Play Nice and Pass The Sugar
Ever tossed a Monopoly board mid-way through a game? Cheated on checkers or stormed out over Battleships? You’re not alone. Board games may look like simple pass-times for placid children, but don’t be fooled. They’re dangerous time-bombs that cause blue murder and break-up happy families. But, fortunately, the effects are temporary and these real-life games have the uncanny ability to keep us all coming back for more.
One trio of local entrepreneurs love a good board game, so much so they’ve opened a new board game café in Liverpool. At Sugar and Dice, coffee can come with a side order of Cluedo or Kerplunk and the brioche rolls, with a high-stakes roll of a dice.
We indulged our competitive side at Liverpool’s latest themed café to discover why an old childhood favourite, or a new breed of modern game, beats all the cat and clock watching café’s in the world, hands down. Here are 12 steps to Liverpool’s Sugar and Dice.
First step – ASSEMBLY
The story behind the new café is as unconventional as the place itself. Husband and wife team Jason Leather and Vanessa Abel lived and worked in Berlin, running their own freelance media coordination company. When they weren’t working they could usually be found in one of Berlin’s many board game cafés. They were so hooked they decided to bring the concept back to Liverpool. Unbeknownst to them, talented baker and business woman, Rachel Button had the same idea. But rather than compete (and despite professional business advice to the contrary) they all decided to join forces to make their dream a reality, a strategic move that’s paying off.
2ND Step – DEFINING ROLES
Fortunately, Vanessa, Jason and Rachel each bring something unique to the team. Rachel ran a café before and is a dedicated cake maker. Jason’s knowledge of board games, new and old, is second to none and Vanessa prides herself on her socail media skills, excellent customer care and innovative ideas. That and she always wins “literally every game she has ever played. It’s so annoying” explained Jason. “It’s a gift” suggests Vanessa.
3rd Step – SETTING THE BOARD
The Sugar and Dice team selected Cornhill, close to the Baltic area of Liverpool City Centre as the perfect venue to set up shop. The giant corner windows give passers by a sneak peek at the gaming going on inside and the concept is popular with young, creative types that live and work in the area. Sometimes too popular. “We’ve been so full over the weekends that we suggest people make a reservation, we’ve even had queues out the door!”.
4th Step – EXPERT GAMEPLAY
Vanessa, Jason and Rachel are more than familiar with the rules of each game and during rare quiet periods they play them. “But we call it staff training” insists Vanessa. “Our knowledge helps people go straight into gameplay and we’re on hand to answer questions”. “Everybody hates reading the rules” asserts Jason.
5th Step – TAKING OUT THE COMPETITION:
Now lots of cafés have the odd dusty board game in the corner. Sugar and Dice are different. Their games, more than 350 of them, are central to the café’s offer. With titles like ‘Exploding Kittens’ and Rainbow Rage and ‘The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen,’ the hardest thing (apart from beating Vanessa) is choosing from their collection. Rachel believes their range of games keep people coming back for more: “You could play a different game each day of the year, and we’re getting new games in all the time. People tend to think in terms of the classics, the games they grew up with. But there’s a world of new, revolutionary board games here, so we like to recommend new games”.
6th Step – TEA BREAK
Games aside, Sugar and Dice, sweeten the deal with an ever changing menu. New cakes are baked daily and local ingredients are used whenever possible. There’s the core offer of sandwiches, bagels and treats, but the team like to shake things up a bit with new daily specials. Jason explained: “We’re still developing the menu. Jacket potatoes, home-made quiches, pies and lots of vegan and gluten free options. We take note of what people are asking for, then we make that. It’s all very fluid”.
7th Step – ALL SYSTEMS GO
Pubs have pub quizzes, Sugar and Dice have game nights, specifically ‘Go’ – a 3,000-year-old Chinese game of strategy, comparable to chess, but better, insists Jason: “It’s a simple game with limitless possibilities. It’s tactical and intuitive and it really gets people hooked. We’re currently developing a programme of game nights, where everyone plays the same game because people still appreciate a shared experience. I think we miss that these days.”
8th Step – CONGENIAL COMPETITIVENESS
And that’s not all people miss. In this world of mobile games, immersive tech and 3D projection mapping, there’s still plenty of good things to be said for the humble board game. Vanessa explained their enduring appeal: “The atmosphere when this place is full is incredible. You look around and all you see is people smiling. They’re not on their phones, they’re engaging with each other and enjoying playing with real people.
“What’s really exciting, for us, is witnessing the creation of a new little community. People come in on their own and start playing with other people. Different groups talk to each other and share tips and end up playing together. It’s social activity that doesn’t revolve around drinking and it has health benefits too. It keeps people’s minds sharp and improves any number of skills”.
9th Step – BOLD MOVES
Despite next to no marketing, other than word of mouth, Sugar and Dice are winning a full house and unanimous 5-star reviews online. This success has got the team contemplating their next move. “We staged a corporate event for Sony, that went down really well. They loved it. All these techy men and women really took to board games and interacted with each other in a way that no other team bonding exercise could replicate. It wasn’t forced, it was natural, so we’re now developing a corporate event package. We’re also applying for a drink license and taking on staff to help with the day to day running of the place. It’s early days, but the signs are good. There’s plenty of room for growth and we still have everything to play for” said Rachel.
10th Step – STAY CALM AND STEP AWAY FROM THE GAME
Overall Sugar and Dice attracts a nice crowd, good sports and happy-go-lucky heroes in it for the love of the game. But every now and then the odd bad penny shows up, in the form of cowardly cheats, ruthless rule dodgers and hostile, hotel grabbing greed mongers, sacrificing shared good times for the glory of winning, at whatever the cost.
How does the team deal with such sore losers? “We have a board out the back to record the most extreme reactions and the funny things people say”. (‘You sunk my friendship! is a current favourite’) “We kind of love sore losers, it’s more entertaining. That’s why we got these really solid oak tables, you can’t flip them. But it’s all fun and games. No fisticuffs yet” said Vanessa.
11th Step – IF YOU CAN’T BEAT THEM…
But Jason believes that the best games needn’t pit one player against another. “A lot of modern games are cooperative, where people actually work together to beat the game, so there’s a shared goal. This is great especially great for Kids and parents, who want them to play nice.
“One of all of our favourite games is called Crokinole, possibly the world’s best game. It’s a table top dexterity game and it’s the kind of thing you can play whilst still catching up with a mate, and it can be taught in two minutes. Once people have played it, they get addicted and keep coming back for more.
12th Step – THERE’S MORE TO GAMES THAN MEETS THE EYE
For some, games are a serious business and for the team at Sugar and Dice, there’s more to board games than meets the eye. Jason said: “I’m a massive board game geek and these games always say something about the time they were created.
“Game design has come on leaps and bounds over the last few decades, we’re living in a golden age of board gaming and design right now. Games used to be roll-and-move with the luckiest roller coming out on top. Now, designers and publishers are running wild bringing great innovation, variety and freedom to new games.
“There is everything imaginable, cooperative games, dexterity games, games that reward players who have nerves of steel. The great thing is that all this innovation is behind-the-scenes, people don’t think about it. It simply helps everyone have more fun. Board games today cater to all desires. Choice and variety is what it’s all about”.”
So if you’re in town, feeling lucky and fancy some great cake and coffee while you’re at it, head to Sugar and Dice. It’s your move.