Producing Fun #6: Nick Smith - Boardgame Cafe Co-owner

Producing Fun #6: Nick Smith - Boardgame Cafe Co-owner

Producing Fun is a podcast about making tabletop games from a product perspective.

Nick Smith and his wife Carrie are the co-owners of the Ludoquist boardgame cafe in Croydon, London: a hugely successful venue which won the global award for best retail store at GAMA in 2020 and has been featured multiple times on UK television. In this episode we get stuck into the economics of game cafes, his ambitious and inclusive vision for a café where everyone is a gamer and managing a hospitality business in the age of Covid.

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​​I'm James, and this is producing fun, a podcast about making games from a product perspective. Welcome to Producing fun. My guest this week is Nick Smith, owner of the ludicrous boardgame cafe here in my hometown of Croydon. The looter quest is an amazing venue. It has a fantastic selection of games, good food friendly staff and a brilliant atmosphere. But don't take my word for it. Looter quest  also has a legitimate claim to being the best game cafe in the world. At the start of 2020, it won the award for outstanding store for the world's most important tabletop game industry body gamma, the US based game Manufacturers Association. This is an impressive enough achievement of itself. But it's rendered even more incredible when you consider that to Nick's knowledge that  looter quest is not only the first UK establishment to win this award, but the only game cafe in the world to have claimed the title so far. When this news was announced, I was hugely proud for both him and my hometown. But I was not actually that surprised. The attention to detail, smart strategy and determination to make something great was obvious from its opening back in 2017. So far, I'm yet to visit anywhere in North America or the UK. That's better. A savvy and experienced mind at work was printed all over this venue from the very beginning. But interviewing him underlined exactly why it has been so successful. First, Nick and his wife, Carrie, are an excellent team. And it's very clear how much with their different areas of focus, their partnership allows the venue to fire on all cylinders. Second, and maybe even more importantly, it's also clear that they have a truly compelling and sincere vision for a game cafe where everyone is included from aficionados of rare heavy Euro games, to Saturday night cocktail parties. If you play games, you're a gamer in Nick's book, his drive to make sure those people and everyone in between all have a lot of fun is quite something I think it's safe to say that Nick knows a thing or two about running a game cafe. If you've ever been curious to know about the economics of these businesses, this is in keeping with Nick's incredibly honest to a fault character, the most transparent description you're ever likely to hear. But even if you aren't, it doesn't really matter. Nick is such a switched on strategically minded business person, there's bound to be insights to mine here that are useful to anyone trying to make a living out of games. We joined just as Nick is describing his previous venture, the IT company, which provided the solid financial foundation for his foray into the world of hospitality.

Speaker 2


Thank you in 2017. I ran it so 22 years. Wow. And then handed over to a managing director. He will then hand over the managing director when I started Looter Quest.

Speaker 1


Right. Okay, wow. And so and so why on earth did you start the IT company, then what was it that led you into that?

Speaker 2


Oh, God, well, that's interesting. Let's go with I was at university. Well, let's let's let's go probably so I got into recovery from alcoholism at age 24. Right, having spent six years in Northern Ireland at university, running the student bar and drinking it dry, right. And I came back to London, which was place of birth and got into recovery, and subsequently went back to university and actually got a degree this time instead of spending all the time messing around, right. And in my degree, I was doing business and it and I was doing a project about ethical investment, which is the concept that you should buy shares ethically with a view to avoiding mine manufacturers, for example. Yeah. Or proactively purchasing environmentally friendly companies. And I was interviewing somebody about that guy called Charles meadow, who was an activist in that world. And he started talking to me about what I was doing as a student and I started doing it and he said, Do you consult? Yes. And then I had an IT company.

Speaker 1


So, so when prompted this this spur of the moment moment, you're just like, well, I'll just say yes, that I'm an IT consultant. And then you became an IT consultant.

Speaker 2


And I saw it. Yeah. I mean, what we are what we say we are, to some degree always profoundness but yes, that's that is pretty much how it happened. And I originally it was primarily around web design, right? And I went off and helped him build his website.

Speaker 1


That must have been very early for like web design. He was a full range of the big boom and kind of web design agencies that happened like a few years later, right? Yes. Well,

Speaker 2


it was at a stage where I could call myself a web designer, because I was a technician who understood HTML, not because I understood marketing colour schemes and fonts, right? I see. Yes, yeah. And I very quickly discovered over the next couple of years, but web design was a marketing thing, not a technical thing, and morphed for company into a technical element. So it was all about infrastructure, doing internet instals printers, making networks work together. sort of interesting. So

Speaker 1


So actually, isn't that you started as an employee in someone else's it firm? You went just straight into running your own business? Pretty much I have

Speaker 2


essentially never worked for anybody else. Oh, wow. Extraordinary. Other than like, a two week holiday, once, right? Which, which is very odd and unusual. I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing.

Speaker 1


Which is difficult. Tell me because I sort of want to ask the question. What's it like being like that, but I guess you don't have the comparison point to having been an employee? Right?

Speaker 2


I think he has negatives and positives. So so the negative is, I never really got taught how to be any sort of businessman by by, you know, I was never mentored into being a business. But right,


that make sense.

Speaker 2


And I think that probably means I can come at things with slightly open eyes and slightly odd angles. Because I'm not to rely on an industry standard manual, an internal manual, if you like. Yeah. But equally probably means. I'm sure that over years, it's meant that processes have been done inefficiently, because I'm not picking up on all the experience of other people having taught me, I mean, yeah, I can Google stuff. And I can read, be expert who says this is how you do this sort of department, but I'm sure there's a certain amount of, you know, not having had that background that impact on what I

Speaker 1


  1. Yeah, that's really interesting. So I guess it means you're having to, or you're more likely to perhaps, reinvent the wheel a little bit, I guess, at times is the risk of that. Yes. But the upside is that you also don't kind of necessarily just repeat bad habits or things that doing wrong and thinking way. Because it strikes me that is the that's that's the flip side problem, right?

Speaker 2


That's probably true. And I think, you know, opening the looter quest, I'd never, I'd never worked in hospitality. I've never worked in retail.

Speaker 1


Interesting. But But although you hadn't done that, as I think I said in the sort of trail for this episode, you actually won the Best outstanding game, retailer or cafe last year,

Speaker 2


power retailer of the Year Award from gamma. So that's a global award right of the hobby game industry. I think we were first board game Cafe when it was certainly first Cafe. We also won the bet best designed store. Safe. So it's so we won two awards, which is unusual. And we are. I wonder if Dave will ever hear this. But I believe we are the only UK store to have ever won two awards at gamma. Wow. It's not a no not typical thing. So yeah, technically, we are the best game store in the world. And this year, they awarded it to every member of gamma because it was such a weird year. So we are the best game store in the year, two years in the world two years in a row. Oh, wow. It's always going to claim. Yeah,

Speaker 1


exactly. Isn't that a little bit like when they sort of cancelled the Olympics during the Second World War, though, there's sort of your record gets to last a little bit longer, I guess.

Speaker 2


raunch of a reigning Olympics cricket champions, because they won 18 1900. Last time, so yes, it is on those lines. Yes.

