Edmonton Business Review: Table Top Cafe 2.0

Table Top Cafe 2.0 filled will customers on a Saturday evening.

Back in 2013, Table Top Cafe opened their initial board game cafe location at 57 Avenue and 75 Street. With its popularity, the owner expanded less than two and a half years later with second spot on 102 Avenue and 124 Street. The two are differentiated by the addition of a “1.0” or “2.0” to the end of its name.

I never did take the time to check out the original. However, I’ve been to the one that sits between the Oliver and Westmount neighbourhoods twice within the past eighteen months. My fiancé and I visited in the fall of 2016 because of a Groupon I had purchased. The deal covered both of our entrance fees and included about $15 to use towards food and drinks. On that occasion, we chose to grab a couple of the wraps (all are just under $10 each). I can’t say that the food was all that impressive and I wouldn’t make a point of going there to eat. Yet, they do serve some great beverages and beer.

Another couple met us that afternoon and we stayed for a few hours playing games until we were ready for dinner. What’s so awesome is that this form of diversion is so affordable. If one isn’t inclined to order snacks or drinks, the cost to play all day comes to only $5 per person. Several shelves house hundreds of available games that are sorted based on type and difficulty.

The business has made it really easy to get started, especially for those that aren’t too familiar with all of the choices out there. I mean, board games have moved well beyond the classics that I grew up with like Scrabble, Monopoly, or Life to include more risque ones such as Cards Against Humanity, strategic ones like Quantum, or puzzles such as Sagrada. There are so many to explore and likely not everyone can afford to buy them all, so spots like Table Top Cafe provide fantastic opportunities to test them out first. Staff are also more than willing to take the time to explain rules whenever anyone gets stuck. Should patrons find something they love, there’s a good chance that there’s an unopened copy in stock to purchase before leaving. Plus, sign up for a membership and a percentage of every game bought can be accumulated and used towards a future buy.

My most recent visit was at the end of January. After supper at The Manor Bistro, we made our way over to Table Top Cafe 2.0 to continue our double date. It was a busy Saturday night, and, luckily, we managed to snag the very last table out of maybe 17 to 20 in the space. When we arrived, we had to check in at the counter to start up our tabs. While we were standing there we placed our orders for drinks (hot beverages, cold refreshments and alcoholic choices are on the menu) and snacks (Magic Maize, a big bowl of popcorn, was $4).

Coaster Park was put back when we realized it was a bit more difficult to get started than we expected.

Then, we got busy looking for some games to try out. The guys started out with a round of chess, so my friend and I kept perusing the shelves. In the end, the two of us decided to bring a few games to the table: Unlock! The Nautilus’ Traps, Pass the Pandas, and Coaster Park. Ultimately, we set aside Coaster Park. Although the box stated that the playing time is between 30 to 60 minutes, when we opened the box, we realized it was more complicated than we expected. Everything else we worked our way through that night fell into the easier category and were essentially card based. They were all quick to learn and none took more than an hour or so from start to finish.

While the men were completing their chess game, us ladies learned Pass the Pandas. It’s a simple, speedy dice game with about four rules. The first to rid of their dice wins.

Unpacking the Unlock! box to play a card escape game.

Our toughest challenge was definitely the Unlock! game. It’s basically an escape room in card format. All four of us had tackled other games in the Unlock! series before. But, we had yet to play together, so we thought we could do that here. Even though the game is rated at a difficulty level of two out of three locks, it was tough and we didn’t technically survive by making it out of the “room” in the allotted hour. I’d chalk up our failure to it being too loud in the cafe to hear some of the recordings we needed to listen to within the accompanying app.

Rhino Hero was so fun! I couldn’t stop laughing as I was attempting to balance the Rhino on that stack of cards.

Once we had muddled our way through that game, we moved on to Rhino Hero. Admittedly, we kind of mixed up the rules a bit, putting each of us at a disadvantage at some point. It’s in the vein of Jenga and the object is to stack the houses higher and higher without knocking the tower over. The downside was that all the roof cards had been folded (we’re guessing this was a mistake by a previous group), which increased the difficulty slightly. No matter though. This was still super fun with a straightforward concept. My girlfriend thought it’d be a perfect game for her kids, so she bought a copy to take home with her.

Check out my monsters towards the end of our game of Bears vs. Babies!

Finally, before we had to head out for the evening, we played a full game of Bears vs. Babies. I’m bad at following rules and directions, so I’m sure I can do better next time, but the gist of the game is to build super strong monsters that can fight off baby armies which periodically attack when someone at the table provokes them. This was designed by the creators of Exploding Kittens, so you can expect things to get a little weird. The whole group enjoyed this one and often chuckled when we saw the combinations we were coming up with for our monsters.

All in, we were there for about four hours and I’d say each person spent, on average, approximately $10. Not too shabby for a full night of entertainment. I have no comparison to any of the other local board game cafes (I would like to stop by all of them down the road). Yet, my experiences specifically at Table Top Cafe have been wonderful. I’d highly recommend that Edmonton residents who want to get into the board game resurgence, or who are already board game enthusiasts, support this local gem.

