One Woman's Dream: Her Own Board Game Cafe

Kathleen Miller has always dreamed of having a board game cafe, and she finally has the chance to make it a reality. How is this gamer tackling such a formidable task? One step at a time.

 

Dark Tower Games (DTG):

59% of hospitality businesses of all kinds fail in the first three years. Why a board game cafe? Why take the risk? 

 

Kathleen Miller (Kathleen):

Hudson, NY is in a unique position - we're actually seeing significant growth in the hospitality industry, with a number of new hotels, B&B's, and restaurants having opened in the last two years, or about to open. It's likely due to our position both geographically and in relation to the modern farm industry. We're two hours north of NYC by Amtrak or car, and in the heart of the New York State farm region. Hospitality is actually a secure industry in a tourist town like Hudson!

In regards to me, however: First, I'm obsessed with board games, especially the ones that tell a story and bring people together. I've been playing board games for as long as I can remember - we just found our childhood collection in mom's basement, and it had over fifty games that my sister and I split for our personal collections. In addition, I've been in food & wine (and hospitality) for the majority of my adult life - first restaurants, then in specialty wine & liquor retail. In all that time, I've felt that there's a disconnect between the professionals in the industry and the local communities. This lead me to take my original business plans for a restaurant and adapt them to be more broadly appealing.

I feel that businesses which benefit the broader community, especially through a combination of local and global efforts, end up being stronger for it. I'm also a huge advocate of kindness - both in my personal life and in business.
 

 

DTG:

What is it about your community that makes you so confident that they will accept and patronize your cafe?

 

Kathleen: 

Hudson is ready for something different from its usual haunts. It's a tourist town with a strong sense of community and a diverse local base. There's a trend here, to combine two seemingly disparate fields of business in one location - we have a bookstore that is a beer bar, a coffee shop that sells waffles and motorcycles, and a flower shop that carries the best sauerkraut I've ever tasted. We thrive on the unique, and although it's a small town, it is one that gets a significant amount of attention from travel journalists!

Yahoo Finance just published an article talking about how there's a shift - instead of going out to the Hamptons and buying second homes there, people are coming up to the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. Adding another form of entertainment, besides the usual bars and restaurants, can only help bring more families up here for vacation, and the more people we get coming through, the more will decide to move here and help continue to build up the area economically. We already have businesses like Etsy in town (they have one of their customer care centers here), and there's the potential for so much more, especially in the creative industries.

 

 

DTG:

Why crowdfunding? Is it too overplayed? Will enough locals fund it? Are you hoping non-locals will chip in? If so, what will motivate them to do so?

 

Kathleen:

Hah! I keep worrying that crowdfunding is overplayed, and it certainly seems to be a major source of funding for new board games, but every time I talk about Kickstarter, someone else asks me what it is! The hope is definitely that non-locals will chip in, because we're trying something new: a board game cafe aimed at everyone, not just the hobbyists. I have been a firm believer for much of my life that anyone can fall in love with a hobby, they just have to experience it the right way. I brought this belief to my wine career, and I'm bringing it to board games.

This is an opportunity for the wider board game community to become inclusive. I'm building a cafe where not only is everyone welcome, but we plan on using board games to help underserved communities, both in regards to economics as well as social. I have a number of anxiety, mood, and sensory disorders, and board games have helped me immensely. By holding events that are designed for various groups, such as those with UV sensitivities (Camp Sundown) and developmental disorders (Camphill), we will help to broaden the appeal of gaming.

I've mentioned social responsibility a couple times. Our policies are designed around being a good contributor to the economic and social communities. Our minimum wage is set at $15 - no service wages here - and our vendors include companies like Thrive Farmers, which works directly with the coffee farmers in Central and South America, cutting out the middleman and producing higher quality coffee that pays the farmers a living wage. We're setting up a way to offer Suspended Coffees, and our bagel company has a wonderful pay-it-forward program that supports City Harvest and Share Our Strength. 

As I say in the Kickstarter video - it's an opportunity for people all over the world to help drive the board game industry into a new, inclusive, kind direction. 

 

DTG:


Your space looks like it has a ton of potential. What's the first priority? What's the dream? 

 

Kathleen:

Right now, the priority is to get the construction finished and get the place open! Once we've launched, I'm looking forward to finding out what Hudson wants from us. The best businesses in town are responsive to the needs and desires of their customers, and it'll be great to hear what everyone has to say! 

Once we're off and running, I'm planning themed events every month, as well as establishing regular events for people to try new games, meet game developers, and maybe even a tournament or two. We won't be able to participate in this year's AMOK, but we'd like to put together a team for the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen, and start planning for the next Extra Life marathon. Basically, continuing the idea of community contribution. The events that are currently in the works include a gaming day for kids with severe UV sensitivities, a masquerade event for people with social anxiety and agoraphobia, and an event for people with sensory issues.

