How to pull off a Library Board Game Cafe on a budget

board game cafe 12Board games and libraries are an obvious dream team. Libraries value literacy, critical thinking, storytelling, community building, and unique experiences – board games encourage all of those things too. But board game events can seem dry and old fashioned to people who don’t yet know how awesome new board games can be.

There are so many games out there now, each with different gameplay, visual style, difficulty, and tone. Just like with books, there are infinite combinations of board game appeal factors. Meaning there’s something for everyone. Your goal is to match people up with their perfect game.

I ran a drop in Board Game Cafe program that attracted players from age 4 to 70. I partnered with 3 local board game cafes, and 5 local coffee roasters, who donated their time and coffee beans. New games were learned, new coffee was discovered, and new friendships were formed. It was a dream come true, in terms of adult programming!

The event runs twice a month in the evening, and regularly attracts 25-35 attendees. It differed from other drop in board game programs because of the cozy-cafe and low-key-party atmosphere.

The 3 overarching goals of the program:

  • Introduce gamers to new board games
  • Promote local businesses
  • Create a low-stress social space

Wondering if your library can run a board game cafe? Here are my 9 tips for board game cafe success:

  1. Purchase a small, but varied, collection of board games for your library. I selected Settlers of Catan (strategy), Pandemic (cooperative strategy), Avalon (bluffing game), Anomia (word / party game), and Smash Up (deck building). In the off chance that your board game cafe partner backs out at the last second, you can still run the program. Also, you can pull them out to help bolster other programs, or entertain bored tweens. Select games that are either well known (like Settlers of Catan) or easy to learn (like Anomia).
    board game cafe 17
  2. Contact local board game cafes. My city has 3, and all of them were enthusiastic participants. Explain the premise of your program (to introduce the community to new games and local businesses). Explain where their company name will be advertised in relation to the program (social media, posters, library magazine, etc). Let them know that they can bring promotional material like coupons or business cards. Ideally, you want them to come in with a collection of games (most of my partners brought 15-30 games each time), and circulate the groups, teaching games when necessary.
  3. Contact local coffee roasters. Explain that they purpose of your program is to feature local businesses, and that each week you will serve locally roasted coffee. Explain where the company name and logo will be advertised. Specify which type of bean (ground or whole bean), and what size bag (1/2 pound or full pound) you’re looking for. Offer to pick up the donation yourself. I sent out a lot of e-mails, some of which were never responded to. However, I received enough interest that I could serve fresh local coffee at all 6 of my events. And it was delicious.
    board game cafe 20.jpg
  4. Prepare the room. I ran this program primarily in our large programming room, which gave it a cozy, cafe like atmosphere. I also tried it out in the library, which was fine, but felt less special. I created a cute bunting banner to hang in the doorway, announcing “Board Game Cafe.” I set up one table as the cafe booth – coffee carafes, tea display, hot water, cookies, napkins, stir sticks, milk sugar…basically as similar to an actual cafe as possible.
  5. Make a slide show and pick a playlist. If you have a projector and speakers – use them! I made a simple 4 slide presentation that cycled through during the events – I promoted other events for 20/30s, put the logos for our partners up, and posted the dates for the next events. I also used Songza and to find low-key indie playlists.
  6. Create a promotional image. Use to create an attractive, simple “logo” for the event.
    board game cafe sign
  7. Write your promotional descriptions carefully. Mention the goal of the series (to introduce players to new games, and to feature local businesses), and specifically name some of the new games you’ll have available. This will show people what to expect: new gamers will be relieved that it’s not just Monopoly and Scrabble, and classic gamers will be intrigued by the chance to learn something new. Use exciting, silly language like “Do you enjoy adopting secret identities, saving the world from impending doom, and arguing about wheat?” Mention that people are welcome to come alone or in a group. Use the words “free coffee.
    board game cafe 9
  8. Advertise! I found that each event, between 1/3 and 1/2 of my participants found out about the event from I also posted the event on a local community forum site, twitter, blogs, Facebook, and of course the library website.
  9. Have a plan for kids. If your program is a drop in, kids will drop in. Make sure you have a couple games that are easy to teach and exciting to kids. A couple that worked well for us were Headbandz, Magic Labyrinth, and Dixit.

All in all this has been one of my most successful events yet – all my goals were met, and I’ve received lots of positive feedback from the community. Library Board Games Cafes are such a fun way to bring a community together and connect people with local businesses.


Cool Contemporary Board Game Resources:

  • TableTop Show
    Watch as Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day host celebrities and play / review new board games.
  • Board Game Geek
    A full database of new board games and reviews with a frequently updated list of the top board games.
  • The Dice Tower
    A great podcast all about board games – including lists of must play games, and predictions of future gaming trends.
  • Five Free Printable Board Games
    If you have a printer you can own these 5 board games! More printable games are available here.

Have you run any library board game events? Which games would you recommend?

4 thoughts on “How to pull off a Library Board Game Cafe on a budget

  1. This looks like an amazing event. Way to go! I am going to have to try to bring this to my library. We are small and rural, but I think it might be worth trying!

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