5 Tips for Playing Board Games in Public

Some rights reserved by Ladislav Beneš. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.
My wife Megan and I often play board games at cafés around town. Playing at home is a very different experience than playing in public. We've come across some particular points of etiquette that we sort of took for granted. A friend's recent Facebook update mentioned a couple of rude board gamers sitting next to her at a coffee shop, so I thought we could share some tips.

#1: Pick the right place.
Indoors: Look for an establishment that has comfy chairs, a welcoming atmosphere and lots of idle chatty patrons. Local cafés are our favorite spots, but a pub could work, too. Once you get there, choose a table that has enough room for your game and any food or drinks you have ordered. It's worth noting that public libraries frequently host game nights for local chess clubs. Ask your library if they'd host a general game event, too.

Outdoors: Public parks frequently have chess tables for your use. Be careful, though. Choose a safe place to gather where you won't get hassled by unfriendly guests. Also, make sure your game won't get strewn about by a strong gust of wind. Heavy chess, checkers and backgammon sets are great for this situation. Wooden versions of your favorite board game also work. Card games aren't as good, though.

#2: Pick the right game.
If you're playing in a quiet space, try not to play a game that requires a lot of loud, frequent dice rolling. If it does call for dice, roll them on a felted tray of some kind. But overall it's probably better to stick to a tile placement or card-drawing game. By contrast, if you're playing in a loud space, save your voice by choosing a game that doesn't require a lot of delicate conversation. Aside from noise concerns, you want to be careful not to bring a game that you're afraid of getting stained or spilled upon. It's hard to get coffee stains out of Marrakech rugs.

Some rights reserved by Melina Stathopoulos. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.
#3: Pick the right time.
It's no fun to play a game when you feel rushed to leave your table. A lot of restaurant workers depend on tips to make a living, so they'll want to get as many diners in as many tables in as little time as possible. Choose a time when the staff won't mind you sitting at a table for a while. We try not to stay longer than an hour. 90 minutes max. Also, keep an eye out for a posted schedule of events. You don't want to show up ready to play at a coffee shop only to realize they have a poetry-reading going on that night.

#4: Be good patrons.
If you're playing in a cafe, pub or restaurant, be sure to purchase food or drink and keep that purchase in front of you. As noted above, try not to overstay your welcome, but at least make a purchase every hour. Tip your server well and clean up after yourself. If you can’t afford that, see the above advice about public libraries and parks. In any place, you're probably competing with freelancers for long-term butt-space. The seats closest to an outlet are going to be prized real estate for them, so leave those available.

#5: Be representatives, not salespeople.
As you play, you'll get a few glances from fellow patrons. Some will be curious enough to ask what it is you're playing, but most will be too shy. Save them the trouble by positioning the game box so the game's name is clearly visible. Be approachable. Be willing to explain the game to random passersby. Don't let this explanation creep into a sales pitch. Most restaurants don't want solicitors using their establishment as a storefront, so if your guest is curious enough, direct them to a handy web address.

» Game-Friendly Cafés: Red Cup, Snakes and Lattes, Haunted Game, Norita
» Photos CC-Licensed by Melina Stathopoulos, Ladislav Beneš
Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.