Escape Games Take Over YEG Entertainment Scene + Escape City Giveaway

45 minutes on the clock. I usually think it's best not to look at it.

45 minutes on the clock. I usually think it’s best not to look at it.

What’s an escape game? You’re with a group, given a scenario, locked in a room and you’re left to solve numerous riddles or puzzles in order to successfully complete your mission within a 45 minute (the typical amount) time frame. If you fail, you’re doomed to stay there for eternity.

Just kidding. They’ll let you go home.

The popularity of escape games is increasing in Edmonton. Cities like Vancouver/Richmond have plenty (at least a dozen different ones that I could find online) and we’re following suit. Within less than a year, three businesses have opened. They’re able to thrive because there’s an insatiable appetite for more once you’ve played. I’ve tried 4 of the rooms at Breakout Entertainment (located in the west end in Mayfield; they periodically replace older games with something new) since they opened last fall and I’ve often discussed the game with anyone who would listen to me, blogging about the idea on The Local Good.

Though Eescape (a.k.a. Edmonton Escape), the second business of this sort, has been open in the heart of downtown since May, I’ve yet to make it there. However, my co-workers and I are planning on testing ourselves during our lunch break soon. Whether or not we all still get along afterwards is yet to be determined. So, that’s my first tip. Pick a good group of people to go with. It’s okay to have competitive players because they’ll probably give it their all until the very end, but hopefully no one with hold a grudge against each other if you fail to get out. After all, it’s just for fun.

Thankfully, I had an excellent group with me when I had a chance to try Edmonton’s newest addition to the market, Escape City, which is located on the south side of the city. I actually stumbled upon them in a random manner. I happened to come across a job link on Google when they were still looking to hire staff. Their name gave it away, and I started feverishly searching for more information. Eventually, I found their website with the Sin City-esque font, colours and film noir feel, and an intriguing link to sign up for early access.

After I signed up at the beginning of July, I reached out to co-owner Mike Ringrose, who you’ve probably heard on the radio or seen in the paper talking about this now. Within the month, they arranged for beta-testing of their three rooms and I managed to snag a spot for four of us.

The scenarios at Escape City. Each game can take up to 6 players at $25 each. Image: Courtesy of Escape City.

The scenarios at Escape City. Each game can take up to 6 players at $25 each. Image: Courtesy of Escape City.

We played Keller’s Magic Emporium, the only one with a disclaimer warning of mature content. It’s also the only one that requires you to sign two waivers because if the aforementioned content. I would recommend this as a great starter room for those new to escape games, so long as you’re an adult or you’re in your late teens. While I don’t want to give anything about that game away, I will tell you that the room is very sleekly done. Escape City worked with local actors, set designers and contractors to create each space and the workmanship shows.

My friends and I thought that the setup of this room was quite linear (I’ve heard the others are not), which likely worked to our benefit. We were out within a record 30 minutes of the 45 you’re given. At the time, Mike said we were the fastest group. It made us feel super smart, especially since this was the first time I’d managed to escape one of these before. It is by design though. This particular room was made to be the easiest of the bunch with an escape rate aimed at 25 per cent. As Mike said, “who doesn’t like to win?”

While that sentiment is true, and we certainly felt awesome afterwards, I don’t think that losing at these games is a drawback to their business either. The failure of getting through and that feeling of being so close to the finish, but in actuality not, is what makes escape games so addictive. My friend joined me at one of these and it was his first time playing. When we left, he spent the better part of two hours bringing the conversation back to the game – what if we’d done this, or if only we’d done that.

It gets stuck in your brain. In an interview with Metro, Mike said that multiple businesses of this genre can coexist because once someone has played a game, even if they didn’t succeed in getting out, they’re not going to come back to play the same one. Customers will seek out another venue for a fresh challenge. And, while I think the sentiment holds true to some extent, I also know people who have played the same scenarios more than once because they truly were at a loss the first time around and were determined to get out on another visit (B.O.M.B. at Breakout is one of those).

The Wall of Fame at Breakout. As you can see, B.O.M.B., is quite difficult (also fairly new at the time).

The Wall of Fame at Breakout. As you can see, B.O.M.B., is quite difficult (also fairly new at the time).

What I love most about these places is that you’re really using your intellect, you’re bonding with people (you know or may not) and you’re getting away from your phone (you must put all of your possessions in a locker before entering the room) and taking a break from life’s other worries.

So, if you have not tried an escape game, you should give it a shot. You won’t be sorry. If you’ve already been, you know what I’ve been talking about.

Best of all, I’m excited to run my first contest on this blog! I’ll be giving away two pairs of complimentary entries to play at Escape City. Each winner will receive a one-time use code valid for two full price tickets ($50 value) to the game of their choice.

To enter the draw, please leave a comment below. A winner will be chosen on August 31, 2015.

Good luck!

 

UPDATE (September 7, 2015): The two winners of the giveaway were Trevor Carter (TJ) and Sheralee Tumm! Congratulations!