Speaker 1


Oh, one amazing fact. I'm going to going to keep that in mind that it might relate to I love that. That's fantastic. But yeah, that's really cool. I mean, I would say that's, that's testament to the power of thinking differently than really like to achieve that level of success. I mean, certainly, it's an it's incredibly impressive here. And I know I'm very grateful to have such a fantastic story as you've created right on the doorstep, really. So that's probably a great point then to start talking a little bit about, about why you started to looter quest because if I could ask the question, why on earth would you start an ID company? That least sounds like quite a sensible kind of business to get into. Why would you start a board game bricks and mortar retail business in the late teenis is Maybe a less obvious commercial choice,

Speaker 2


because I was very, very bored with an IT company for 25 years, I think is the answer. I so there were certain few a few things fit into it. First of all I was I was bored with the IT company. But the IT company gave me a certain career financial security, which is important. We'll, we'll come to that I had, a lot of my relaxation is always involved games. And for a long time, I was a video gamer and I was an online video game. And I found that actually, online video gaming, even when I was theoretically playing with other people, was an inherently lonely thing. I think it may have changed a little bit now. Because video games, you know, you, you've got your discord, and you've got a built in chat facilities in every single online game. And that wasn't so much the case, say 10 years ago. So going back probably eight or nine years, I started casting around for other hobbies. I keep fish so water and fresh. But But again, that's a fairly lonely occupation, or solitary, I think it's

Speaker 1


not as great. It's usually social, even if I'm sure there are conventions and events and people go to our and

Speaker 2


there are forums, but it's essentially, I have built this beautiful fish tank. And yeah, and I'm the one who clears out fish poop. Yeah. Yes, yeah. And so I found a meetup group that had recently started in Croydon called Croydon, board gamers are run by a lady called Emma, and went along to it, having not played very much board games, I had a friend who I play fairly regularly with, he and his girlfriend have played Catan a lot. And we've got my four year old daughter, we're starting to play turn to great games play with your kids, because you can give them very generous trade so you're not actually cheating in their favour, right, I could help them stay competitive and not get very annoyed, but


I never thought about it from that perspective was quite interesting.

Speaker 2


Trading games are good for kids all levels, but anyway, so I played but the rest of the modern board gaming scene was more or less passing me by and I went coin board gamers and found pranky upstairs in a pub. I think it will just cross road in fact from where it's at now upstairs in green dragon and that was about five or six it grew to about 10 people that day and we played board games and I think I dragged my daughter along actually and she just went and hugged everybody which was going on Yeah, and that developed into I you know for next few years I got modern board gaming and and I developed a social life with friends who were you know, in the same bar as me or striking distance. So we reached I reached a point where I was bored with what I was doing my it work and I turned to Carrie one evening said You know, I'm sort of thinking I might do something to do with this board gaming stuff and have fun doing it. I spend most of my weekends with it. I don't know if I want to design a game or open a shop or run a cafe and she said let's run a cafe. And that was utterly a surprise to me at that time. Our daughter by them was we're talking four or five years ago she was 14 1314 Cute she was did not require as much parents union she previously had. So Carrie was having ready to do something outside of the house again outside the family home and she and I come from very different angles. So I want to do something to a board game she wants to do something to do with hospitality. Right? And honestly, I think that that combination is why the looter quest  works as well as it does. Because whenever I want to fill shelves with Warhammer minis and put up posters advertising the latest cool game, she is going know what you want is first place look beautiful, because when when non gamers walk in, they won't be terrified. think it looks cool. Yeah, it'll be

Speaker 1


this inviting space for them, rather than as is so easy for really specialist hobby retailers to become actually the complete opposite of that, which is which is kind of quite threatening and off putting and I certainly feel that way about if I'm going to be brutally honest. Maybe the majority Have those kinds of shops in the one the ones that I tend to see, I mean, you know, they sell to a niche and they do really well in that niche, I'm sure, but are not hugely attractive to much more casual games.

Speaker 2


Right? Correct. And and I think it was very much the vision for looter quest was always felt it was not going to be just for hardcore gamers. We wanted an element of that. And you know, There absolutely are different different levels of gamers as we regard a gamer as anyone who plays Ludo. upwind. Right? Yeah, yeah. And I think that's really the critical part of our ethos is that and if your idea of fun on it, what we care about is that we provide a space where people can interact in person Yes, completely. Wherever phones are away for computer screens or away we are one of the very few places in in Croydon where there are no television screens, we, we are interesting during the World Cup, we are asked Can you show the hook but no, we cannot. We literally cannot we have no facility to do that.

Speaker 1


Yeah. And no, nor would you want to write nor would we want to. Yeah.

Speaker 2


And we suffered during the World Cup because it was a bizarrely hot summer and England did well in a World Cup. And we're gonna happen that often. Thankfully, not. Exactly. So yeah, we we are the screen free place. But that absolutely means that if what you want to do on a Saturday evening is come and drink cocktails and play hungry hippos, there is a place for you at Looter quest. And the people next to you will be playing some weird, obscure European game with infinite amounts of wooden and cardboard pieces. And neither of you will feel judged by or stare at the other.

Speaker 1


Oh, that's that's a wonderful vision. That's, I must admit that I love that. Because I think that, you know, games are very much for everyone. And so the fact that you can, the idea baked into the venue, is that it should facilitate that I think is really marvellous. And it makes tremendous sense because it means that you can equally benefit from both of those kinds of customer, right? Well,

Speaker 2


it absolutely makes commercial sense. Yeah, we talk about Saturday night, people and Monday night people and Saturday night, a Saturday night person would typically come with a group of their buddies, they wouldn't begin to think of themselves as gamers that was just, you know, the people who occasionally play a game and they will drink a whole bunch of cocktails and spend a lot of money and spend, you know, we're going into resistance, we spend 3040 50 quid ahead, and then we won't see them again for three months. Hmm. Whereas the Monday night, we'll come in, get a panini and a coke. Six quid say. And we'll do it every Monday of the year. Yeah. And that those are different crowds, but fill different calendar spots, but also different commercial spots. Yeah. And what I've learned about Cafe Cafe trade is if you can get repeat customers, that's gold. Yeah, the person who comes in and spends three quid a day on a cup of coffee and sits before hours when you don't have anyone much else in, right? Yeah. is just as valuable because that's, that's 1000 pounds in a year. Yeah, three, three pounders. And, you know, compared to the guy that you know, the group of four who come in and flash their cash on Friday night, and it's great. We've got people flashing on the cash. Yeah, I'll do it. But they're going to spend 200 quid on a night. That's lovely. We love that 200 quid, it's still not as much as is for your laptop, who comes in spends three quid every day? Over a year.

Speaker 1


Interesting. And so that so that I find that really fascinating as well, like thinking from that perspective, is that partly we think about your strategy, because you're also you're able to articulate a very clear vision, if I'm going some classic product terminology there. That's kind of the next stage down I think of is is the strategy level. When you're thinking about this, then Is that Is that how you're thinking about complementary customer bases, that you've got those you're actively seeking to make sure you have those different kinds of people coming in for times. Yeah, well,

Speaker 2


no, we're not we in vSv or nudge, as we are nudge Saturdays tend to be slightly louder. family oriented during the day, right? Sunday's tend to be slightly thinkI a Euro gamer right? Particularly anything that we've done, but if someone says to us, I want to come and play long, long thinking game whens a good day, then we will in inter suggest a Sunday is someone saying it's my kid's birthday weekend, I'm not sure whether to come on Saturday or Sunday, we will see you Saturday. And you know, people are completely free to and do come on whichever day they want those couple of notches and there's couple pricing elements in there that were two years we come out of lockdown where we're reviewing that. And essentially, we're probably likely to be slightly more limited in times on Saturdays, because most people who come on Saturday don't want actually to be with us for like six hours. So one of the interesting aspects of games Cafe as as a cafe element is, is that it's the antithesis of what you want to do as a cafe, generally, broadly speaking, normal cafe, want someone to come in? order a coffee, with frappe, lattes, and all the added 35 p elements. Right? Well, yes, take Yeah. And a slice of cake. Sit down for 20 minutes and go. Right. Yeah. So you want to sell that space to the next person that you want to worship you because commercially,

Speaker 1


you're turning tables over as quickly as possible. You're hoping they come in? And by pursuing the highest margin overall products? Yes. And then leave?

Speaker 2


The next person could do that. Because as soon as they stopped drinking that product, eating that product? They are I'm going I'm making inverted commas. Because they are useless to you as a customer. Yes, yes,

Speaker 1


yes. If we're talking about pure rate of return economics here. They aren't, they're no longer unless they unless they're compulsively buying more and more from you every five minutes. They aren't that they're no longer contributing to additional revenue. Yeah, I

Speaker 2


mean, actually, that's not entirely true. If they're sitting in the window and looking good to be outside. There's an element of that as well. But in pure cash terms, but not they so what you're doing as a board game cafe, is encouraging people to come in order their coffee, and cake and then sit there

Speaker 1


for three and a half hours. Yeah, the exact opposite of turning tables over correctly.

Speaker 2


And it's the exact opposite. So what we've had to do with what we've had to work out is because our commercial rent is based on normal commercial rents, and our landlord is just a normal landlord. And you know, we pay the same rates as a ordinary cafe. There's no economic exceptions with that, but we have a slightly different business model. So we've had to max up try to maximise the amount of times that we make money on. Yeah, make sense. So we're open on a Monday, where a lot of small cafes are closed on a Monday, because we need that extra 1/7 revenue. Yes. For it to make sense, is not one seven fits a different amount of money. There's a quite a bit of that today. But

Speaker 1


and I guess is that partly, does that partly work? Because you actually do have your Monday evening person that you were discussing, who is actually presumably is actually coming to browse the games to play the games have their Panini in a coke? Yeah. And actually, they're, they're kind of contributing in a way that maybe also other kinds of Cafe just wouldn't have that kind of customer. And quite the same way.

Speaker 2


variables. So on meetup so organised social events, and we've talked about pre COVID, I suppose. Yeah. are broadly Monday through

Speaker 1


to Wednesday, right, which would be the slow times in hospitality normally so

Speaker 2


slow time in hospitality. So but times that are attractive to the slightly more hardcore gay, slightly more thinkI. Gamer? Yes. Yeah. Don't want necessarily to be with us on a Saturday night when it's loud and noisy and brash. Yeah, they want a quiet space. Yeah, perhaps. All sorts of reasons. Yeah. Picture not not


a bug at that point.

Speaker 2


Abs. Absolutely. Absolutely. And on Saturday, in fact, it's a busy busy place is also a feature not a bug, but for a slightly different group of people or people in a slightly different mood. Yeah, that's, that's the other element of that, of course, is there's nothing to stop Bob once every three months coming out with the guys and having a few drinks on a Saturday night and playing some lighter stuff. And that happened. That it's it's a different mood mood, I think is the essential of it.

Speaker 1


Yeah. And that makes tremendous amount of sense. So partly then this is partly about thinking about the market and who you need to kind of fill what spots but you say you can't Not too much. I mean, obviously, when it comes to people making bookings, you can't say, oh, no, you're not allowed to come on Saturday.


There is no return on a Saturday night is not.

Speaker 1


Exactly. Or just to tell them I don't know, like, I've already got the correct buyer personas for that day. I need you stopped in a different segment. Yeah. So I needed to come another day. But that doesn't mean presumably, there aren't things like pricing around how, for example, you've got a pricing structure around game charges, food offerings, that kind of thing, that and events, right, all those things can help shape that.

Speaker 2


Absolutely. So I mean, are so broadly speaking, and this will vary a little bit with where we're at the time of year and time of month and all that, broadly speaking, we are full most Saturdays, most Sundays, more or less from lunchtime for more or less to be Friday nights. So we don't run weekend events at all, which is very unusual in in the game space, because typically, it's Friday Night Magic. It's Saturday morning pokemon. That is where traditional. And I think you know, we're talking about 15 years ago, traditional, right? Yeah, is when Opie started with those sorts of shops would open a reliance on card games and Warhammer and that sort of thing they expect to feel with their tournament's on Saturdays and Sundays. Yeah, and we actively work against that. We don't want to do that interesting. So we don't. So we get, now we do, we do have pricing structures. So this is varying around COVID. But the pre COVID We were, broadly speaking five pounds can play games as much as you like, or two pounds to play. Bring your own game. So how we described it. So what we essentially meant by that was card games

Speaker 1


and role playing games. Right? Okay. Yeah.

Speaker 2


But bring your own game didn't play all weekend.


Ah, right makes you want to role play

Speaker 2


for two pounds, you come Monday through Thursday. If you want to role play for five pounds, you're absolutely welcome on a Saturday, but it means you're paying five pound for me two pounds. And then what this lets

Speaker 1


you do is helps you manage again, those crowds a little bit because you know that with your much broader offering because this is about your vision for games for for everyone. Everyone is a gamer. Anyone wants to play a game as a gamer. And it means that on the Saturday and Sundays, you probably going to end up with a crowd who is not going to be as high a percentage of the very hardcore hobbyist people. And it's going to be a quite an actually very broad selection and setting whenever I go to looter questt, I'm really aware of actually what an incredibly awesomely broad selection of society you get coming in for games, and then you you've then made that made it cheaper for for those kind of more, those kind of more hobbyist activities to happen earlier in the week. And then that helps you manage that between the two things. Yeah,

Speaker 2


yeah, absolutely. And, and, you know, there's some demographic effects and economic effects that spring from that. And we also have memberships which could apply in different offences. So So you know, there are ways we nudge people but it is very much I think it's very important, but it's a notch we're not playing Magic with us on a Saturday night you're absolutely welcome to come and play Magic. Just be aware it'd be noise even be somewhat loud music and people will be drinking cocktails around you and it's going to cost you a fiver Yeah,


yeah, exactly.

Speaker 2


We're not the typical magic environment. So people generally don't do that. And we don't get very much magic flavoursplayers at all. In fact, it's quite rare that magic is played not that we have anything against it but but equally we don't push towards it.

Speaker 1


Yeah, that makes sense. Well, I mean, that's something I know that particularly Croydon there are some places as well that kind of more specialised in that anyway, right. That have a slightly Absolutely

Speaker 2


I mean, we more than they're there. So I visit this is worth discussing, I think because, again, your traditional organised play retail store for the last while is pretty much dependent on getting a groups of magic Pokemon YuGiOh and similar Trading Card gamers who come in regularly possibly pay a small fee to play but certainly play pass a larger fee for tournament and selling them cards that  has been the strategy for lots of shops and still and still it's absolutely still it has been very clear through lockdown. I mean various groups and it's you know, everybody sales of card games have hurt because why would you pay retail price to The store you can't go and play in when you get it cheaper at the online store 200 miles away. Yeah. So, but So why did we not encourage that sort of play? Because it is quite exclusive. If you walk into a magic tournament, you will see row after row of as it happens, mainly male. Yep. Not not not not quite what it was. But is still mainly male. People facing each other one on one focused on them. Yeah. Who? Not in any deliberate way. Or excluding you because that back is to you. Yeah, they're not interested in you

Speaker 1


at all. They've got a degree of focus on the game, right?

