Offline Board Game Café Is An Uptown Winner

Café staff members Patrick Sorensen and Nicole Wolno. Image: Elizabeth MacLeod/Huddle

Saint John – The Offline Board Game Café has settled into uptown Saint John after living a nomadic existence for the past few months.

The café recently moved into 98 Prince William Street.

Susan Pass, the owner of the café and lifelong board gamer, developed the idea of opening a board game café a few years ago when her cousin had posted about one opening on PEI. She had also heard about similar business models in bigger cities.

“I grew up playing board games, and had 400 games in my own personal collection. They were always what my mom, my sister and I did together. I just wanted to play anything,” she said.

Pass says she believes the isolating “mind-your-own-business” mentality of smartphones and anonymity of online entertainment led to board games’ rise in popularity.

“I love video games, but I find these days they are very anonymous; you’re playing somebody online, you don’t even know who they are and nobody is really accountable for their behaviour. People are jerks to each other, they don’t know how to take turns, how to win or lose with grace or to appreciate somebody else’s strategy.”

RELATED: Offline Board Game Cafe Opens New Uptown Location

The café houses over 1,500 games that are alphabetized and easily accessible for customers.

“Our staff is pretty well versed in games and recommendations, anybody that works here that doesn’t have that background, is strongly encouraged to take games home with them, or they end up interested in the games through watching the joy on people’s faces,” Pass said.

One wall of Offline Cafe’s collection of games. Image: Elizabeth MacLeod/Huddle

Pass said she would like to see more families coming to the café and playing their games.

“I had a family come in at our last location and the teenage kids said they had never played a board game together before,” she said. “I do think there is a game for everybody; I feel like we’re here to almost prescribe games, to find the game that fits your life and your interests; it’s so much fun to do that. “

She also believes board games, no matter what type or difficulty level, are both educational tools and entertainment for the whole family.

“I’m actually working with the representative of the school board, Michelle Strandring, and compiled an index of board games that hit different educational outcomes, and we do the lunch program from Loch Lomond and events and outings with the school board and different schools,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t realize how much games teach their kids the skills to strategize and plan ahead and encourage literacy and math skills; they become ingrained in your child pretty early on,” Pass added.

Offline also held a game design workshop at Saint John High before the summer.

“I eventually want to have a scholarship fund, where every year we have a design contest and award the scholarship to the winner, and then take it one step further if they’re interested in, like, learning about how to do a Kickstarter. Because hundreds of millions of dollars in board games alone has been raised through Kickstarter,” Pass said.

She’s is also vigilant in making sure Offline Café and its board games can be enjoyed by everybody by having large-print playing cards for seniors and soon, installing a ramp.

“When we were looking at the first potential building for Offline, we were told we didn’t need an accessible washroom because the building wasn’t accessible, and I said there was no way I’m not being an accessible business,” she said.

“There was a guy who used to come out from Fredericton, specifically to us because we were accessible. I didn’t want a place that isn’t for everybody; I wouldn’t have taken this current place if I didn’t think I could get wheelchairs in here.”

Pass is also very proud of the environmentally friendly initiatives of her café.

“We compost and recycle everything and don’t use any takeout containers that aren’t compostable, or biodegradable,” she said.

“Our scorepads are laminated and we have a subscription for dry erase markers on Amazon and we have laminated half sheets for notepads at the resource station. That way if you’re keeping score, the sheets are reusable rather than just ending up with a bunch of waste.”

A fitting Scrabble sign for the Offline Board Game Cafe. Image: Elizabeth MacLeod/Huddle

Offline has had its peaks and valleys but the community space that the café has become is cause for celebration of all kinds.

“We had a family come in the other day and the little boy had been waiting and waiting for us to reopen. He was celebrating his last day of chemo so the whole family was celebrating. His mother contacted me throughout the closure, telling me he really, really just can’t wait to get back in,” Pass said.

“What Offline has become is really, really cool.”