Board game cafe focuses on social experience

 

Rory Veronda, owner of the Empire Board Game Library says he spends a lot of his work time at play.

“I probably game here more than I actually work,” said Veronda, who oversees New Mexico’s first repository for board games.

The entrepreneur says the idea of a board game library isn’t new, but Empire was the first of its kind in New Mexico when it opened in April 2015.

“I’ve been passionate about board games for over 20 years and I’ve always wanted something like this for myself,” Veronda said.

The board game library and cafe, located in Nob Hill, gives customers access to nearly 700 games. Veronda says it took years to collect all of them.

“It’s beyond anyone who’s outside the [board game] community could ever imagine. Any sort of game that you could ever want… it probably exists or it’s coming out soon,” said Victor Hall, the manager of the Empire Board Game Library.

But with so many options, Hall says the most popular games tend to have a lot of strategy and aren’t too technically complex.

“These are games that you can have someone that is 80 years old playing with their grandchildren and their parents are there too, and they’ll all have a good time for different reasons,” Hall said.

Because space in the library is limited, Veronda says less popular games are replaced regularly.

“One thing that’s great about this industry is that it’s constantly evolving. There’s always new games coming out. There’s always something hot and we always have to decide what’s not so hot,” Veronda said.

For customers who want to take home a game, the Empire Board Game Library sells them, too. The retail wall – as Veronda calls it – displays games that are for sale. Hall says about 25 percent of customers make a game purchase.

But Veronda says it’s risky to buy a game before playing it, and that’s what makes the board game library a good deal. The board game industry is expensive, especially for someone who isn’t familiar with a game.

“It’s a big chance to shell out $60, $70 for a board game and then get it home and realize that you don’t like it or it doesn’t play right,” Veronda said. “That’s what’s great about the library: you don’t have to buy it.”

At capacity on Saturdays

Before going into business Veronda says he was pleasantly surprised at the size of the Albuquerque board game community.

“It was much bigger than I expected,” he said.

The Empire Board Game Library seats 72 people and it’s not uncommon to be at capacity, Veronda said. Saturdays are his busiest day of the week.

The Empire Board Game Library focuses on being open and friendly. Hall said about half of the customers aren’t serious gamers.

“When people sit down there’s no judgments on what they’re playing… We’ll take the time to really actually care about your experience,” Hall said.

For $3 an hour, game valets help customers choose a game, explain the rules, and answer any questions. Customers can also enjoy food, dessert, and beverages from the cafe while they play.

Board game designer Mike Fitzgerald says the average person gets intimidated in a gaming environment.

“They approach it as a competition instead of a social experience and these kind of places…can get people to find where the joy is in gaming,” Fitzgerald said.

Veronda says owning a business like the Empire Board Game Library has been rewarding.

“When people come in here they, they just have so much fun and they can’t wait to come back and I really like that a lot,” Veronda said. I feel like I’m exposing a whole different world to the community.”

Veronda says it’s no secret that he would love to expand the Empire Board Game Library to the building next door, but he expresses uncertainty about opening a second location in Albuquerque.

“I don’t know if there could be two of the same type concepts in Albuquerque. Albuquerque is big, but I don’t know if Albuquerque is big enough. This is kind of a bigger city concept,” he said.

Veronda says he’s actively looking to expand his business into a different state. And he hopes to open a second location this year.

“Whatever I’m going to do in the future it’s going to be just like this,” Veronda said. “We’re constantly working on making this a better system and this a better business.”

Listen to our audio interview below, and follow Alicia on Twitter.