Speaker 2


Because they are completely focused on. And if you walk into that room, you are not going to feel like it's a welcoming room. Unless you really understand that game already. Yeah, exactly. And you can mitigate it, you can have a host on the door, who is going to welcome you in and help with it, but but still, in all the atmosphere you walk into is not a welcoming one. Whereas walking twice, there'll be some people desperately trying to think of a new scrabble word, others are going to be laughing about a card game manager job, others will be playing their focus euro, but but even that, that's four or five people and one person is really thinking about their turn, and three or four of them will be chatting and joking around that. It's a much more open environment.

Speaker 1


That's a really fascinating, important point. I think it's interesting, you raised that because I did that mean, it made me think about how even as you say the body language associated with people playing yours is a bit different, because of the way that it's a whole group experience. Generally, if one person's taking their turn, most the way these games are structured, that means several people aren't. So there's a little bit of conversation tabletop going on. And one thing that I've noticed, increasingly, is that because the the general visual quality of these games has gone up so much, maybe in the last 10 or 15 years, they're appealing to people to everyone, they see a lovely big Euro game being played. And actually people who otherwise have a lot of interest, I've often noticed that, Oh, what's this? And they'll take an interest in it.

Speaker 2


Absolutely. I mean, honestly, one of one of the criteria for selection for our games library is what sins table presents. So over lockdown, we bought a copy of holy, it's HTML. Okay, and it's based around the I'm going to be I may get this wrong over Hindu or Indian, the festival of colour throwing, where people throw colours in the form of either dies or powders at each other illistrate. And so that's actually not very relevant, other than the actual board for Holi is a free D board. It's looks like a 3d chess board call, and you put it on a table, and it's you putting lots of different colours on it. In its essence, it's just an abstract. It can be  three levels. But it looks amazing on a table.

Speaker 1


Yeah, I'm just taking a look at it right now googling it, and it does look, I could say incredible, these three layers that you've just described, and that the amount of colouring I can imagine that just looks so impressive. Set that out there. Yeah.

Speaker 2


And and we will often, you know, buy again, based on is it going to look cool if someone walked past it? And that's not probably very, in any other world. That's not a great purchasing criteria for again, obviously, it has to be a decent game as well. Sometimes we get it wrong, and sometimes it looks really good. And it's black soul, Dark Souls.

Speaker 1


Yeah, that makes sense. Makes tremendous sense, though, that you would take that kind of approach there. Because I think, as you said, overall, what we're saying is, is that this kind of deliberate choice of an overall strategy that is more likely to favour those kind of games is partly because it makes a huge sense in terms of making people feel included, because they are by then by their nature, the way they are played tends to be like that, right? Because it would actually be much the same. I think if you were to walk into many into a chess tournament, right, which is, again, one on one hyper levels of focus, everyone's caught being very quiet. Yeah. Even though that's a game that is has an enormous number of people who know how to play chess or have have been exposed to at some point their lives more than Magic the Gathering, it still would be a really not great environment for entertainment venue.

Speaker 2


Right? Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. If you walk into a chest or unless you there for chess, you're in the wrong place. Yeah. It will be very obvious to you immediately that you're in the wrong place. Yeah. And you're likely to turn around and walk away.

Speaker 1


Make sense? Let's revisit that question about stock because I That's really interesting. So it sounds like one of the criteria looking for is that in terms of what to carry is that it obviously has table presence because of that is a clear advantage that we've kind of gone through already. As you said, gameplay presumably is also important. Are there any other factors because you've got a lot of stock, right, I think is 1500 or something games.

Speaker 2


It's currently about 1000 because of COVID. Right? On display, so we've had to reduce, yes, the amount of games for various reasons, but let's say it's in full fitness. So there we want a range. And I think, again, this is this is one of the things that I think probably is reasonably unique about us. We have a big range of Cluedo monopoly Scrabble, premium pursuits, chess drafts Lugo, we have multiple copies of various sorts of each of those. And we have a right at the front of a cafe. So that the non gamer person doesn't consider themselves gamer walks in and sees familiar stuff. The first shelves very deliberately, the first shelves you see as you walk in will be games that no one is scared. And then as you go further into a cafe, they will get somewhat more complex. So the next set of shelves is gateway shelves, it's Catan. It's Ticket to Ride, it's quacks of Quedlinburg. And then going further in, we hit the euros in the big boxes full of lots of plastic miniatures and stuff at the back. And then the role playing is a step further on from that. So partly what we wanted to do with that was make it non scary to people and help lure them in but it was partly it was meant to be a voyage of discovery. My favourite shop in the world is a place called Shakespeare and CO which is on South Bank in Paris, ah, and it's bookshop. And it was run by the same guy walk with me for about 60 years. And he used to have people were just students would just rock up and say, I'm in Paris to be a writer. He said, right, there's a sofa, you can sleep on that tonight, you have to sweep the floor on a Friday. We've got spare typewriters in the back room. And he made his money though, by selling books. That's what it is. But but he was, you know, he was absolutely a throwback to a prison 1920s or something. Yeah. And that place was just this old Higgledy Piggledy exploration, you would go up winding staircases that might or might not end in a room. And books were just in random ish piles. So you were you were exploring it and I wanted to give people that sense of exploration that of coming in to be Aladdin's cave. But you don't want to see all the treasure in front of the Aladdin's cave for families face Eva stuff that excites him early on quickly. Yeah. For people with respect like us, James. Yeah. Probably want to venture further and further into the cave before. What you would consider the good stuff.


Definitely. Yeah.

Speaker 2


So we then within sorry, that that isn't an answer to your question. It's background to the answer within those broad groups of family, kids family gateway, we try and fill category. So we want cooperative games. We want racing games, we want conflict games. Then there's a certain amount of hotness is it hotness? There are games that get rejected because they're too flimsy. Right? Yeah. Games in cafes, even the Euros don't get treated as well as they do at home. Yes. Tea boxes get dropped on floors, things get knocked around. Family games we considered disposable. Yeah, that makes sense. Pluto, it gets replaced once every six weeks or so. Just ask us because once a card goes in a baby's hands, games dead. Yeah, that's

Speaker 1


it that that I hadn't really even considered that. But they're not even really assets, I guess. Are they a lot of the games? Because they get destroyed quite easily.

Speaker 2


Yes. But we are accountants. We review them each year with the accountants and he just looks at us in a puzzled way. Try and describe the value of the other games. Yeah. Because he wanted to appreciate when I go no this copy of small world it's worth 100 pounds more than it was two years ago. Yeah. Interesting. And, and this game, it's out of print that it's suddenly worth 150 quid. So it's very difficult. So we just put a fairly notional amount on

Speaker 1


  1. That make it make sense because it must be very difficult for the accountant to decide because as you said, what you've got there is a very weird market where the family games are As you said, effectively disposable items where you get X number of uses on average out of a copy before, before it's ripped up and need to be replaced, because we've often been handled by children. And that makes total sense. And then you've got some games that are like collector's objects that actually can appreciate in value over time. So very, very, two very, extremely different ends of that.

Speaker 2


We honestly we come up with a fairly notional amount. Yeah, it's just ways to to import your Board Game Geek collection in to get a number, right. Yeah. And we did that when we first did it. Honestly, our Board gave me a collection. So yeah, it's a couple of years out of date now. So So yeah, there's a lot missing from it. But I think, I think actually, I'm just saying that's another important element you mentioned, you know, the things that are collector's items. We have them on display, ready to play? Yeah. And it's terrifically important to us, but games should be accessible. And we have games out there that people go, hey, yeah, they see it on the list and go, Well, I assume you have that under lock and key. Yeah. And we have to specially asked for it to come from a safe place. And we don't know. That's, that's the wooden chest of 10th anniversary. Catan. Yeah. And it's worth a lot of money. Yeah. And it's lighter. And you want to play it you play? And actually, yeah, there was obviously a concern when we open you know, how much of this stuff is going to get nicked? Right? And the answer is almost no. Oh, interesting. So far. Touchwood. It's, it's not for people who understand the value in it.

