludoquist in Croydon claims a stock of more than 1400 games and sells pizza, panini home-made curry and snacks as well as alcoholic drinks and coffees. Bad Moon, with over 150 games in its library, serves coffee, pastries, sandwiches, beer and wine, and customers can order pizza via a tie-up with Basilico. The venue is wheelchair accessible, so an option for chair users travelling from partially wheelchair-friendly London Bridge tube. Draughts Board Game Cafe, with branches in Hackney and Waterloo, claims over 1000 games between their sites and serves burgers, hot sandwiches, fish and chips, lighter bites and puddings as well as beers, wines and spirits.
All of the above stay open late (10pm or later) at least some days each week.
In addition to cafes, some games shops in London offer players the chance to gather and enjoy some competition. Finchley’s Leisure Games hosts modestly priced “open gaming” sessions weekly, as well as tournaments, role-playing events and family games days.
Board Game Clubs like the London Wargaming Guild and the South London Warlords host regular meetings to play tabletop strategy wargames with miniature models where the imagined backdrop can be real historical settings (such as… or more fantastical ones, as with Warhammer (humans, elves, orcs and other Tolkienesque creatures) and its spin-offs Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40,000, a science fiction variant set in a dystopian far future where humanity is consumed with battling with hostile aliens and other dark forces. Other clubs such as Chislehurst’s Dragons Keep Roleplay Club play tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) such as Dungeons and Dragons.
Those who are less wedded to battles or roleplay can find clubs playing other modern board games such as the popular Ticket to Ride or Catan. For example West London Games Club, Haringey Board Game Club and Isleworth Boardgamers all host regular meetings to play a range of modern board and card games. TabletopGaming.co.uk lists over 30 clubs in London playing board games of various types.
Of course, some table top games have histories so long, and such popularity that they have clubs dedicated specifically to them. Chess and Bridge fall squarely into this camp.
There are many chess clubs throughout the city, several with long pedigrees. Battersea Chess Club, founded in 1885 claims to be the oldest continually-existing chess club in London, while Bloomsbury-based Greater London Chess Club, founded in 1887, has a history almost as long.
Most clubs compete in one or more leagues, offering members the opportunity to participate in competitions, and many clubs have teaching or chess puzzle evenings, and coaching sessions for children. Some take place in pubs, or repair to one afterwards. Membership fees are typically around £50-70 per annum, although at least one club (Hammersmith) offers steep discounts for lady members, seeking to add balance to their predominantly male membership.
The Four Corner Club – apparently the UK’s first outdoor chess club – describes itself as “free and open to all – from absolute beginners to masters.” It takes place every Saturday from noon at St John’s Square in Clerkenwell EC1, 5-10 minutes walk from Barbican tube.
OK, so it’s not a board game, but the popularity of bridge is borne out by the number of clubs dedicated to it, with more than forty bridge clubs in London listed here, and there are undoubtedly others.
Most clubs have an annual membership (typically around £20) and charge a per-visit fee, called “table money” which can vary from around £2 – £8. While some clubs expect new people to be able to play already, others make specific provision for beginners who would like to learn, for instance this Muswell Hill club has new beginner groups starting regularly. Several others have arrangements with teachers so that the uninitiated can learn. The English Bridge Union has useful resources for those new to the game.
Many bridge clubs welcome visitors, and some will guarantee to provide a playing partner for newbies or those turning up alone.