This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 13/11/2017.
Café review: Ludoquist! the board game café
A new board-game coffee bar has arrived in Croydon town centre, opposite the Green Dragon pub in the High Street, on the spot once occupied by Bar Red Square, and since then by the excellent, though short-lived, Moiji Moi Burgers and Pizza Ora. On opening night, Ludoquist is far busier than either of those ever was.
Offering coffee, cakes, hot food, wines, craft beers and more, Ludoquist also offers a very wide range of board games to play, for free. There is a whole world of board games far beyond those you’d find on the shelf at WH Smith, and most are very involved, for the more serious board-gamer, but there is also a small selection of better known vintage games. I was disappointed to discover that my favourite games, Ghost Castle, I Want to Bite Your Finger and Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs were both absent, but I did spy a Waddington’s game called Escape from Atlantis, which looked to be cut very much from the same cloth as Lost Valley, and so my friend and I grabbed one of the few unoccupied tables, set up the board, and began scanning the instructions.
I went to order some food and drinks. Among the beers on offer were five or six from local favourites, the Cronx Brewery, so I opted for their Anglo-American Pale, and ordered two pizzas, one of which was a Hawaiian which they were very happy to de-ham for me. I have to say, the other pizza ordered (a vegetarian), never made it to our table, so a veg platter was ordered in its place. I’ll put that down to opening night teething troubles, and their perhaps being busier than expected.
The venue is staffed by people with t-shirts bearing the legend ‘Board Game Guru’, and we asked one to explain the rules of our game for us, for we could not be bothered to fully engage with its intricacies. He happily admitted that he wasn’t sure either, and so stood beside us reading the rules to us. On the neighbouring table was a mother and daughter who had popped in out of curiosity and opted for a fairly complex card game called Odin’s Ravens, which fitted on to their table far comfortably than our game did on ours once plates of food arrived. At one point, space limitations were such that I flipped a corner of our board up and sent one of my Atlantians flying to the floor, also moving many of the game’s sea monsters to squares they weren’t supposed to be on. But hey, it’s only a game.
On another neighbouring table was a couple playing a far more serious-looking game, Reign of Cthulu; I suspect that ‘it’s only a game’ would never apply to them. The same could surely be said of every other patron there that evening, heavily involved as they were with advanced looking games like Great Western Trail and Zombie Boss, that looked to have their own monetary systems, political campaigns, and endless bits, the possible loss of which must surely stalk the manager’s nightmares. Deeper into the venue, I noticed tables which were actually designed for game play: one is hexagonal with swing out cup holders on each corner.
It’s a kooky night out, to be sure
You might imagine these more avid players, many of whom have crowd-funded and kick-started this venture, would be stereotypical males, the kind who played D&D in the school library at lunchtime and saw no reason to ever stop in adulthood. But no – there are plenty of ladies present. In recent times, being a geek somehow became cool – so cool that it soon went straight out of fashion again, and nerds went from being uncool in the first place to something worse: passé. But the engrossed gamers here look as though they care little, as they sit like goldfish in this brightly lit and wide windowed venue, for bemused passers-by to frown or gawp at. And why should they? Some of them even look hardy enough to hang on to their lunch money if challenged!
It’s a cosy enough venue, with cushions and a reading area with sofas and a small library of books (graphic novels, Doctor Who, novels about Warhammer characters etc). This comfort evokes hot drinks and cake, and so a pot of tea, a slice of carrot cake, and a lemon drizzle are ordered, and very tasty they are too! Enjoying victory as the last piece of Atlantis crumbled into the sea (my friend couldn’t believe I used my diving sea monster to sink her boat of three Atlantians, after she had spent the early part of the game being friendly towards mine. I had to explain that we were in competition, otherwise it’s not a board game but some sort of weird role play), I went on the hunt for a new game.
I had a hankering for Buckeroo or Operation
My friend didn’t fancy Ker-Plunk, and it was too late for Cards Against Humanity. I had a hankering for either Buckaroo or Operation, but neither were to be had. The same was true of Mouse Trap, though manager Nick did impart that they had one downstairs, though it didn’t quite work, so I opted for a game called Jumpin’ Monkeys. As we sat catapulting cardboard monkeys into a plastic tree for cardboard banana rewards, there were definite smirks from onlookers regarding our playing a game for ages five and up, though not very far up. Our more serious gaming neighbour was having none of it and assured us that gaming was supposed to be fun, and not to let it get to me. If only she knew how profound my indifference to those smirks truly was.
For the uninitiated it’s a kooky night out, to be sure. I find myself wondering how long it will last, given that these long haul games aren’t going to see the place enjoy the high turnaround of customer that most restaurants require to keep going. Does dining and gaming really go together? Does drinking and concentrating? The venue also sells games (although you are not permitted to bring your own in to play) as well as dice, accessories and so on, but will this generate enough to survive in this seemingly cursed corner of Croydon? With board game night a new feature of the newly refurbished Green Dragon pub just over the road, it’s hard to know whether this will sink the venture, or turn this part of Croydon into a gaming mecca for players not only in Croydon, but beyond. Time will surely tell.