Speaker 1


Arent going to nick it. Yeah, make sense.

Speaker 2


And, and the people who don't, I mean, the only fit, we had some sentinels of the multiverse cards. Some guy, some random guy shoved in his pocket. And we kind of assumed he fought battle Pokemon, and heard that going up in value, or something, right? Yeah. Good luck with that when you get home to eat.

Speaker 1


Yeah, that's just sorry, but you pick the wrong game there, mate. That's not gonna that's not going to generate any of those kind of sums. Well, I mean, that's really great. I'm so glad to hear that. Because I think this is the great tragedy of boardgame collections is that they get glass cased, often purely by accident, which is that people are buying so much more than an awful game and play, that actually things don't get played. And it seems really sad to not have games being played. So that it's really, really great that you've got the attitude to have them out there, even when they're sometimes surprisingly valuable.

Speaker 2


We we are not a museum. Yeah, yeah. I mean, we have got a couple of cases where we have a couple of very interesting things that we've we've got a game that got published in Croydon, a mile and a half from here in 1934. That's Oh, wow. Um, as far as I know, it's it's a Yeah, it's a sort of 6.8 on BoardGameGeek, which for 18 year old game is pretty good. Pretty impressive. Yeah. We have an unpunched version of Buster first work, work placement game first edition, right? Yep. And stuff like that, which is under lock and key. But it has to be very, very special to reach that level.

Speaker 1


If we're being honest, probably I'm guessing. In both of those cases, we're talking about games where the object is of is obviously itself a kind of very high value. And it's a lot of interesting historical objects. But the game they're they're much more like other people want to be wanting to play other games.

Speaker 2


Yeah, no, absolutely. Absolutely. We're launching verge for game. I mean, yeah, I'd have it has any intrinsic value. It might Yeah, when she 30. quid to and aquarium, but, but it's not. It's not a board game level of value, modern board game level of value.

Speaker 1


So what about we think about the revenue streams of the cafes? If we come back to come to that question of you've got these different sources going on, because you've also got a retail store, as I understand it. Yeah, I'd be really keen to know is how the revenue streams contribute. So like, what, what actually makes the money in a board game cafe? Where is it coming from? And and how does that work?

Speaker 2


Okay, so, again, I think we have to go back pre COVID? Because the answer to the last year is it doesn't,

Speaker 1


it feels like on almost all of those things. You know, you're you're a closed down hospitality establishment, for certainly for a period anyway, to

Speaker 2


a to a large extent. I mean, yeah, we as a cafe we've been closed for what? Eight of the last 13 months, right? Yeah, like that.


So the majority of the time,

Speaker 2


we have a certain amount of outdoor and we so we've opened as a shop recently for our six weeks. And we were doing, you know, in that weird period in December when we went through tier one, tier two, tier three, tier four, it's closed in a three week period.


Yeah. Oh, God, I remember that. Yeah. Yeah.


Yeah, trying to cope with that a bit.

Speaker 1


So actually, just a pause you there just a second. So let's come back to that question. Have COVID Because I think there's a whole lot of questions there. But all related that I'd really like to talk about, because he does seem to me like the kind of pre COVID cafe and hopefully the after COVID

Speaker 2


Cafe, yes, we hope it will be upset. So

Speaker 1


was almost one entity, right? And then the kind of, and then the sort of COVID era thing is almost a different business in some ways. So it is, so So let's let's definitely come back to as a whole, because I think I know that actually, several listeners have asked questions about that already. But I'd love to understand more about like the fundamental core economics of this

Speaker 2


server pre pre COVID Shit. So as we discussed, we have the wrong model for a cat. Which is high turnover. Yeah, it's not what we do. So we first of all, we've talked about we stretch out for Week, we stretch out the day, many cafes essentially give up at two o'clock in the afternoon. We are running from 11 o'clock in the morning for to 11 o'clock at night. Yeah. So revenue streams are, there's three bits of revenue, there's game sessions, which are five pounds. Again, I'm going to I'll just stop saying pre Covid, let's just go Yeah, everything I'm saying is pre COVID until we come to the COVID. Okay, so so it was five pounds for all day. But as long as you like, lots of people would only come in for a couple of hours. And we'll pay that and for as many games as you like. And that is a not insignificant chunk of revenue. It's about 15% turnover. So it's not insignificant, and it does have the advantage of no directly attributable costs to it. Hmm. Games sales are about 10% of turnover. We're about 10% turnover, but a very poor margin. Now, you my margin is better than some online discount sellers would do. But it compared to game sessions where I have 100% Actually, yeah, yes. Yeah. Yeah. So having a 20% margin, or 30% margin is relatively small.

Speaker 1


And you're talking about the kind of gross margin here, right. So that's like on the cost of the cost of goods cost of the cost,

Speaker 2


roughly speaking, I would buy a game for five pounds, I would sell it for 10 pounds. But don't that 10 pounds to belongs to the government. And I would make three pounds. Right? Makes it very, very broad. It will vary from game to game. And


on average, that's what we're talking about.

Speaker 2


Is that's not even on. Median rather than mean something like that. Right? Yeah. On average.


Yes. Yeah, exactly.

Speaker 2


So yeah, very roughly speaking, then food and drink is 65 70% of surprise. And food and drink is what we are we are games cafe, come to us for games, the money they spend is on food and drink. margin on that is variable. I will make better margin on a pizza then on a pint of beer. But I have more labour involved in the pizza than in the pint of beer.


Right? Yeah, makes sense.

Speaker 2


And again, I think coming into I was fortunate that Croydon Council sponsored me and about 15 other people on a starting a food hospitality business course, five years ago, interesting run by an organisation called gcda, one of whom was based in Croydon, and they're largely based in Greenwich. And that's where they do all their work. But they came into Croydon, and actually really useful, really, really useful. It's very good. And they you know, you learn about food margin. But other than that, knowing nothing about restaurant chain when we started

Speaker 1


well, that was more like a deliberate exercise in sort of self education. Right. This is because you knew nothing about this industry had never worked in it previously. You thought Why would make sense to do some learning about it if I just suddenly open a cafe?


I'm quite good at knowing I know nothing.


Right. Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker 2


I think maybe that is an advantage of having never worked for anybody else going way back to where we started, right? Yes. Is that I know, I have to learn everything. Yeah, I won't barge into something thinking. This is easy, right? Yeah. No work is easy. Yeah, no, no business. There is no business out there. Where it's easy. Yeah. Because if there were, we would all be doing it. And there is.

Speaker 1


Yeah, exactly. It probably wouldn't be a business because no one could make any money out of it because it would be too easy. That's the

Speaker 2


thing. That will be a hobby. Yeah. Yeah. So that's the revenue side of it. We're nearly all revenue I don't think I've ever did go back and look at my original business plan. Because it'd be so embarrassingly wrong. Our revenue is very significantly higher than I anticipated it being interesting. Our labour costs are massively off the scale higher than I understood. They were interesting. I don't looking back on it now with like, somewhat experienced eyes. I cannot imagine what naive look at four years ago, I was thinking with the salary numbers I put in, right, yeah, they're just so the maps does not work. I cannot be open for too many hours. If you're open for 12 hours, you need 12 hours of labour to be paid for. Exactly. And I somehow managed to miss elements of that. Anyway. So hospitality is a very labour intensive business back is going to be no surprise to anyone who was in hospitality, but it was to me, right? Yeah. Yeah. Having been a pure retailer for the last month or so the post COVID world we're not going to be talking about. Yeah, but retail is a much lower margin. Much, much lower labour. Right. Yeah. Interesting. Anyway, the combination of the three things works, if we lost any element of it, it would not work. Right. Interesting. The retail element, our retail bit is a small part of the store. But you may have seen it in post covid, we have found ways to add more shelves in but smaller items. And honestly, it was there because I thought in my vision of the games cafe. But that's what it should have. Right? Yes, I wanted there to be a game shop. Had we put a six person table there in that area, which turned over three times on a Saturday, it would have made more money than the game shortly?

