Try King Tokyo: Dark Edition with the house beef jerky Credit: courtesy chicago board game cafe

Eric Garneau keeps playing Pandemic Legacy. And as the director of games and retail at the Chicago Board Game Cafe, he has access to more games than most. “I know it sounds kind of morbid, but it feels like a way to have some sort of modicum of control over everything.”

Like many other small businesses and restaurants, the Chicago Board Game Cafe was thrown for a loop when coronavirus caused the city to shut down—the last day they offered dine-in service was March 14, exactly one month after the cafe’s grand opening. Since then, they, like most, have had to pivot to pickup and delivery options to make ends meet. But to keep the experience of the brick and mortar alive for diners at home, they offer games along with their meals.

“I feel like especially if you’re quarantined with other people right now, there’s a way in which board games are an escape, but they also forge these connections and make them better, maybe even with people you’re kind of tired of being around,” Garneau says. “They let you step outside of this day-to-day existence and do something interesting and imaginative together.”

And diners shouldn’t feel anxious if they’re unsure about how to play the game they ordered—included in the package is a text-in number to ask questions. One of the Board Game Cafe teachers will then either text back or set up a Google Meet session to make sure folks are fully ready to play, just another way they’re keeping their staff employed. Not to mention, each game can be ordered with something off the cafe’s food and drink menu. The physical space was designed with the menu in mind to attract all kinds of crowds and introduce them to the sometimes insular, not-as-scary-or-nerdy-as-it-sounds world of games. Instead of regular bar food like chicken wings or pizza, the menu is made up of higher-end, international dishes. Garneau’s go-tos are the Greyhound cocktail and the pork huaraches. (“I’d eat it every day if I could—which I guess I can actually,” he says, realizing in the moment the enticing possibility.)

While we can’t yet gather inside the cafe, Garneau passed along suggestions for game and food and drink pairings to recreate the magic in your own living room, dining room, kitchen, or wherever you choose to settle these days. “We think really hard about presenting a full, good experience; even though people are at home we don’t want them to feel slighted,” Garneau says. “We still want it to be a good time for people.”

Garneau’s recipes for gaming success:

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set
Some folks are taking advantage of this extended time at home to dive into hobbies they’ve always been curious about. For us, one of our favorites is Dungeons & Dragons, the world’s longest-running and best roleplaying game. This starter set gives you everything you need for three to six people to start playing, including premade characters, a great adventure (that fans of The Adventure Zone podcast will recognize), and even dice—and it’s an absolute steal at $19.99. We recommend pairing this with our bun ga, which has kind of become our signature item. It’s a Vietnamese rice noodle dish with crispy chicken hindquarter. D&D is all about adventures and traveling, and this dish was inspired by our culinary team’s world travels, so it’s a great fit!

Exploding Kittens
One of our best sellers during this time has been this fast-paced card game that combines Old Maid-style play with the artwork and attitude of The Oatmeal webcomic. This game is great for families or folks looking for something simple; it’s one of our breeziest offerings but is also super replayable. Pair with a bag of pho ga popcorn (tossed with chicken skin, pho spice, lime, and chile) and our grapefruit soda mocktail kit for a nice all-ages afternoon of gaming.

This two-player abstract strategy game will tickle the same parts of your brain as chess but plays totally differently. Fantasy fans will recognize this game from Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle novels. It’s absolutely perfect for a date night in. We recommend pairing with other items on our menu that combine food and activities . . . our take-and-bake chocolate chip cookies have been super popular lately, as have our cocktail kits (I can’t say enough good things about our Greyhound).

King of Tokyo: Dark Edition
This is a brand-new, limited-release update of one of our favorite games, which combines Godzilla-themed action with Yahtzee-style play, making it another great choice for families. Given the “dark” theme of this special edition, we recommend pairing with food and drink that share a similar palette—Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout is one of our favorite dark beers, and the house beef jerky comes in a sharable bag for four!

This is a team vs. team word-guessing game that we’re all enamored with. You’ll never feel more like a classy spy (unless you are actually a spy). This game was designed in France, and we think it’s fun to pair with other French delicacies, like our special cheese and charcuterie kit made in tandem with wholesaler Regalis Chicago (this stuff is usually not available direct to consumers) and our Robert Sinskey Pinot Gris, a fantastic dessert wine.   v