Written by Emily Rzeznicki
Will you be my friend? Yes, you. Lovely person reading this article. I enjoy books, film, radical feminism and yes, I am addicted to coffee. So, friends?
Don’t worry, I don’t really expect you to accept me as your new bestie, but I think I’ve made my point - that was awkward and making friends as an adult is hard.
As adults, our social lives become much smaller compared to in our childhood. Our worlds become more private and localized to our jobs, family, and the few hobbies we partake in. We have work friends, yoga buddies, and the local barista who makes our daily morning coffee, but these are all surface acquaintanceships. The prospect of finding new friends becomes especially difficult if you are a part of the community of people who perhaps have alternative interests, meaning if you’re someone who prefers a four hour, combat heavy session of Dungeons and Dragons to an evening of romantic comedies and a bottle of wine. Or, you would rather bring your group of friends to a new board game café rather than a new bar. For those of us who connect with the above, the question then becomes ‘where do I go?’ and ‘where are the other people like me?’
Toronto is a massive city with so much to offer for specific interests. In the last few years the city has blossomed with more and more venues that cater to the gaming community. The boom of board game cafés has allowed many independent businesses to open their doors to the gaming community and put their own unique twists into the landscape. BoardAgain Games is a vibrant and ever-growing board game business and community started by Michelle Isocianu, a veteran gamer herself, who decided she wanted to lead. “I got into games and wanted to share the love of them. There are so many new games coming out too, so it was important to make the events accessible so I can have more reach.”
Along with providing the newest releases of board games, Michelle wanted to make sure that the space she curated was inclusive and felt safe to everyone who entered. “I don’t think there are many events in the city that specifically brand themselves as inclusive. [ to those in the LGBTQ+ community] I think board games are for everyone, so I made a point to make the events more welcoming, and diverse. A lot of gaming spaces are dominated by men, so it was important for me to open my events to more women and queer folks for example, who don’t always feel welcome, or assume to be welcomed into the gaming communities.” Michelle runs a plethora of events and has outsourced other spaces across the city to help build onto the community BoardAgain Games has established. “I run drop in game nights every Wednesday at Away Café (680 College street), Queer Nights, Polyamory Toronto Game Nights, and many others.”
Michelle feels that it is a duty to find like-minded proprietors and is not shy about giving those spaces a platform within her own customer base. A few other establishments she recommends include, Quiche Games who also run inclusive events, ProtoTO, and for anyone who wants to check out larger gaming conventions Michelle recommends Breakout Con. ”They have made a serious effort in being inclusive and accessible, sharing the goal and mission that board games really are for everyone.”
Of course, within any community, there are always hurdles to overcome. While the Toronto gaming scene has made strides to be more welcoming to everyone who wishes to participate, the system isn’t perfect. And there are those who feel reluctant when it comes to inserting themselves into the community for the first time. But Michelle believes that things have improved, “There is always room for improvement, we are not completely there yet, but I feel optimistic by the groups I’m involved with and hopefully the popularity of my brand means that things are moving in the right direction.”
As adults it is daunting to immerse ourselves into a world that we are not entirely familiar with or have neglected for a part of our life. It is even more intimidating to enter that world and attempt to connect with new people in hopes of developing new friendships. You are not alone. People who have at one point never played a table top adventure are now becoming Dungeon Masters and running their own games in the many cafés across the city. It just takes that first step of allowing yourself to try something new and enjoy yourself while doing it. For Michelle, the advice she gives to curious adults is simple, “Try it out! There is a board game for everyone! Board games are a great way to meet new people and share an activity together in a safe and fun environment. Many people come on their own to my events and leave with new friends, creating a nice group of regulars who see each other week after week and connect socially.”
If you need further incentive, Michelle has begun to expand on her goal to make sure BoardAgain Games is accessible to everyone by tackling the issue of café fees. “I'm attempting to gather more support on Patreon, which would make it possible for me to allow folks who can’t afford paying to play, to come and play for free! It is expensive to live and play in the city, so I’d like to encourage those who are more fortunate to help more marginalized folks enjoy a safe, fair, and accessible gaming experience.”
Do you ever feel a burning desire to take on the persona of a heroic warrior and battle your way through fantastical lands? Have you ever wondered how apt a detective you would be? Or, do you want to crush your friends with your extensive trivia knowledge? If you answered yes or even a maybe to any of the above, it’s likely time to go to a board game café. With so many establishments, conventions, and local communities, the prospect of finding new personal connections is easier than ever. Why hold back?
Just don’t go chaotic evil too fast!