Speaker 1


Oh, interesting. I find that quite quite surprising. Actually.

Speaker 2


I did it sorry, it would have made more profit, more margin. Right. More


margin are right. Okay. Makes sense.

Speaker 2


So so, you know, we had discussions, we have had discussions, there's other geographical reasons, it's the entrance to the bar, or we don't want tables there. But but if you were looking at purely as a commercial thing, then your per foot, you make more money by having tables than you do by having shelves.

Speaker 1


That's very interesting, because in some ways, I'm somewhat surprised that I would have thought that just the effect of having a few shelves, there would kind of act as a sort of signalling that we also sell games, which would mean we'd make that whole revenue stream like viable and some

Speaker 2


signalling is terribly important. Everything we do, we think about what signals it sends out. And there's lots of elements of that. So you know, we put the family games at the front where families may wander in by mistake and see. We put, we sell pride dice, there in our role playing section, they've got LEDs glowing on them, we are letting LGBTQ plus community know that we are a welcoming community for our social media posts. We are very careful when we have people in the store to make sure that those posts reflect our community around us. So people are seeing people who look like them. Yeah. Yeah, we're very aware that visuals are important. And I think that's something essentially, I've learned from Carrie from my wife, because yeah, I'm a nerd you’ve seen, I slung around in T shirt. cardies. And occasionally, I'll brush my hair. But you know, I'm not a very visually aware person. I've had to learn but visuals are important to key members of community is a thing, what you look like that. So one of the symbols have been against place, but it's not just for families is to have some hardcore games for sales for sale. Yeah, it you were sending signals in, in different directions to different people. Yeah. But without the signal scaring off the other group. Right. That's

Speaker 1


exactly it. Well, that's but and that shows you the complexity involved in creating an inclusive atmosphere. You have to be, as you said, sending out the right positive signals about some things and making sure that they're not dominant so much that they begin to exclude other people, which is, it sounds to me like a kind of real art making that work.

Speaker 2


It's Yes, it's work. I think so. So I think I slightly dodged how I said this earlier. So let me be more explicit about it. After we were open for about six months We came to a realisation and there was a thing that was nagging at us and we said, looked at it and looked at behaviours walked in. And what we found was for Croydon is a very multi ethnic community. And we found that black people would walk in, look around and walk out. Interesting. And we went and talked to some local community activists and local community businessmen. And we came to the conclusion that there was an odd and irrational thing that the black community felt they didn't have permission to go into what they perceived as a white place. Oh, interesting. I'm permission. I'm using that in a very broad set. Yeah, exactly. But it was a feeling and instinct.

Speaker 1


And it's an unconscious thing that you walk in think this this is this place isn't for me. Yeah.

Speaker 2


In the same way, as if you've walked into a place full of magic players, you might or chess player. Yeah. And because, you know, we I think we're 40 percent black in Croydon, something like that. And as a cafe, we were five 10%. Yeah. So we so we sat down with people, and they basically said, look, what you need to do is, every time there's a black guy in here, or a black lady in here, take a photo of them on your social media. And we haven't done it quite as blatantly as that but but we would use to do with Saturday night group shots of four or five tables, and we would be very careful. We picked up on you know what it was saying? It wasn't? Yeah, yes, we made sure that we would have black people in a shop, we would actually have women in the shop, and make sure we would have people in wheelchairs in the shop so that, you know, people go where they see other people who they feel are like that. Yeah. Yeah. to a very large extent.

Speaker 1


Well, it's a dare I say, it's like a default mode thing, isn't it? So it because it is the I think, from what you've described, anyway, your investigations, this is a it's an unconscious thing. And so you know, when there's one thing when we're making our minds constantly about something, when it's an unconscious response, that's quite people make decisions quite automatically. And as you said, a common one is, if you regularly don't see people, like you're in a situation, that would be very understandable to have a certain response. That's not for me.

Speaker 2


Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And the flip of that is, if I show you that there are people who look or feel like you, then you're more likely to walk in. And, and frankly, this is just not everybody in our area in hospitality goes the same way as we do on this. Why would I not reach out to the money? First presented by everybody? Yeah, completely. Why? Why would I? It's not that hard work to be inclusive? Yeah, it really isn't. You know, we we I don't think it's quite right to say that we are the gay bar in Croydon, but, you know, we were asked on Saturday evening, couple of days ago, say where do essentially, where can I go now? 11 o'clock. Right.


Yeah. Well, it's kind of us. Interesting.

Speaker 2


And it's not that we're gay bar. It's not? Certainly not we're the gay bar. And it's certainly not that others arent inclusive. But, you know, because we are inclusive to everybody, because we make the effort. We are, because we're inclusive to everybody. We're inclusive to everybody. Yeah, it's, by default puts you in that position.

Speaker 1


Again, it seems to me more like it's more of a reflection of your very conscious approach to signalling those things, more than any more than anything else. And it seems like, again, that seems that the dare I say, the power couple of you and carry in board games local is what really makes that work. Because it seems like it's like you have the knowledge of the game side of it, you're and The Nerdery which you do need in this market, you can't operate in this industry or that degree of nerdery. But ultimately, obviously, we carry strong interest and hospitality side of just having quite intrinsic understanding of those things. That seems to be sounds really important. Yeah,

Speaker 2


absolutely. I think power couple, I mean, you know, humility for fans, but But yes, I think a couple bit is important. And I would add to that, actually, as part of that is is our stock because we have a great staff and you know, we when you have an ethos of inclusivity it has to start with your colleagues. And it absolutely has with with our guys, they I want to say very sans prejudiced bone in their body and you know, that's a that's a glib thing to say, but it genuinely it's really very close to being true. You know, we all have prejudice So of course, but, you know, we have a bunch of colleagues who I think we have a really great mix of people who come from hospitality background and people who come from a gaming background. And both of those have been very important. You know, having the games, people who can sell your game to teach you games is good. But if a coffee isn't good if a cocktail is good, and features aren't good, and particularly if the atmosphere isn't good, then it doesn't matter how good the game.

Speaker 1


Yeah, completely 100%? Well, when you said it right there when you said 70% of the money is food and drink. And ultimately, that seems very critical to get that to get this right. Well, as with so many businesses, unfortunately, it seems like it is about firing on all cylinders, not necessarily being able to neglect any one of these areas really, is not something you can really afford to do. Okay, well, I think this is a great point, talk a little bit about the COVID effect, I guess, on the store, and really understand that in a little bit more detail. So obviously, for the benefit of listeners outside the UK measures in the UK, were specific that for quite a lot of the year, you said as the last 13 months, I'm estimating something in that kind of ballpark. It's just not being possible to have anyone indoors in the cafe. And something you don't have is a particularly sizable outdoor space that you can use either.

