Hackney is one of those places that makes me feel old and daggy. A hipster enclave in London’s vibrant inner east, it has one of the city’s youngest populations.
Buildings cloaked in colourful street art house craft breweries, funky cafes, dim bars and art galleries.
Young people saunter around in vintage clothing, looking cool while trying not to look like they’re trying to look cool. If they really didn’t want to look cool, they’d follow my lead and plod around in dad jeans and a polo shirt.
All this helps to explain why I feel out of place in Hackney and why I’m relieved to exit its streets into a space which, I assume, should be just as uncool as me. I open the doors of Draughts, a cafe dedicated to board games.
Back when I was young and sort of cool, board games were very uncool. Now that I’m very uncool, board games apparently have become cool.
The fact I use the word cool so liberally probably indicates why I’m embarrassingly unaware of the altered status of board games.
“It’s OK, you’ll be a king among the board game nerds,” my inner voice tells me as I step inside Draughts. That reassuring, imagined scenario wilts as I set sights on a seated customer. Tattoos, nose piercing, faded band T-shirt, vague air of indifference to the world. I’m uncool here, too.
“Calm down,” I tell myself, “you’re only 36 years old, not 66.” Then I look out the window, spot what looks like a 66-year-old in ripped jeans, and panic.
Of course, I’m exaggerating. What I actually feel is a mild degree of shame about my boring appearance, followed by a determination to alter perceptions of me by dominating a board game. Because that’s how you become cool again, right, by displaying mastery over Scattergories or Knit Wit?
So I Google which hot drinks are in fashion, order a double shot espresso, take ownership of a corner table and rise to peruse the board game library.
Stacked on shelf after shelf, more than 800 games are available at Draughts, one of half a dozen board game cafes spread across London. Among the games I spy titles such as Old Beyond Your Age, Fashion Illiterate, and Hey Dork! Then I realise even my vision is being distorted by social anxiety. In actuality the board games have more comforting names such as Cats and Crazy Circus.
But I’m on a mission to assert my uniqueness and zest so I reach for one called The Resistance. The font is dynamic, its anime-style characters look dangerous and it has a forceful subtitle: Secret Identities, Deduction and Deception. I’ll be satisfied if I can pull off the latter of those things and appear cool for half an hour.
I turn towards my table, holding the game in front of my chest so everyone in Draughts sees the edgy choice I’ve made, and take a seat.
As it turns out The Resistance is convoluted and confusing. I find no joy in it and curse myself for not instead selecting Hungry, Hungry Hippos. That ever-so-fun-looking game has the young couple nearby grinning and guffawing. More than 800 games and I pick the one with a 20-page rule book. It’s exhausting trying to be cool.
At least everyone else here is having a good time. I mean, it’s a cosy place with food, drinks and stacks of games, that’s a solid combination for someone seeking fun and relaxation. My mistake was entering with the wrong aim. Realistically, at this point, there’s not a board game or a cafe in the world that will help reinstate my coolness.
- Draughts in Hackney was the first board game cafe to open in London in 2014 and has since opened a second London branch in Waterloo.
- Draughts has an entry fee of $9 for customers seeking to use its board games, and also serves a wide range of hot food, snacks, hot drinks and local craft beers and ciders.