Board games have made a comeback! Board game cafes are popping all the time it seems and none of them are without customers eager to play. Groups out there have started their own leagues, and even here at Let’z, Board Games Night is a monthly event. There is one group, however, that always captured our attention when we were putting up Toronto Queer women events: BoardAgain Games. You may have heard of them; they are on a meetup, they host regular events at various locations and they have their own blog and website that sells board games too. But after talking to the founder of the group, Michelle Isocianu, we were blown away by her good spirit, desire to help our community and positive attitude.
Michelle started BoardAgain Games as a natural progression, from the time her living room would fill with friends wanting to play together, to later not having enough space for everyone to fit, to thinking “Hey, let me try this.” So, in March of 2015, she did a big launch at ArteGelato on Bloor West and it was a wild success. At the time, she had help from three other partners, David, Matt and Tianna.
Fast-forward to 2.5 years later and Michelle is doing this full time and mostly by herself. She’s been to countless festivals in Toronto to showcase her events, like Fringe Festival, and she’s even been invited to Two Islands Weekend , an adult camp. “It’s really fun, we got to play board games and just hang out with the people there,” she says. To promote her events, at one point Michelle even had a pop-up store that she was sharing with a few other vendors, made possible thanks to Vacantful.
What makes Michelle stand out is that all the board games she brings to her events are ones she would want to play herself. That’s why, for example, you will never find Cards Against Humanity at one of her events. “There are better games out there,” she says. One of her favourite recommended alternatives to Cards Against Humanity is Say Anything, “It makes you own up to your answers.” The premise of the game is very similar except that, instead of cards, you have to write your answers on a whiteboard. This allows you to be more creative, the voting is secret, and there’s a strategy component to it. “It makes you take ownership of your answers, there is no excuse of ‘The cards made me say it’.”
Michelle also takes a few moments before jumping right into her events to read the room, figuring out what the room might want, and getting a feel for the skill level and the pace they would like. “Board games [are] a good ice breaker” and it brings people together. There is nothing Michelle likes more at her events than seeing returning players play the same game, trying to figure out its nuances and strategizing to be a better player, or moving on to a harder board game.
We asked Michelle about the sudden popularity of board games — only a few decades ago board games were almost taboo, except for the basic ones like Risk and Monopoly. Although she admitted she couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason for their popularity, she does have a few theories: Board games are a great ice breaker in any social situation; it is possibly one
of the few events that you can enjoy going to without having to have any alcohol; it’s relatively cheap; in our day and age when everything is online, board games require a lot of human interaction and it feels nice.
What’s also great about BoardAgain Games is that they give back to our community by not only making the events affordable for anyone to join, but Michelle also hosts Women and Trans Game Night on the second Thursday of every month at SeaScape. It’s a woman-owned, sci-fi themed game cafe. Michelle felt that it was important for her to keep it in a friendly environment while being mindful of the cost. The owner of SeaScape has welcomed Michelle with open arms.
Although she says she wouldn’t want to open up a board game cafe on her own, she might consider partnering with a cafe. Being true to her roots in hospitality, her dream is to build a Bed & Breakfast that has board games and related events on the first floor and rooms to rent out on the second. This little venture that started out in Michelle’s living room has grown into so much more. Even if at first it was a business idea, over time it has evolved into something more: It became about community building and bringing people together.
BoardAgainGames has a weekly drop-in game night at Death in Venice Gelato, as well as a monthly Women and Trans Game Night at See Scape. You can keep up-to-date by checking out their website and facebook