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New Board Game Café Welcomes You, But Not Your Laptop

Snakes and Lattes on Sunday evening, papered up in advance of its first day of business, which is today.

Ben Castanie’s new Koreatown café, at 600 Bloor Street West, just east of Palmerston Avenue, will emphatically not have free Wi-Fi. In fact, laptops and their attendant air of isolation are completely counter to what Castanie is trying to do. “I just don’t want people sitting staring at their screens,” he says. Then he starts explaining the system of categorization he’d used to organize his café’s library of 1,500-plus board games.
Snakes and Lattes, as the café is (pretty cleverly) known, opened for business earlier today.

Owned by Castanie and his girlfriend, Aurelia Peynet—first-time entrepreneurs—the place looks similar to any other newly renovated café on its section of Bloor Street, except for the board games, which occupy a set of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that run half the length of the room. Castanie amassed the collection over the course of two years, by diligently scouring garage sales and thrift stores. He inspected every box to ensure that no pieces were missing. A few must-have games were purchased new.
Snakes and Lattes is Toronto’s first “board game café.” Customers each pay a five-dollar flat fee for unlimited use of the game collection during a single visit. There are also drinks (including lattes, of course), tarts, and quiches. A liquor license is on the way.
The five-dollar fee, in addition to usage of the games, buys expert instruction-manual guidance.
Castanie, who is proudly French, but speaks English with a British accent because of time spent in the UK before he and Aurelia emigrated to Canada four years ago, is a believer in the power of games to bring people together. Anyone who comes in a small group should be prepared to make new friends.
“A game is not meant to be [played by] two,” he says. “So you know what? If there’s two groups, well then, we’ll just make sure they play together, right?”
“You learn a lot from people playing board games.”

A bookshelf holding some of the café’s 1,500-plus game collection.

The games on offer include many old favourites, but the catalogue runs far deeper than just the basics. Castanie is particularly proud of his selection of “Euro games,” so-called because they tend to be designed and produced in countries like Germany and France. Euro games are characterized by their simple rules, and their lack of player elimination. They’re considered quick and easy to learn, and they lend themselves to casual play. Settlers of Catan, a German game, is one particularly popular and well-known instance of the genre.
Castanie says the idea for a board game café originated with a French business concept known as a “toy-lending library,” which is a place where customers can rent games, board games, or other types of toys.
Board game cafés are not unheard of in other parts of the world. South Korea experienced a vogue for them, beginning about a decade ago—but Castanie, who would know, says that the fad, there, has peaked. Now, he says, board game cafés are beginning to become popular in English-speaking parts of Asia, like Singapore and Hong Kong.
Asked if he’s worried that the idea won’t catch on in Toronto, he grins.
“I don’t think so,” he says. “I think they’re gonna like it.”
Photos by D.A. Cooper/Torontoist.


  • mikeyteeth

    This is the best news.

  • http://undefined spacejack

    Oh man, things move way too fast. I can’t believe that not having wifi/encouraging laptops is a novel theme already. I support this idea 100%.
    (I guess it will be the exact opposite of the Linux cafe just south of there on Harbord :)

  • http://undefined superbien3

    This place is AMAZING !!!!!
    I joined the facebook fan page today :

  • http://undefined Chester Pape

    As a coffee shop I couldn’t see this surviving long term, but I notice a liquor license application sign. I can totally see THAT working especially in that neighborhood, the combination of beer (especially cheap beer), twentysomething hipsters and Settlers of Catan has great potential.

  • accozzaglia

    I think the discouragement of wifi is a good idea, but outright ban of laptops (I wonder if iPads and Kindles are included) would suggest that anyone glazed on something other than a board game or other people would also include people reading paper books. Then again, “completely counter” might not mean “ban of devices”, but it sounds like it will be peer-pressured into place.
    Board games are fun, though. With that, I can’t help but think LATFH.

  • Steve Kupferman

    To the best of my knowledge, “no laptops” is not an ironclad store policy. Laptops are merely discouraged.
    They’re nice folks, and I’m sure they wouldn’t kick anyone out for not gaming.

  • thelemur

    Call me a pessimist, but I see a lot of potential for careless hipsters losing game pieces/dice/cards, spilling crumbs and beverages on game boards, etc.
    “A game is not meant to be [played by] two,”
    I guess that means no chess, checkers, backgammon or go, then.

  • accozzaglia

    A list of persnickety restrictions right off the bat for potential patrons is never a good sign.

  • thelemur

    No, but there will be a period in which the owners and patrons will need to align their respective expectations.

  • http://undefined Pawlo

    The defunct “Moody Blues” on Regina Street in Waterloo used to have a nice collection of board games and it also doubled as a used-book store. Their chocolate cake was the best and the selection of teas bar none. So it is not a novel idea… it is new for Toronto though.
    My issue: the $5 fee. If it would be a $5 per couple or per group might (just might) be better.

  • http://undefined Andrew T

    I’m pretty sure he just didn’t articulate himself very well, considering that they have on offer a sizable number of games which only support two players.
    My wife and I went on opening day, and not only did we play a number of two player games on our own, the owner even suggested and taught us one of their two player games.

  • http://undefined JackNimble

    I have been waiting for a place like this. We play so many games with our kids. I think it would be fun to be able to try more out. Great idea

  • http://undefined Michelle

    I like the idea. $5/person seems a little steep though. That price should include a coffee.
    It’s definitely worth checking out. =D

  • http://undefined thelemur

    Either they should include a coffee for the $5 or they should make it a membership fee for more than one visit – that would help offset the cost of replacing/repairing the games. Because aside from the food, most people have no problem keeping their $5 and drinking coffee and playing board games at home instead.

  • http://undefined Solex

    Add Dungeons & Dragons and other CCG’s (customizable card games) made by Wizards Of The Coast and other companies, plus similar RPG’s like Warhammer 40,000 and they’ll have people beating a path to their door

  • http://undefined Solex

    Oops, just to clarify: RPG’s in this case aren’t Rocket Propelled Grenades, but Role Playing Games

  • http://undefined Laura

    The problem with this place is they don’t know how to treat customers. Is it because they are so busy they feel the ones in the door are most important and potential ones do not matter. I tried to make a reservation and after a month of calling I finally get a human. He tells me they cannot take my group of eight and that we should go else where. What did I hear that correct? He just said my group of eight people should go else where? Yup, that’s good business savy! Now I’m posting it. I will go else where with my group of eight, tonight and every night!!!

  • http://undefined John

    C’mon guys, the $5 is to justify taking up a whole table and playing games for 1-3+ hours!
    I’ll admit though that when a whole table pays for the admission and then also buys drinks and food, it does adds up. Maybe they could make it a cheaper admission IF you buy food or drinks?
    The coffees were superb. Food was meh. But the game selection’s amazing and the environment is super comfortable!
    Totally going again!

  • Guest

    WOW i want to go there