Philly’s newest board game cafe: 1200 titles, Vietnamese coffee and an inclusive vibe – Billy Penn

Consider Queen & Rook proof that board games are officially trending in Philadelphia.

Last fall saw the launch of Thirsty Dice Board Game Cafe in Fairmount. Roxborough’s Basement Board Game Cafe joined the scene earlier this year. And this week brought the opening of the city’s newest spot, set in the former Hikaru restaurant space at 607 S. 2nd St., just south of South.

But the three trendsetters need not be fierce competitors. They’re catering to different neighborhood audiences, and the newcomer in Queen Village, which opened Friday night, is bringing some different vibes to the table.

Cofounder Edward Garcia intends Queen & Rook Game Cafe to be a purposely inclusive setting. He and his wife Jeannie Wong are proprietors, and between partners and investors, the ownership breakdown is 65% women and 85% people of color, Garcia told Billy Penn, adding that the staff will reflect that makeup.

The cafe boasts a unique menu of vegetarian bites — think “mozz sticks” and “Gritty snacks” — plus Vietnamese coffee. It also distinguishes itself with the size of its collection.

Queen & Rook’s shelves hold 1,200 tabletop games, the largest stockpile of the bunch.

At its heart, the cafe is about promoting the atmosphere of public gaming. Garcia fell for the concept after stumbling into Randoph, a board game cafe in Montreal, several years ago while trying to escape a bachelor party for a bite to eat.

“It didn’t feel like a bar scene, it had a different vibe,” Garcia said. “Nobody is on the phone, everybody is looking at each other.”

Now open on weekday evenings and weekends, Queen & Rook charges $7 admission for three hours of hanging out and gameplay. The cafe secured a temporary liquor license in time for opening night, so if you want, you can buy booze to spark your fun.

Here’s five things to know about gaming at Philly’s new analog entertainment destination.

The extensive inventory is stacked on high shelves and organized by themes, but there’s no need to worry about decision anxiety.

Q&R has gamekeepers on staff whose entire job is helping customers find the right fit. Distinct from the food and drink servers, their mission is to select the right game for your group, and then teach you the rules — so you can spend less time reading up and more time playing with friends.

Garcia and Wong are parents to youngish children, so they worked to make sure there was entertainment for the entire family at Queen & Rook. And not just fleeting distractions.

“There are bars that just have coloring books for kids, and they think that’s enough,” Garcia said. “It’s not.”

That means lots of food themed games that are easy to teach — like Go Nuts for Donuts, or Sushi Go, a card game where you earn points by making maki rolls — plus commercial titles like Disney’s uber-popular Villainous, in which you play the sinister franchise villains like Maleficent and Captain Hook.

“Themed” games constitute a large chunk of Q&R’s supply, Garcia said.

Star Wars amd Walking Dead board games have a large playership. Then there are the Game of Thrones tabletop boards — whose devotees predate the popular HBO series. For older gens, there’s the opportunity to dedicate your night to tabletop play around Doctor Who or Starsky & Hutch.

Strategy games have various features like roleplaying, resource gathering, world building character development. But they’re not just for obsessives.

Queen & Rook categorizes strategy games by difficulty, from easy to medium to difficult to what Garcia has dubbed “Level 99.”

“Level 99 games take a while to play and a long time to explain,” he said. “They’re not for the faint of heart.”

Think games that involve world-shifting combat like Gloomhaven, or 90s-era empire building like Twilight Imperium. Yes, there’s favorites like Settlers of Catan, too.

These games are multi-hour investments, but Queen & Rook boasts 80 seats — which should be enough for people who want to hunker down longer than three hours. “We’ll be busy but I’m hoping we won’t be frantic,” Garcia said.

Queen & Rook takes its name from two of the strongest pieces on the chessboard, and Queen Village’s game shop is not expecting the classic tabletop games to gather dust.

“The library really is not just that we scratch our own itch, but everyone’s,” Garcia said.

For now, Queen & Rook will be open weeknight hours and weekends. That’s 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday.