‘Make it short & snappy’
X for Xe Queo! No I don’t believe it’s a Chinese swear word. It’s a board game available in London’s first board game café, Draughts.
Here’s my in depth review of my first trip to Draughts: the venue, food, games and comparison with the only other boardgame cafe I’ve been to before.
‘Just the facts please’
- Board Game Cafe Draughts
- Website: http://www.draughtslondon.com
- Twitter: @draughtslondon
- Address: 337 Acton Mews, Haggerston, London, E8 4EA
- Open: Tues – Sun various times
- Cost: £5 to play the games without a time limit, food and drink available from £1 upwards.
‘I’ve got a cup of tea, tell me all about it…’
East London: the land of hipsters, start ups, colourful flowery shirts, “muns”, coffee bars galore and it seems an ever increasing array of unusual cafes. First we had Dinah’s Cat Emporium, then the Cereal Killer cereal café, now Draught’s the first board game café. Central London now wants to get in the action with a newly announced pop up Owl bar! Oh yeah!
Well I for one, was delighted of the news of a new board game café. When I lived in Melbourne, Australia, I visited one frequently on Lygon Street My Cube, where it was bright, colourful, with a vibrant Asian menu, kindergarten-esque cheerful yellow walls, bean bags and book shelves filled with games to inspire you. I was distraught when I heard it had shut, and then happy to hear about Draughts, which is after all a lot closer!
My first impression was that this board game café was very different to my Lygon love. Under the railway arches, it plays well to the East London exposed brick cool. I had seen they’ve recently added some more lights to help make it a little less gloomy (but it could still do with a few more). The barrier for the toilets was an ultra hip honeycomb plastic mesh, and the games themselves were stored in a large section at the back categorised in order of use rather than alphabetically, which was interesting and probably most helpful to the “game gurus” who help with your game selection.
The seating and table:
The table was clever in that it was large enough to accommodate the most elaborate Mouse Trap, and had a useful shelf underneath to store the empty cases.
The tables were a little too high for true comfort, and importantly I found the chairs incredibly uncomfortable. They were modern brushed metal looking which went well with the general Hoxton/Haggerston/Hackney look, but were hard and unforgiving. I ended up using my coat to sit on as a cushion. It may be a clever move to ensure people don’t stay too long. On my way out I did spy a nicer set of sofas, but this might just be the holding area.
Now this for me was one of the main highlights, I found the staff from the beginning were as helpful as they could be. We had booked the table having been thwarted previously by turning up and being told the wait was undefined as people can play for as long as they like. When we booked we specifically requested the board game. J booked, got confused and asked for a “Q” board game. I reminded him it was the Xe Queo we were after, easy mistake to make. The team didn’t get the latest email so had kindly set out the Q games for us, and then spent a generous amount of time looking for Xe Queo and reading the instructions with J before I arrived.
The games – Xe Queo:
For something we chose purely based on its name (I had to find an “X” for this alphabet challenge somewhere!), this sweet little ode to the number 7 actually surprised us. With 7 coloured cards, 7 jaunty pegs, 7×7 board and 7 golden rings it is a game of strategy, trying to outwit your opponent through bluffing moves and creativity of where to place your pegs.
What I found most surprising was that the game wasn’t Chinese. It was strangely Italian. “Xe Queo” is apparently a Venetian phrase meaning “it’s that one.” However despite a key bit of the game being to shout it out, it was oddly only explained on the front of the box how to pronounced it. “Ze Ku’eo” for those of you who don’t know. We said it a bit like C-3PO.
More strangely, for an Italian game made in Italy, the instructions were in either English or German. Maybe they have an Italian only version and this was their foreign export?
Either way, here’s a video that explains better than I can how to play.
It’s only hampering factor was that after about 3 games it was getting a little hard to think of novel ways to sequence the pegs, maybe there should be an option for a larger than 7 x 7 board to give you more options.
The games – draughts:
Oh yes, you couldn’t expect us to enter the world of Draughts and not play the namesake game. I hadn’t played since I was a child with my Dad so was very rusty (read had forgotten almost everything!). It was a little surprising to find that considering the café is called Draughts and you would expect quite a few people to want to play it, they had spruced up the scrabble and bought the deluxe model complete with spinny turn table and allocated slots for the letters, however their draughts was a rather battered box from Chad Valley! It reminded me of Woolworths, nicely reminiscent of my childhood – so perhaps a nice touch? I originally would have thought their draughts would be their crowning joy held in high regard in some spotlit box in the centre of the room.
We were already limbered up in terms of moving pegs across a board. J kindly explained the rules to me. When he couldn’t remember one so we examined the box and it was instruction-less. Strange. Luckily a passing Games Guru came to the rescue with the missing rule.
I didn’t fare quite so well against school chess club player J, but did ok. I found it rather frustrating and think I’d prefer to stick to word related boardgames like Bananagrams!
They had a great selection from the noisy fun of Hungry Hippos, messy and startling consequences of Jenga, through to the intense concentration of building settlements in the Settlers of Catan. The number of games indicated the popularity of the games, Xe Queo only had one, Scrabble had a whole shelf section! Here’s their impressive full range.
I started off with the latte for £2.60 from Notes, which was nice and smooth, they also had options of fancy fruit juices including apple and rhubarb and local Dalston cola, and alcoholic drinks including Camden Hell’s Lager. It was a pity tea was per mug and not in tea pots which would have been a nice touch.
Now I’m aware they don’t seem to have facilities to cook that severely restricts what you can serve and they’re probably hoping people will only stay for an hour or so and then move on to allow others in. However, even with this in mind I found the menu very limited and meant it was hard if you were visiting over a dinner period or hungry from work you were only given the option of snacks, and nothing really suitable for a substantial dinner. To be fair though, there was a restaurant next door, but with reservations only up until 7pm that poses a risk of missing out on a table if you don’t have an early meal.
The options are bar-like, medium sized salads, sandwiches, or sharing charcuterie or delicatessen boards. I did find both our sandwich, salad and the charcuterie board very salty and oily – potentially a clever move to encourage more drinking? It would have been nice to have some fresher options available, such as Vietnamese summer rolls, crudities with houmous and flatbread, or pita chips and fresh salsa.
My favourite part was the houmous and the breads: the white sourdough was flavoursome and moist and the brown was a nice alternative, the houmous was creamy and moreish. There wasn’t quite enough for my liking, and so I asked for some more and was pleased when another batch was brought kindly on the house. Perhaps a simple bread and houmous option would be popular?
My biggest food disappointment was sadly my impulse purchase as we were leaving of what looked like one of the best gooey brownies in the world. I opted for the raspberry and white chocolate one that was practically oozing chocolatey temptation. When I got it home the first bite was more nutty than chocolatey, almost like I’d got the peanut one by mistake. The gooey centre tasted like undercooked cake batter, quite gritty and eggy. I knew it was the flourless gluten free version so I wonder if the standard one was much different. Sadly I won’t be risking another £3 to find out.
£5 per head for unlimited time seems reasonable. Potentially another model that might have worked was getting comfier chairs and tables and having a pay per hour type system of maybe £3 per hour. I’m sure the guys behind this have already thought through all the different models and this obviously works for them.
I got excited when I saw the £25 membership written on the board and thought it might be for a period of time (month, 6 month, even year) when you can come an unlimited amount of times. Turns out on questioning it was for 5 games (so no discount there) but you get reduced £3.60 membership after this for yourself only. It would be good if they could look into memberships or packages, peak and offpeak, maybe opening up during the day for freelancers to find somewhere to chill – although in that case they definitely need more welcoming furniture and better lighting.
Comparison with My Cube
My only experience of another board game café, albeit sadly one that has closed, was My cube. I must say I really did miss the squidgy, fun sense that My Cube had where you could go and be as comfortable in the afternoon as the evening. Yes their seats and tables were a little too low in some areas, but I guess it gave a sense of childlike play. Draughts is mainly open in the evening therefore I guess it makes more sense to make it more akin to a bar, but it is open all day at weekends.
I appreciated the wider variety of food on offer, at My Cube, but again they must have had the kitchen space to do it. I look forward to if draughts decide to expand the menu a little, even to have weekly specials to excite it to encourage those who want to come regularly to stay and not be quickly bored by the £4.50 super gourmet popcorn from the lovely Joe & Sephs.
Overall Draught’s is somewhere I want to love and want to come back to time and time again, but to really draw me back compared with some of the lovely pubs that are a little closer with their own reasonable selection of board games, such as Old China Hand that has its very own board game cupboard, I’d like to see a few cushions and a few specials on the menu please.
Do go check them out, it’s been a great Kickstarter initiative, they’re still very new and I do wish the guys well as they’ve achieved something I’ve only dreamed about. And of course they’ve introduced me to Xe Queo and given me my “X”! Forever grateful.