 

 

DTG:


It's interesting that you're planning a special space just for young children. What ages are you hoping to serve with it? How young is too young to start gaming? 

 

Kathleen: 

Most cafes assume that the littles aren't interested in gaming, or that their parents will game at home. Meg's Corner is designed to be a place where kids of all ages can entertain themselves - even infants! None of the toys will be electronic, and all will be infant- and toddler-friendly with no small parts. I have a five month old niece and a three year old nephew who are featured in the Kickstarter video, and they've been great test subjects for my plans! My nephew, Alex, has been interested in games for as long as I can remember. The art, the textures, and the ideas behind gaming fascinate him. He's played CandyLand with us a bit, though it's not his favorite, and he's been actively participating in games since Christmas, thanks to his favorite HABA game, Counting Fun. 

HABA is a fantastic company for little kid games. They produce a wide range of games, and all are clearly marked with the target age range, though I've found that even older kids enjoy them!

 

DTG: 


So people can receive memberships to the cafe as Kickstarter rewards. How does that work? Can only members come to the cafe to play games? 

 

Kathleen:

To call it a membership is admittedly a bit of a misnomer. It's what we call our gaming fee. As with most board game cafes, there's a small fee to play here. For one day of play, it's $5/person. But someone local may decide that they're coming in a lot more than that, so we also offer the ability to purchase weekly and monthly cards - when you sit down, your server will scan the card and it will take the daily fee off your bill. My husband is building the database and the user interface for that. 

Backers who aren't local to Hudson can choose to pay their membership option forward, to be available for use by a Hudson local who is in need (i.e. part of an after school program, wants to come play games but can't afford the extra $5, etc. Available memberships will be distributed on a first-come-first-serve basis, but will mostly be reserved for those under 18). We're still working out the details of how it wil function, but we love that our backers are so willing to give!

By the end of the first year, signing up for a weekly or a monthly membership will have another benefit - you can track your games! We'll have it set up that when you grab a game off the shelf, you scan its bar code, and your membership card, and it'll note the day that you played it. Part of that will also be a members-only section of the website, where you can make notes about the game, add in who else was playing, and who won. This will also let our staff recommend games, because they will see what you like and what you tend to play.

It's an advantage to having a husband who is also a professional web developer. He's happily plugging away at all of this, and it'll be a unique system in the industry when it's complete.

 

House Rules sounds like it will be a very special space. You can support it here!

Talking Cthulhu with the Creators of Cthulhu Confidential

This week we’re talking to Ruth Tillman and Chris Spivey, two of the creators of the new Cthulhu Confidential RPG for the GUMSHOE One-2-One system, from Pelgrane Press (main developer: Robin D. Laws).

 


 

Dark Tower Games (DTG):

First of all, please tell me a little bit about yourself, and your history with gaming.

 

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Ruth Tillman (Ruth):

I'm a librarian, history buff, and crafter. I started gaming in college when a classmate asked me if I might be interested in joining her D&D group. When I moved to the DC area after college, I eventually fell in with gamers who exposed me to all the other forms of the hobby. I got very involved in DC Gameday, where I got to sample all kinds of systems and storytelling. That's where I discovered the GUMSHOE system. I've been running games for Pelgrane at GenCon for a few years now and made the mistake of saying "Oh, I'll write my own" which is how I ended up writing gaming materials to begin with. It kinda snowballed.
 

 

Chris Spivey (Chris):

I am a father, husband, veteran, and a gamer of over 35 years. I started at age 5 or 6 and it just spiraled outward after that. My first game book was the red box D&D that I saved up months to buy. I discovered Lovecraft around the age of 14 and started running Call of Cthulhu shortly after that.   

 

DTG:

The Lovecraftian world and mythos is one of the most popular ones in geek circles, yet arguably difficult to navigate, due to the lack of a simple canon. Why pick this world for a new game? Is the market oversaturated with Cthulhu games?

 

Chris:

The market does have a number of Cthulhu-related products but nothing like One-2-One. That uniqueness brings something new and allows for an entire new field of games. It wouldn't be surprising if, by GenCon 51, dozens of games have followed in our footsteps.


Ruth:

There are certainly a lot of Cthulhu products out there. I consider the lack of a true canon a feature, not a bug. It gives the writer some flexibility in determining how a thing will play out in this particular situation. It also allows one to drop hints which make players think a thing is going one way and yet also align with a different creature. As for its suitability to the game, the original stories--not just Lovecraft's but other mythos writers'--involve a single person encountering cosmic horror. That solitary encounter with madness is something which other games just don't replicate.

