Restaurants / Bars / Openings

Houston Lands its First Board Game Cafe and its Inventory is Bonkers: You Will Pass Go — and Eat English Food

BY // 12.27.17

A team of enterprising Houstonians are rolling the dice and opening up Clutch City’s first board game cafe. Tea + Victory, located at 20th and T.C. Jester near The Heights, is set to open in early 2018.

Husband-and-wife team Jason Bush and Vanessa Briceño and friend Meghan Rega are bringing everything from your common Connect Four to the curious Cockroach Poker.

It’s not just that the game is afoot. More than 500 games are afoot in Tea + Victory’s extensive game library.

They’re just now getting their skin in the game, but all three have been passionate about games for ages.

“I’ve been interested in games in general since I was a little kid,” Briceño tells PaperCity. The same goes for Bush and Rega.

Briceño’s specific board game interest emerged during the “board game renaissance” of the late 1990s and early 2000s. They really got on her radar eight years ago. She realized “how great board games could be” while pursuing her Masters of Fine Arts in Game Design at the New York University Game Center.

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With Tea + Victory’s opening, Houston will join the ranks of cities that have board game cafes, including New York, Los Angeles, Denver and even far-flung Beijing.

It won’t be the first board game cafe in Texas, though. Galveston holds that title thanks to Board Game Island on 23rd Street.

Tea + Victory will put its own spin on the concept, introducing English food that defies the bland stereotypes of the cuisine, and an app that facilitates tabletop meet-ups.

These new gaming gurus believe the demand is there. The trio began beta testing with board game events in February, Rega says. “Toting 200 games” from brewery to brewery across the city, they found considerable interest.

An estimated 80 to 100 people showed up for each game night — and this entrepreneur trio showed they’ve got game at the very first event, held at Eureka Heights. The brewery had to stay open an extra two hours to avoid a premature game over.

Other hosts included the breweries Under the Radar, Flying Saucer, and Holler. It’s a fun form of “market research,” Briceño says.

The findings? “People love the classics,” Bush says. Battleship and Guess Who? took home the gold in the popularity contest. Nostalgia motivates a lot of the gamers’ picks.

TV-flying saucer
Tea + Victory’s board game event at Flying Saucer was a hit.

The game library is “carefully curated,” and constantly evolving, Bush says. Gamers pay a fee of $5 for access to the entire library. The fee keeps the library robust and varied. Soon, Tea + Victory will offer monthly memberships and potentially even annual ones.

The game selection encompasses a range of difficulty, number of players, space taken up on table, and duration. They’re shooting for games that take two hours or less.

Professional “Game Guides” will work the floor, giving game recommendations, setting the games up, and instructing new players on how the games work. At least one will be on site at all times, with potentially two or three more during busy hours.

“I learned over the events that recommending games is an art,” Bush says. “You may have someone who’s had one too many drinks. Some games won’t work out for them,” he laughs.

Briceño and Bush will do double duty at the start, acting as both owners and guides. “We started interviewing Game Guides a month ago,” Bush says. “They’re going to sit down and start learning.”

“It’s kind of like working as a waiter,” Briceño adds. “They’ve got to ‘memorize the menu,’ learning core games.”

The owners encourage a close-knit community of casual players going for games that can be taught quickly. “Sometimes tournaments bring in a certain crowd that’s very competitive,” Bush says. “That’s not the vibe we’re going for. We’re competitive, but the games we enjoy the most where you just sit down with friends and have fun and drink.”

The owners also invite people who don’t come in with friends. Board games should be enjoyed by everyone, they believe, and joining a game solo shouldn’t be intimidating. “We want to create systems where it’s less awkward,” Briceño says.

To that end, Bush and a friend developed a site to help match players up. HandsUpLFG provides a list of games, the minimum and maximum number of players, and estimated playtime. Once Tea + Victory launches, gamers can view what games are being playing when, and sign up online to join a future game.

That’s the board came part of it. We haven’t even gotten to the cafe.

Board Game Food

A full kitchen of English-American food is the name of the game. This “American classic meets English picnic” menu is being developed with the help of Chef Ben McPherson, formerly of Prohibition Supper Club & Bar and Batanga. Most recently, he launched Krisp Bird & Batter on Richmond Ave.

“We want the food to feel comfortable, have a nostalgia element, and be easy to eat,”  Briceño says. “My mother is English, and she’s an extraordinary cook.” English food as bad and bland is a foreign concept here. They’re toying with ideas like classic grilled cheese, meatloaf, shepherd’s pie, and rosemary-braised chicken.

Briceño has high hopes for their version of High Tea. Scones and clotted cream are a must. Tea sandwiches are where it could get a little different, though. There may be updated versions of traditional tea sandwiches like cucumber or paster (a smoked salmon or chicken pate for example). Details are still in the works.

Drinks range from beer and wine to coffee. Local breweries will make up most of the beer list, but “I want to have cider on tap. We may have to branch further afield,”  Briceño says.

Counter service will be available, and roaming baristas may be in the cards.

The 3,300-square foot space was initially a wuashateria and nail salon. The owners are starting from scratch, creating a comfortable, playful space. “It won’t be Dungeon-y or Dragon-y,” Rega says. It’ll be bright and cheerful with a lot of white-washed wood.

They selected light and bright accent colors, mint and almost navy blue. “We don’t want it to feel enclosed. Light is important to board games,” Briceño says.

The library concept deviates from the standard square Ikea shelving. Those fit board games well, “but we wanted to do something a little different. We want it to look impressive,” Bush notes. They’re considering a five-foot hexagonal beehive pattern with a library ladder.

Categories will be marked with a sticker system delineating aspects like difficulty, age group, etc.

Tea + Victory’s hours will run from 11 am to 10 pm Mondays through Thursdays, 11 am to 12 am on Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 am to maybe 9 pm on Sundays.

With 2018 right around the corner, we won’t have to play the waiting game too long for this new spot.

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