Speaker 2


Yeah, we've made an effort. We put some space outside it, and it's working on a sunny day. It's nice enough out there, we you know, we put up tents and it's nice and people will eat pizza and drink pints. And that's fine. At moment. It's building site, which hasn't helped much recovery. And even I think so. So yeah, we've we've been literally closed for seven, or eight of the 13 months for the rest of time in order to maintain social distance. And we've had half the seat numbers on

Speaker 1


the right. Which is I mean, must have a dramatic effect on viability and in terms of like, as in for the long term. Right. Having those commitments.

Speaker 2


It's not via Yeah, is the answer. And I think if we go back to February, March, last year, i i We in Tripoli, lucky that I have a friend from university, who I described in a post as an epidemiologist because he was warning in January. He said, what's going on in China? This is real. This is bad in the to prepare for a storm. This is a man who knows what he's talking about. Yeah. Last year. I said, I wrote an article based on his advice. One point I said, are epidemiologists. No, no, I'm afraid. I'm not an epidemiologist. I'm just a biosecurity consultant.


Lover moving. So he has

Speaker 2


been very he I mean, he's given free of his time to advise us through a lot of the last year in terms of our security. Right. We closed down before the government told us we had to, because I in some ways, I think I may look back at it now. And I think but I was awful. I've seen in March last year more than has actually been the case. Right? Yeah. I thought it was gonna be worse. But it has been. We put boards up on the window when we closed down. Because we really did. I did have a visitor vision of Walking Dead apocalypse. Oh, interesting. Yeah. Fortunately, it wasn't that bad. Well, I certainly had a vision breakdown in civil order.

Speaker 1


Right. Yeah. Well, that, which is why you would put the boards up. That makes sense, right, that if it had been a much bigger catastrophe, or the fatality rates have been much higher and have affected the border section of population. I mean, that's not all that has happened historically.

Speaker 2


Yes, absolutely. I, my assumption was it was going to take at least 18 months to get through this. And so I started doing maths about how we were financially going to get through. Right. I did not expect the level of government intervention that has happened.


Oh, interesting. Okay.

Speaker 2


I think it is unique in certainly in my lifetime, and I think generations before,

Speaker 1


I think it's pretty, it is pretty much historic. Yeah, it's just historically, I don't think a government minister is I think that ratio has reached the same level that it was in 1945. So yes, UK government debt. So it's for disease is completely unique. Yeah.

Speaker 2


I mean, it's all invented debt. I don't actually think the debt is as big of a problem as Yeah, I don't want to get too political or economics. But

Speaker 1


yeah, I think we could just stop it. But let's keep it on the cafe for now. Yeah.

Speaker 2


So um, yes. The answer is it was catastrophic. We were going from turning over, broadly speaking, we were turning over 40 to 50,000 a month. for pre COVID, I think the best month we've had since has been 20. And most of that has been games. Right? So our game, so we have learned a lot about games, retail, games, retail, and about how to sell games in store, because we've had space to sell it. So our game sales are now broadly four times what they were pre COVID circuitry. So that is a good thing. And I think that will probably sustain just got better at buying the right stuff better at selling the right stuff. Better presenting it. Our online presence has gone up dramatically, particularly in some niche areas.

Speaker 1


It has that been the majority of the sales that you've been making in online sales. Ie Yes. Yeah, we've been shut. Oh because Yes. I mean, yes, of course, during the very last last


four months, we've

Speaker 1


been open for three weeks. But is that true, even though because I know you've just recently and in that when the weird December period, converted it into a retail store from a cafe? So is it now the case that it's still the highest revenue coming from online? We opened

Speaker 2


on 12th of April? So it's nearly been a month? Oh, wow.

Speaker 1


shows my time perception. So you've not really even had time to really no, no, no, I don't have

Speaker 2


a month's worth of figures to tell you. Yeah, I think our walking trails have been not bad. And they wouldn't sustain this sort of premise, long term. If that's all we were ever going to do, they wouldn't come close to it are online. Basically, we've created a couple of niches in a couple of product lines online, which have sold really, really well and we hope will go on selling really, really well. There's some games that I'm particularly enthusiastic about. And I'm involved in those communities online, because it's all been online. So we've been selling stuff there. But we're still selling more online than we are in store right now. But we hope in a month or two or three or four but we'll be back to getting. It feels odd say it now. But in pre covid days in February last year, we would have 200 people on a Saturday. Go through our store. We now would get 30. Right. Yeah, maybe and and so just volumes of people near purchase for simple stuff. I expect us to go.

Speaker 1


Yeah, yeah, completely. That makes that makes sense. And so but you've you've kind of built in things like a delivery service as part of this as well.

Speaker 2


So when lockdown going back when lockdown happened in March last year, we didn't do online sales through post because we were used royal mail. And our understanding was Royal Mail. We're struggling and frankly, more important things for Royal Mail to be sending out. Right. Okay. They did have boxes of cardboard. So we did local delivery, and I just got in my car and drove around Croydon. I remember


you pass me the street one time bigger like yes, yes. Yeah.

Speaker 2


And, and sort of tube team and stratum and places on my way home. And about. I think as we locked down for the first time as people began to realise how much time they were going to spend in the house. Yeah, we sold a lot of games from hand delivery. And then after a while Royal maill recovered a bit. And we still have each Sunday on property online. And we've developed from that. But I mean, you know, again, game sales are a fraction of the profit, that food and drink sales,

Speaker 1


as we discussed earlier, make sense? How did you manage in terms of the COVID rules? Because this is something that the listeners have been asking about specific demo the state Stephen, for example, my list of questions here, has asked about how you sort of stayed ahead of those rules, because something in the UK at least, certainly before the weird December period, and during the particularly bizarre, weird December period, it seemed like the rules kept changing all the time.

Speaker 2


They did and it was very difficult. And I think I think it's fair to preface any discussion of this to say that, you know, the government were dealing with an unprecedented situation, and the science was changing over time. Yep. The standing of the problem. Certainly, I can be very critical about someone government messaging. And I started again, I go back to my biosecurity consultant who was telling us a year ago, what is important is ventilation. Yeah, and only really two months ago has for messaging started to change from wash your hands to keep the windows open.

Speaker 1


Do you know what I did not to spend too much on the politics of this but that has been infuriating for me seeing that exactly that that because the funny thing about the science changes that it seemed like Actually, most of the signs didn't change very much after the first few months, it came to, you know, principal transmission routes like not actually on surfaces very much at all. And mostly ventilation being critical and things like that seem to be quite well understood, quite early

Speaker 2


issued, and it didn't come through. And we, you know, there were definitely times where we are frustrated where, you know, because I had this guy who I trusted. And I would say, right, we have to have all our doors open. I know it's minus two outside and I know, customers are complaining because we're as a cold breeze blowing in on them. But we have to do it. Right. Yeah. And most other places weren't doing that. But I wasn't great. I wasn't comfortable potentially killing people in order to make me feel a bit warmer.


Right. Yeah. But that

Speaker 2


wasn't what the government message and then yeah, so hospitality got a different set of guidelines to those for retail or general public. Yeah. And there were times when those were directly contradictory to each other. And that caused me how God huge angst. So there was a time where it was illegal for you to be within two metres inside of someone from another household. Yeah. It was, I think, a criminal offence for you, James nailer. To do that, right. We in hospitality, were told that we could sit you at a table with someone and that was fine.


Right, yeah. Even though

Speaker 2


the table was going to send to me too. So yeah, we're breaking the law by doing that. But we we've been told we should encourage it. Yeah. And again, I don't want to get too political on that, because we were writing stuff in a hurry. They were you know, there's a news of why laws and regulations, get lots of reviews and take lots of time, get lots of feedback. Under normal circumstances. We didn't have time because

Speaker 1


legislation is actually really hard. Making good law. In many ways, if business is hard, making good law is really hard like that.