 

DTG:

As fascinating as the mythos is, it often comes under serious critique for elements of racism and misogyny. How does your work combat these issues while remaining true to what fans of the mythos enjoy?

 

Ruth:

Phew. Well, I'll say that there's more racism than misogyny in the original stories. But the racism and misogyny of the stories comes primarily from humans and human perspectives. Well, except "The Street," I guess. There are certain aspects I try to exercise more care with--Deep Ones as allegories for interracial relationships, for example. Knowing that means that when I write something involving them, I'll do my best not to play up those sorts of themes.

The stories we're writing are set in the real world. So we've both written sections of the text suggesting ways to handle misogyny and racism in game play so that it doesn't simply evaporate but doesn't majorly detract from the experience of gameplay. And we each write scenarios for our characters being aware that they simply can't do some things the white male private investigator (the third character in the core book) can do. It offers us opportunities for creativity in the actual encounters with cosmic horror.
 

Chris:


I believe that true fans of Lovecraft embrace the Mythos and aspects of Cosmic horror more so than the actually racism and misogyny displayed by the man in his works. The Mythos doesn't care what race, gender or political party you are.

But at the same time, we have a chance, and the responsibility really, to expand the Mythos with new protagonists that don't fall into the "norm" of a bygone age and that still haunts us today.


 

DTG:

How does GUMSHOE One-2-One differ from other rules sets? Why does it work well with noir for a perfect Cthulhu story?
 

Chris:

I remember trying to run solo Cthulhu games using other systems and it never worked out quite right. But One-2-One has something magical about it. It captures the essence of noir, which is usually focused on a lone protagonist struggling against corruption, just trying to make ends meat to get to the next day and hold onto some scrap of decency. That endeavor goes incredibly well with the concepts surrounding battling the Mythos. There's a protagonist, usually a little more fainting-inclined, trying to sort out a mystery or uncover some sanity shattering truth alone. At best, they have some contacts, but no one is really going to believe them. Their fight is to get to the truth and hold on to a scrap of sanity.


Ruth:

I admit I was skeptical of the idea of One-2-One actually working with GUMSHOE investigation. But when I first played--it blew me away. It captures the feel of traditional mystery style in which no person has all the skills but, rather than having a person in your party, you have a connection to someone else who helps you get that kind of information. It's not unrealistic and it builds more of a world in which you play in which you're a person with actual connections. It also handles succeeding and failing at rolling dice differently. Consequences aren't just success or failure; it gets creative with consequences.

Noir is so bleak. It's just so bleak. I've spent the last year mentally immersing myself in it--I've watched a ton, read a ton, and sometimes I feel like I have to come up for air. So it mashes well with the mythos themes of powerlessness against an unforgiving cosmos. And it requires one to be, ultimately, alone. What I said before about connections and a world is true, but ultimately… It's on you.

 

DTG:

What appeals to you about the One-2-One setting (a single player paired with a single GM)? How does this setup enhance your theme?
 


Ruth:

First, as I said above, there's the intensity. They had to add a section to the book about managing intensity because otherwise you can get 3 hours into a game without a break. No natural breaks arise they way they do with a group of players. It's great for noir/mythos, in particular, but it can be overwhelming.

Second, it allows two people to explore a story together. Even though these scenarios have to be tightly written, they still never play out the same way twice. It's a place where a person who's newer to gaming can explore with the comparative safety of one person they trust. They don't have to worry about making mistakes in front of a group. They don't have to worry about being talked over by other players. A number of playtesters for my scenarios have been women who either don't game or don't game much playing with their partners. And while that's not the only kind of pair we're going for, it makes me extremely happy to think of the other possibility which the system in general offers to women who love mysteries (cozies, urban fantasy, etc.) and don't generally game but are married to a gamer.* Also, it's much much easier to get a party of two together!

*And to flip this on its head, my husband is that kind of person and GUMSHOE One-2-One was his first-ever RPG. However as someone writing scenarios for a female protagonist, I think I'm more likely to hear about women being introduced to gaming through it.


 

Chris:

Having a single Keeper and single player enables you to create and maintain mood better than in a group of people. Usually at my table, there is that one person that needs to crack a joke to break the mood if it feels too real.

But mood really helps players get into the character and engage with the story. As a writer, there is nothing I like better than seeing players fully in character and they don't even notice it themselves. The choices feel more weighted when all you have to rely on are your wits, smarts and a good right hook. The pressure is also amplified by a magnitude of five or six.

In short for me, the One-2-One setting makes it more engaging and easier to access storytelling.



Thanks to Ruth and Chris for talking about their new game! You can find more info at the Pelgrane Press page, and follow both Ruth and Chris on Twitter. Chris would also like to shamelessly plug his project Harlem Unbound, which is live on Kickstarter right now.