By Manta Klangboonkrong
IN THIS DIGITAL age, when playing games mostly means plucking away at a digital device or spending hours on online, the board games of the past are all but forgotten, reduced to gathering dust in attics or sold as collectibles to a small niche market.
Yet the past couple of years have seen a reversal of fortune for old-fashioned board games. Granted, people are still attached to their electronic devices but they also want to spend quality time with their loved ones – physically rather than digitally. And that’s where the board game comes in.
Sravadi “Ying” Pdungsiriset, founded Lanlalen Cafe in 2009. A simple coffee shop when it first opened, it later turned into a full-scale board game cafe. Standing opposite Mahidol University in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom, it draws a healthy clientele of students and local families.
“When we first opened we faced a lot of competition from the other coffee shops nearby,” Ying recalls. “We also run a tutor school and we had just introduced board games to teach and entertain the young children, so we brought some over to the cafe and asked the customers to help us review the games. They had so much fun, they kept coming back asking to try other games and so we became known as a board game cafe.”
Ying adds that she was surprised to learn that Thailand already had a small but thriving board game community, although she points out that its members tend to communicate online rather than in person.
“There’s the website ThaiBoardGame.net and a few others where people from all over the country buy and exchange board games, review games and share information about new games. There are similar communities in Singapore and Malaysia. We hadn’t heard much about board games because there aren’t many venues like ours where people come to play. Most board game enthusiasts just play at home with friends. That’s one of the reasons why our business has lasted almost six years. People love trying out new games in a comfortable setting and meeting new friends.”
Playing games is a great way of spending unhurried time together. As an added bonus, board games are also rich in learning opportunities for both youngsters and adults. Games don’t need to be overtly academic to be educational, however, Just playing them teaches important social skills, such as communicating verbally, sharing, waiting, taking turns, and enjoying interaction with others. Board games can foster the ability to focus, and lengthen the attention span by encouraging the completion of an exciting, enjoyable game.
Kanokorn “Jan” Suwanakul, one of the patrons of Meeples and More, another board game cafe on central Bangkok’s Soi Ruamrudee, says she fell in love with board games because they are great stress relievers.
“They take your mind off other things, especially when you’re playing with a bunch of friends, because you get to think in groups, strategise and collaborate. You bond more too when you spend real time together. Talking face to face for a couple of hours is far more fulfilling than chatting online all afternoon.
“I still get strange looks when I tell people that I like playing board game in a cafe. They immediately assume I am talking about playing violent video games in an Internet cafe. It’s not until I show them pictures of the board games we play that they understand and they’re inevitably amazed that such places exist in Bangkok.”
Board games, if chosen properly, can greatly benefit young children and help them learn in a fun, social environment. They satisfy children’s competitive urges and the desire to master new skills and concepts, such as number and shape recognition, grouping, counting, letter recognition and reading, eye-hand coordination and manual dexterity. Most importantly, it brings everyone in the family closer together.
“I stumbled across Lanlalen Cafe while driving around with my wife,” says father-of-two Somchart, aka Yok.
“We just wanted coffee but decided to try one of the games to kill time. Our next thought was that that we had to bring our kids, or at least buy some of these games for home. It’s fun and engaging, and unlike computer games, you get to talk and interact with each other.
“We haven’t had the chance to bring them to the cafe yet but we did buy a few board games from Ying to play at home. Now instead of watching TV or playing computer games, we gather round the table and play board games. Their grandparents also get to talk to them about social rules, fair play, how to be a good winner and loser as well as ethics and morals during the game and they don’t feel like we’re preaching or nagging. They are more open to listen, and inspired to come up with new ideas.”
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