Say, Springfield, who’s up for a board game?
Enough people to keep a small business thriving, if Jess and Sarah Hamlet play it right.
“People just inherently love games,” Jess Hamlet said. “Our tagline is ‘Come meet your new favorite game.’”
They’re set to open the Village Meeple Board Game Café on June 17 — the city’s first, and one that’s more about the games, less about the café. Judging from the traffic on its Facebook page and support from the Hamlets’ orbit of friends, it could replace the kitchen table as our regular gathering spot for a round of play with family and friends.
Springfieldians may be familiar with brewery bars, coffeehouses and cafes that keep a small stash of board games. Village Meeple is about games, first.
Admission will be $5 per person to claim a table and play in pairs or groups — all the games they like, for as long as they like. The café will open with about 200 games. They’ll sell prepackaged snacks and soft drinks and tea. Gamers age 21 and older can buy beer, wine and seltzers.
“We don’t want to be a bar, but when we play, we like to grab a game and a drink and sit and have fun with our friends,” Jess Hamlet said.
She also plans to sell a small selection of games and her handcrafted gaming accessories such as dice towers, which she sells through her company Geek Ethos on Etsy.
Gaming cafes trending upward worldwide
Board game cafes are thriving worldwide. One industry blogger estimates they operate in 63 foreign countries and at least 239 U.S. cities – six in Missouri. Branson has a board game café that the Hamlets had hoped to buy when it came up for sale some time ago. Someone beat them to it — a blessing in disguise, Jess says, since they live, play and work in Springfield. Both are at CoxHealth — Sarah in process improvement, Jess in occupational medicine.
Jess figured, “We’ll just build it here, do the schtick of being more of a community place where people can gather and learn and do something different and fun together. That’s the vision I had for it.”
Village Meeple Board Game Cafe is also the only woman-owned gaming cafe in Springfield. They’ve kept the startup cost under $20,000 by doing the work themselves. After leasing a 3,000-square-foot, three-level suite at 1570 E. Battlefield Road, Suite F, in March, the couple, their parents and friends have scrubbed, patched, painted and polished the floors to get it ready for play.
“You don’t stop playing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop playing. We’re going to put that quote on the wall,” Jess Hamlet said. “That’s the kind of vibe we’re going for. We want to be inclusive to all ages and skill levels.”
Their goal is to build a library of 500-750 games, from playing cards to Clue to Castles of Burgundy. Or try Hamlet, a popular game with no apparent family connection to the cafe owners.
To keep it interesting, the entrepreneurs also plan workshops and classes, Uno and Connect 4 tournaments, and jigsaw puzzle showdowns. They’ll bring in Springfield Little Theatre friends to talk about improving and building your character’s back story to improve their RPG – role playing game.
Questing while enjoying brunch
B&G&D&D, anyone? That’s Biscuits & Gravy and Dungeons & Dragons – a real brunch you eat, and a game. That’s a Jess idea.
“It’s not uncommon to have a few surprises when working on a project with your spouse, and she’s thrown in a couple of curveballs in the last few months, but in a good way,” Sarah Hamlet said. “I’m always impressed when she talks with me about an idea she has for a new feature she wants to put into the cafe, and it’s usually such a well-suited concept and it’s fun and it checks all the boxes of something you’d expect when you visit this type of business.”
They’ll also introduce Friday Date Nights, and Wednesdays We Play, where Jess will teach a new game every week. A third-level mezzanine will be available for parties – birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette, corporate team-building events and company happy hours. Jess will be available to teach the groups how to play the games.
Like the Hamlets, many of us grew up playing games with friends or family. Some of us went from Clue to Catan and never looked back. Some of us stopped at Candyland.
Jess gets that. Games can be intimidating, she says, “and sometimes the people teaching games can be intimidating because they’re really into it.”
This is it. Don’t get scared now
And don’t be afraid to ask: A “meeple” is a people-shaped marker usually made of wood that players scoot along a game board track, and other moves depending on the game.
“Having a place where you can learn properly, it takes a little bit of the scariness away from it. My goal is that, any game I can teach you, but I want to teach you one you can actually enjoy. We have games that take eight hours or longer. That doesn’t appeal to everybody. There is a game for everybody,” Jess Hamlet added. “It’s just a matter of, ‘We’ve got to find it.’”
It could very well be Clue. Or Candyland. Or it could be the Dungeons and Dragons offshoot Lords of Waterdeep. Or it might be Bunny Kingdom.
“Growing up I recall learning to play classic card games like Spades and word-based staples, such as Scrabble,” Sarah Hamlet said. “They are really some of my favorites to still play today, and I think some of those fundamental strategies built into the timeless games extend into almost any modern board game that comes to our dinner table today.”
The more complex board games can cost $45 and higher. The more components, the more expensive, so the two scour Facebook Marketplace, friends’ closets, and Jess is getting a distributor license to buy for the cafe.
They don’t plan to compete with Springfield’s retailers.
“We’re supportive of those stores,” Jess Hamlet said.
She likes the way companies like Meta Games and Silver Twilight each specialize selling a niche product along with regular games.
“We think they are a vital part of this gaming community,” Jess Hamlet said. “We just want to be a part of it and see it grow, because I think there’s enough interest and enough awesome gamer people — or gamers who don’t know they’re gamers yet — in Springfield for all of us to play.”
Village Meeple Board Game Café
Owners Jess and Sarah Hamlet
1570 E. Battlefield Road, Suite F
Expected opening: June 17