Hidden on a high street, there is an orange door that leads to a staircase.
When you blink, you will miss the people ducking through the entrance and ascending to another domain.
Upon entry, you’ll be met with the waft of coffee and sweet delicacies in the air, paired with the frustrated grumbling of groups.
Because here lies no ordinary coffee shop – it’s an arena for the battle of the board games where friends and families compete to be named champion. Welcome to Red Panda Gaming Café.
The café boasts that it’s Lincoln’s only dedicated board gaming café and is one of many similar specialist coffee shops opening across the UK.
Lincoln has a variety of communities and businesses dedicated to table-top games. At the top of Steep Hill, a board gaming group holds weekly gatherings at a local pub.
Then further down the High Street and tucked onto Silver Street, there is the Comic Culture store, home to board games, comic books and evening events.
Despite the heavy concentration of digital games such as Grand Theft Auto and Pokémon Go, market research group NPD found in 2016 that there was a 20% rise in sales of table-top games compared with the previous year.
Lincoln’s Board Gaming Group has been able to witness this growth first hand. Ben Kirman, 38, is a University of York lecturer and started the weekly club in 2006.
“Over the past 10 years we have seen the numbers of people in the group increase but also the awareness and availability of games too.
“Now we can go into stores like Waterstones and there will be a wider selection of games. However, 10 years ago that wouldn’t have happened. Playing board games is more popular than it has ever been.”
Back to Red Panda Gaming Café, Owner Alex Bellamy strokes his beard as he tells me how his love for board games began as child when he would sit down with family and friends to play Monopoly and Scrabble. Alex worked in accounting but his passion for board games pushed him to open the unique café. In the coffee shop, most people reach for traditional games such as Cluedo and Top Trumps. Alex, 25, said: “It must be the nostalgia feel, playing it as a kid and then going back to it.”
For Alex, video games have taken a back seat since developing his business. “You can talk to your friends online but if you look around, you’re sat by yourself, probably in the dark, playing a single player game.
“But with board games you’re sat around a table, chatting and playing. It’s such a more social atmosphere than video games are and that’s why they’re taking off again.”
The social aspect is also important to Tim Pickers, the manager of Comic Culture. He said: “I think sitting face-to-face and playing a board game, away from your phone and computer, a lot of people prefer that.”
Comic Culture first opened more than 30 years ago and was originally a mail order business. The shop hosts board game nights for regulars with busy Saturdays bringing in up to 50 people to join in. Toying with his glasses, Tim cannot see the admiration of board games increasing in the future despite the boom in sales.
“There is a certain amount of people that enjoy board games and that number isn’t necessarily going to increase. It has reached its high point,” he says.
“I also don’t think it’s going to drastically decrease because so many people with computer-based jobs look forward to getting away from it.”
On the contrary, Alex hopes numbers do continue to rise for future generations. Part of his job is encouraging people to try new games. He said: “We’re trying to keep our library up to date and introducing our customers to new games to maintain their interest.”
For people today, table-top gaming is more than a way to ease boredom and offers the chance to spend quality time with friends and family. Scanning the café for the last time, Alex can be seen teaching a young couple a new game in one corner, there’s a family eagerly playing Cluedo in another and men are sipping hot drinks over a game of Catan.
The visitor wall on the way out shows hundreds of names of those who have visited the café and will keep the dice rolling for years to come.Tweet