With the pick of a card and a roll of the dice, fun is to be found in the decidedly non-digital board game
If you see university students gathered around a game of Monopoly, and not a mobile phone in sight, you must be watching an old movie, right? No, it’s the present day, almost every day, live at board-game cafes like Meeples & More in Bangkok and Lan La Len in Nakhon Pathom.
This hyper-connected digital age doesn’t quite have everyone as enthralled as we’re led to believe. The utterly low-tech board game is still widely enjoyed (and no one’s dying from overuse). It’s cardboard instead of microchips, dice rather than mice, and literal rather than virtual interaction.
Lan La Len, opposite Mahidol University’s Salaya campus, is always crowded with students who’ve switched off their gadgets – at least temporarily – to socialise for awhile in person rather than via online networks. This is a friendly, homey place with comfy chairs, big enough for about 45 people. The shelves are piled high with 500 games in their boxes. You can drop by with friends or family of drag in your employees for a little strategic-planning exercise.
Sravadi Pdungsiriset and her friends deliberately set out to lure people away from the TV and computer when they opened Lan La Len four years ago. Fostering an arguably better use of your brain than scrolling through Facebook, they charge Bt65 for the first hour of gaming (plus a beverage) and Bt35 per hour after that.
“I used parlour games as learning tools for the kids while I worked as a stand-in teacher,” says Sravadi. “Playing games enhances rational thinking, teamwork and the power of observation – and that goes for people of all ages.”
Thais never did fully embrace board games, mainly because most games come from overseas, so the instructions are in a foreign language (usually English). The staff at Lan La Len is there to help, though, and the Thai-language “LanlalenCafe” YouTube channel has a complete video guide to all the rules.
“First-time customers might be confused about how to get started,” Sravadi acknowledges. “We suggest games that will fit their interests and available time.
“One game that’s really good for the family is Ticket to Ride, which is quite simple and can be taught in a few minutes. The players get to make intense tactical decisions on every turn as they collect cards showing different types of railway cars. Then they redeem the cards for railroads, and the longer the railway route, the more points they earn.”
Children age four and up will improve their memorising skills and ability to recognise patterns by playing Zicke Zacke. You have to watch for when a hidden card is revealed during other players’ turns. Locate the most hiding cards and you win the game.
If you fall in love with a particular game you can buy it to take home, or, if you purchase a gold membership, you can borrow it overnight or for a few days.
Meanwhile in Bangkok, Tanai Porasupattana has just opened Meeples & More Board Game Cafe a short walk from the Ploenchit Skytrain station. It too is full of students and young professionals – the very people you’d most expect to see with their faces buried in an iPad.
Meeples & More can accommodate 30 customers in its two storeys, with a selection of more than 100 games available for Bt50 an hour or Bt150 per day. Drinks and snacks are also on sale, the fuel to keep you going.
“Most Thais only know Monopoly and Uno, but there’s a huge range of games made for people of all ages,” says Tanai. “Playing with people face to face is a lot more satisfying than playing online, and it’s a lot of fun for families and groups of friends. I want people to slow down in life and leave the mobile and the computer alone for a while.”
Thanapha Putthanuparp was never big on games, but she had so much fun on her first visit that she’s back today for the third time. This time her friend Raiwada Kwanthong has come along.
“I’m not a geek about online games – board games suit me better,” Thanapha says. “I can spend up to three hours here, and the more friends you have with you, the more fun it is. I’ve even made new friends here.”
Raiwada had never played a board game before. “Today I played Kahuna and it was really fun – it has intriguing effects on the brain!”
While Meeples & More is new, the Polar Board Games & Cafe has been around for four years. Pathitta Pornpiranon and Paradee Sattarujawong started out at the Crystal Design Centre and made it a popular hangout for families. Now they’ve moved to another mall, the Nine, where they also run a Chinese-language school called Learning East. Here, though, the board games are strictly teaching tools, using in tutoring children ages four to eight.
“We have more than 200 games to build up five essential skills – memory, observation, setting goals, analysis and making decisions,” Pathitta explains. She says the game called Candy is great for developing observational and analytic skills and concentration. “You roll three dice and try to find the pieces of candy that match the colours shown on the dice.”
Their one-hour course costs Bt400. Blocks of 10 to 20 hours range in price from Bt280 to Bt320 per hour.
“Because everyone today is living life in the fast lane, parents don’t have as much time to play with their children, so they just give them digital gadgets to keep them quiet,” says Paradee, who also coaches schoolteachers and corporate personnel officials.
“So the kids end up totally focused on the screen, never interacting with other people or observing the world around them. They don’t learn how to lose, tolerate, concentrate or share.”
The benefits of teamwork are readily learned while playing the cooperative game Stone Soup, Paradee says. The players share the task of cooking soup by matching up all the ingredients before the cooking fire goes out – then everyone wins.
To bolster the imagination, as well as communication skills, Pathitta recommends Story Cubes. There are nine cubes with a different icon on each face, for a total of 54 different icons. All nine cubes are rolled at once to generate nine random images, from which you have to concoct a story, beginning with “Once upon time...”
“It really stretches a child’s mind to make up a story based on the combinations of the cubes,” Pathitta says. “I even use this game in workshops for employers who want to unify their staff and improve communications. You can almost feel both sides of your brain dancing!”
THIS PLAY DOES PAY
>>> Lan La Len Board Game Cafe is opposite Mahidol University’s Salaya campus in Nakhon Pathom. It’s open daily from 10 to 9. Call (081) 850 1453 or search for “LanlalenCafe” on YouTube and Facebook.
>>> Meeples & More Board Game Cafe is on Soi Ruamrudee and open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 to 11. Call (02) 651 4349.
n Polar Play Games is on the third floor of the Nine mall on Rama IX Road. Call (02) 716 7836.
>>> See a Thai-language database of player reviews of board games at www.ThaiBoardGame.net. The English-language forum can be found at www.BoardGameGeek.com.