Speaker 2


Yeah, tough cases, make bad law and rushed cases make bad law to step away from the political on it. Yes. It was bloody difficult to be a hospitality business trying to adjust to all these things, somewhat, which made no bloody sense. And obviously, not just hospitality, lots of business. It's the same. He was all change. It's very difficult.

Speaker 1


Yeah, it makes sense. But yeah, different challenging. But it sounds like as soon as you've navigated it well, though, and the fact that the business is still going right. And I know that it's been quite challenging, and quite a lot of companies out there.

Speaker 2


Yeah, I think let's see where we are, where everybody is, in a year's time, there's going to be a huge debt. Right now for hospitality is focused on we hope for 17th of May, yeah. Reopening in doors, but still with social distancing. So from our point of view, still with 50 to 60 seats instead of 100. Plus, yeah. Yeah. And that has financial implications. Still, we table service, no bar service that has financial implications, that essentially we have to have higher labour costs for less income. No, not not, which is financially good. No. So yeah, it's going to be a very difficult six months to a year, and there will be casualties. Yeah, we think we're all right. Yeah, we have had support from government, we have had support from our customers. And we launched one of one of the things locked down gave us was time to think so we launched a future funder, which essentially was a begging appeal. You know, we dressed it up to

Speaker 1


but it's yet a programme of specific events for example, that you're going to be offering right in the future where you could pay an advanced ticket price I think I've already paid for obviously one of your memoir 44 events which the first time I played it, yes, a couple years ago, loved your DD memoir 44 event, thinking I think a blood on the clock tower that I've paid for as well because I'm excited when that comes up. I guess that's a way also for your your hardcore fan base, like me to also put some money in upfront platform.

Speaker 2


I mean, I think there were various concepts behind it, you know, that there was a commercial, let's see if we can get some cash in the bank. And my God, it helped. But there was also you know, it is going to be a dark winter. Let's give people something to look forward to.


It's a very nice idea. Yeah. So

Speaker 2


it was very much at you know, let's, let's let's create some enthusiasm when it's a difficult time versus also you know, we're able to give some games to disadvantaged kids in schools and and community stepped up and drink by a drink for a nurse essentially. And so so when we opened up some NHS workers going to get free gaming sessions and stuff, but also Yeah, again, I suppose on pure commercial things. If you have bought into coming to us, at some point in the future for your blood, I will talk to our session and you'll probably buy a drink and pizza. Almost certainly. Yeah. So cause we do damn fine pizzas

Speaker 1


Yeah. Very, very good. And you didn't pay me to say that? No. Exactly. Wonderful. Well, okay. Well, before we wrap up, then because I noticed we've been going for quite a while

Speaker 2


we have sorry, I do tend to go on. No, it's bouncing.

Speaker 1


And it's been fascinating. And there's quite a few things on the list that I'd love to talk about. And maybe at a future date, it would be great to have you back. And I think, particularly, if you're up for it, looking back on, you know, sort of six months after reopening, hopefully cross fingers, how things have gone and how to change would be a great update on that kind of thing would be really useful. So before we go, just I guess a couple more just listener questions, then we'd be good for. So definitely quick fire round stuff here. So Alex asked, What's the most surprising hits been at the request of a game,

Speaker 2


escape the Dark Castle, we get people coming in now, we're not gamers who have heard of Dungeons and Dragons. And they will come in on a Saturday afternoon, and they say we would like to play Dungeons and Dragons, please. That's what we booked in for. And the first couple of times that happened, my eyes bugged out, and I sort of explained that you need a dungeon master. And it's impossible, and you can't possibly do it. And here's a DMS guide for 40 quid and do go away for three weeks and come back. And now what we do is we get out a couple of nice simple games, which capture the essence of a role playing game, which is that you are a fantasy character in an adventure. And there's a story happening. And that's all that anyone actually wants to like, that's not true. That's all the people coming into our said, I want to play drums and dragons would have known Yeah, they want to be in a fantasy story for about an escape the Dark Castle. It's a very simple dice. from a mechanical point of view. It's very simple dice chucker with a little bit of background random story in it. And people love it. And fantastic feel like their middle of Lord

Speaker 1


of the Rings. Very interesting, quite surprising to me, certainly, because it has this kind of very kind of retro black and white art style, which I know it's not to everyone's taste. So I think it's very interesting that much recently, but it makes total sense. You're saying kind of create a lot of like roleplay experience. So then the next question is from Terry, and he wants to know how you recommend the perfect game for a table?

Speaker 2


Yeah, we probably never recommend the perfect game. We we do our best. Ask them what sort of games they have played before. That's very important because you want to get an idea. Are we in a world of bluedot? Or are we in a world of Terra Mystica. So that's that's the starting point. And then also about theme, we will recommend games typically much more in theme, you establish a complexity level. And then it's, you know, superheroes, we've got lots of Marvel games. We've got fantasy games. We've got games where you lie to each other. We get games where you're bluffing. We go games that are addition, we've got card games. So you're asking around that and mechanics. Mechanics don't matter to most of our people who are asking us about games that people who play Terra Mystica they're going to get up they're going to wander around, they're gonna find the get the shelves of UV Rosenbergs and stone mayors and they're gonna make their own decision. It doesn't really do what we say to them. To some extent. Our recommendations are people who want quick game, they want to be taught it typically in under three minutes. And they want to laugh.

Speaker 1


Yeah, makes total sense. Then I guess the last one to end on also from Terry, because kinds of like this question is, what's your favourite recent interaction with a customer and particularly a non hobbyist customer and why?

Speaker 2


I'm not going to give you my favourite recent one. I'm going to give my favourite first one. Oh, no, more or less. But day we opened. A couple of ladies walked in quite clearly what they wanted was a cuppa. And they ordered a cup of tea and we brought it to them. And they looked around a bit and said, Can we play these games? And we said yes. Second and me as I think about that first month we were free of charge. So it wasn't even a charge. Yeah. And she went and got these were ladies of certain age and she went and got out Scrabble and sat down with a friend and played it and turned to me and said, you know I've not played with for two years, and I've had so much fun. And they came back every thursday for several months. And that was fucking what we did. That was what we set out. to do was hobbyist gamers, and basically, we can find each other and we can you know, we or I come from London perspective as lots. So that's an easy thing to say it's not always easy. Yeah, we can find each other. But an old lady have not played a game for 30 or 40 years. That's what Christmas about.

Speaker 1


Yeah. Wonderful. Um, that's such a wonderful story. Well, one lovely story to end on, I think is absolutely lovely. I think Well, that's exactly what your cafe is all about, isn't it is making moments like that happen? And as you said, so wonderful that you could be you could bring that kind of little bit of joy into their lives there through that. That's so cool. Well, you know, I think that that his story also exemplifies why I love the loot quest and why I'm a huge supporter of it. And hopefully, as everything continues, and hopefully as things were open, hopefully permanently, then yeah, we can get again, getting back to doing that for as many people as possible. I


certainly hope so. Yeah.

Speaker 1


Wonderful. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate you coming in has been absolutely fascinating. And yeah, looking forward to another one the future. Thank you very much.

Speaker 1


Producing fun is produced by naylor games. If you enjoyed the show, follow us on Spotify, Stitcher, or other major podcasting platforms. Remember, producing fun is also a product and it thrives on feedback. So please leave a review wherever possible, or simply send me your feedback directly. You can message me on Twitter at NaylorJames, or write me an email at Until next time


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