I first heard about boardgame cafes a few years ago. I instantly thought that this was a brilliant idea but, for no good reason whatsoever, it took a long time before I would experience this sort of cafe for myself.
The first such occasion was not that long ago while I was on a trip to Australia. After hearing positive things about it from locals, we decided to head on over to The Hungry Hippo in Adelaide one evening.
Now, before you simply dismiss the idea of a boardgame cafe as just another symptom of the hipsterdom that can be found in most major cities, keep reading. We ended up going to The Hungry Hippo twice (it was that good), and I, as a new boardgame cafe convert, will do my best to convince you that this is a worthwhile way to spend your afternoon/evening.
If your parents introduced you to boardgames while you were quite young, you’ll already know what this particular cafe’s name refers to. Hungry Hungry Hippos is a classic kids’ game, which involves plastic hippos rather greedily vying for the chance to chomp down on the most marbles.
While the name might refer to an old-school game, The Hungry Hippo’s interior is anything but dated. Located on busy Hindley Street, we spotted the cafe’s wooden signage from a fair distance away. Inside, we found chairs that matched the entire colour spectrum, as well as a good range of table sizes, catering for couples as well as larger groups.
Eye-catching artworks adorn the walls but, importantly, so do the cafe’s rules. The concept is simple. Visitors get three-hour slots to play boardgames. Everyone has to pay $5 to have access to the cafe’s games.
Once you’ve chosen a table and agreed to pay the cover charge, you can either go pick a game or you can ask one of the cafe’s game masters for advice. Since The Hungry Hippo has a library of hundreds of boardgames – most of which I’d never heard of – you can say what sort of game you like or are looking for, and the game masters will be able to point you in the right direction.
Whether you’re looking for something quick or slow, competitive or teamwork based, there’ll be a boardgame for you.
Over the course of our two visits, we played games called Codenames, King of Tokyo, Splendour and Ticket to Ride. We all became obsessed with the latter game, which involved trying to build train line routes across maps (obviously appealing to the travel geeks in the group!). If you get stuck over a specific boardgame’s rules, the game masters can also help you out with unravelling these.
Just be warned: some games take longer than others. If you are just picking a game at random, make sure you know how long the game might last. Two girls next to us picked one, only to be told by the game master that an average play of that game lasted four hours!
And, if you end up really liking a game, you can take it home, as the cafe also sells some of its most popular boardgames.
It’s not all about the games at The Hungry Hippo, however, as the cafe also has some excellent food and drink on offer. Continuing with the communal theme, most of the menu consists of small sharing plates. We loved the tempura vegetables, as well as the battlechips (see what they did there?), settlers of chickan (I wouldn’t be able to make these up) and falafel fleet. If you have some room left over, don’t miss out on the dessert. We had white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake, which was divine.
Coffees and teas are served, as are alcoholic beverages.
I could go on endlessly about the games themselves and the food, but what we loved most about The Hungry Hippo was the atmosphere. Relaxed, with good music and friendly, helpful game masters, both of our three-hour timeslots at The Hungry Hippo zoomed by. If your visit happens to coincide with a quieter time, you can stay on beyond the three hours.
Every time we went there, the cafe seemed to be filled with groups of people who made a regular habit of visiting. And who can blame them? If I was an Adelaide local, this would be the spot where I’d hang out with my friends over the weekend.
Out of all of the entertainment venues we visited in Adelaide, The Hungry Hippo was by far our favourite. Whether you’re a complete boardgame newbie (we were) or a contender to be one of the new game masters, the cafe is a fun, non-intimidating space to spend time with friends or family. We were almost crying with laughter as we got rules wrong and when our game ‘strategies’ fell to pieces.
In fact, The Hungry Hippo has already led to me visiting two other boardgame cafes here in the UK. If you’re not close enough to Adelaide to pop in to this cafe, check to see whether your own city has a boardgame venue. I guarantee that, if it’s anything like The Hungry Hippo, you’ll end up loving the concept as much as I do.
A last word of advice? If you do venture to The Hungry Hippo during a weekend, it might be worth booking ahead as it can get busy!
Have you visited The Hungry Hippo? Or have you gone to a boardgame cafe before? Let me know about your experiences in the comments below!
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Want to know more about Adelaide? Read about why Adelaide should be on your Australian bucket list.