The founders of Now Boarding Café, have a meet-cute story that's waiting to be turned into a film adaptation.
In March 2018, Avikant Bhardwaj, an IIT Delhi grad, quit his high paying job at an investment bank. While he was raking in the moolah, he felt spiritually bankrupt. He wanted to pursue something more meaningful. So he took a 75% pay cut and joined the Teach for India fellowship to teach underprivileged children.
At around the same time, Sweekruthi Kaveripatnam finished her masters degree in management studies, for which she travelled to Singapore, Belgium and Italy and saw how enabling public schooling could be. She returned to India determined to strengthen government schools and joined Teach for India.
Laughing, they recount how they started as rivals - each keen to be the “best teacher” in the school. Their rivalry soon turned into a budding romance. After dating for a couple of years, they decided to get married during the pandemic. But that’s not where this story ends.
To pass time during the pandemic, they started playing board games together. Then they, along with Sweekruthi's brother Sai Prashanth Kaveripatnam, got an idea. What if they could take their board game experience outside the home? The trio started a board game cafe within 11 months – all while balancing full time jobs.
Now Boarding Café, opened in Jayanagar 3rd Block, Bangalore in December. The cafe has 200+ board games, catering to all sorts of interests and age groups. From basic board games like UNO to more complex strategy driven games like Catan, they have it all. Their board game collection ranges from Indian to international.
Don't know the rules? No problem. The café has a Game Master who comes and explains the rules of each game. The Game Master curates an experience for you based on your gaming history, liking, and mood.
Taco Cat (And) Goat Cheese Pizza
For example, there's the crowd favourite Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza. This game is for kids (and kids at heart!). In this card game - each card has cute illustrations of a taco, cat, goat, cheese, and a pizza respectively. Players go around the table putting down their cards in a pile. Players keep chanting “taco cat goat cheese pizza” as they go around. When the card put on the table matches the mantra, all players must slam their hands on the table table. For example, when a player puts down the taco card and while the table says taco everyone must slam the pile. The last player to slap the card pile must pick up all the cards. The first person to get rid of all their cards is the winner.
The game has many fun elements. There are special cards where players must beat their chests like a gorilla if you get a "monkey" card. Or if a player places a "rhino" card all players must form a horn above their head by clapping their arms together. This simple game has groups breaking out into peals of laughter and is enormous fun. This game is of course best enjoyed with a slice of the cafe’s cheese pizza.
For those who can’t switch off their analytical mind
If you are looking to exercise your brain, the cafe stocks strategy games as well. One of the most unique games at the cafe is the political strategy game Shasn. Every player takes the role of a politician during a political campaign. With each turn, players must take stands on divisive and urgent political issues. These choices help them gather resources to influence voters or buy strategic powers. As they progress in the game, players must choose between sticking to their ideals. Do they maintain integrity or sell out to get more voters and resources? It is a game that involves trading, coercion and strategy. Watch the true colours of your friends come out in a game where players must do whatever it takes to survive.
Rare and Imported Board Games
The cafe stocks several board games that are rare to get and new to the board game diaspora in Bengaluru. Examples include: Civilization; Shasn; Century Eastern Wonders; Imperium, Root, Fort; and Raiders of the North Sea. The cafe imported the board game Civilization for ₹15,000.
Made in India
There are several Indian games as well. “It is one of the key focus areas of our business to enable more Indian game designers. We showcase their games at our cafe and sell some of them as well,” says Bhardwaj. Almost every Indian game at the cafe brings out a unique aspect of Indian culture, incorporating historical or mythological elements, or art indigenous to India.
They have modern Indian strategy games like Karigar-e-Taj and Yudh Bhoomi. Karigar-e-Taj is a strategy game where karigars (artisans) race to finish the Taj and earn the favour of the emperor. For Yudh Bhoomi, one must don their inner "Chanakya" for the art of war.
My favourite Indian game is Namma Bengaluru ('My Bangalore'), which is a tile laying game. It has beautiful illustrations with tiles containing images of the city's neighourhoods and roads. In this light strategy game, you lay tiles to build the city. I bet you can do a better job of city planning than Bangalore’s urban planners.
The cafe also has several jigsaw puzzles. Check out the India Coffee House by Ameya Games. I loved how this puzzle had whimsical elements. There are puzzle pieces cut out to resemble a cricketer, a car and an elephant.
The café has a very unique pricing policy. You pay per hour. The time spent in explaining the rules of the game is not included in the price. Currently, the cafe charges people ₹100 per person per hour. They also have combinations. For example, the 2 person combo is currently priced at ₹300 per hour. This includes 1 hour of board games, 2 beverages and a starter.
Keeping in theme with the wordplay in their name, the founders are soon coming out with a "passport". For every hour that you spend at the board game cafe, your passport gets "stamped". On filling up the passport you get freebies like extra playing time.
There are a variety of seating options, like “loveseats” where two players can get cozy. Players can also sink their feet into a cozy concrete ‘cubby hole’, giving the cafe a distinct college adda vibe.
The cafe has large windows that overlook Jayanagar's beautiful rain trees. It has funny neon signs with puns about board games and a large mural with iconic board game characters. I particularly love the patent posters, which show the US patent for games like Jenga.
The cafe has a finger food menu with nibbles such as pineapple, cherry and cheese on a stick. Of course, there's also the regular fries, wedges, and garlic bread and mains like pastas and pizzas. They often experiment with the food and introduce new dishes.
The pricing of all the food is very affordable. This is keeping in mind the school and college crowd that the cafe caters toward. Almost all the starters are in the ₹100 - ₹125 range, and the mains are between ₹200 - 275.
The cafe also has an extensive beverage menu, with coffee and tea starting at ₹50. They also have photogenic mocktails that you can sip while playing your board games. Don't miss out their coke float, which makes you feel like you are in an Archie's comic with Jughead.
The cafe hosts frequent community events. For example on New Year's Eve, they threw an all nighter board game event. They also host murder mystery role play games. The cafe often hosts live music performances by up and coming indie musicians as well.
Bengaluru has a growing board game culture. ReRoll, a board game collective, meets at Lahe Lahe in Indiranagar on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of every month. Asma Tajuddin, one of the co-founders of ReRoll, says that it is a nice feeling to be a regular. Asma says that the board game community is a nice way to break out of echo chambers and meet new people. Board games are inclusive and accommodative - anyone can play them. They also offer a much needed respite from screen time.
Sai Prashanth also anticipates a rise in board games like chess being played at a competitive level. Having enrolled in a chess coaching class and having travelled across India to play chess competitively, he looks forward to encouraging this culture in Bangalore.
I am glad that more board game spaces are opening up in the city. You can also check out Board4Bored, Basavanagudi, another board game cafe. There is also Boardgamebazaar, a store which has a gaming space. They act as much needed game changers to the city’s leisure landscape.
Deepthi is a corporate lawyer by training and a keen watcher of food and culture trends in Bengaluru.