Friday, February 3, 2023

Sideboard Cafe hopes to wean gamers off virtual entertainment with board games, local beer

Opening mid-summer, the Sideboard Board Game Cafe will offer an escape from touch screens and game consoles. "If you want to take a break from your phone, put it in a little phone holder and engage with a human, this is the place to go," owner Heath Newton said.

Sideboard Board Game Café will offer a space for board games, local craft beer, sandwiches, and even 'cookie dough dips' in an effort to bring gamers back to the strategy and human interaction of non-virtual board games. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
The Sideboard Board Game Cafe will offer local craft beer, sandwiches, and even a Waffle Mac and Cheese in an effort to bring gamers back to the strategy and human interaction of non-virtual board games. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

WILMINGTON — Before the gaming industry was taken over by computers, game consoles, and smartphones, there was a time when families would gather around Monopoly boards and roll dice, trade, fight, and extort each another.

But board games are making a comeback among millennials, and local gaming entrepreneur Heath Newton sees an opportunity in the Wilmington market.

The Sideboard Cafe, which he expects to open the last week of July, will be a gathering space for gamers to enjoy local craft beer and food while playing their favorite games, whether classics like Monopoly or modern hits like Settlers of Catan. A door connects the cafe to Newton’s existing retail shop, Cape Fear Games, off Oleander Avenue.

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Newton said the idea first came to him on a trip to Seattle when he discovered the Mox Boarding House, a game board cafe that drew in large crowds from the tech scene.

“These were people with Microsoft and these high-tech companies and they were taking a break from the stress and playing Settlers of Catan,” Newton recalls. “After seeing that I was like, ‘I’m going to make this happen at some point.’”

When a tenant moved out of the space next to his retail shop, Newton decided to go for it.

Engage with humans again

Newton and his general manager, Chris Wallace, said an important goal of the cafe is to reintroduce people to a tangible, face-to-face atmosphere — reminiscent of those old Monopoly days.

But the trick, according to Newton, is to encourage old-school vibes in a way that doesn’t come across as too high-minded. He said they’ll install shelves in each booth for players to discard their phones if they choose, “where everyone agrees to unplug for an hour.”

“We’re trying to figure out ways to encourage it without making people feel bad if they don’t,” Newton said. “If you want to take a break from your phone, put it in a little phone holder and engage with a human, this is the place to go.”

A sticker system will help differentiate simpler games from those like Axis & Allies, a World War II strategy game that requires long-term commitment and focus. Newton expects such games to draw in the usuals from his retail store, but he’s particularly excited about more casual party games like Exploding Kittens (pass the cat before it explodes in your hand) and Unstable Unicorns (build an army of unicorns to defeat your opponent).

Next door at Cape Fear Games, the Settlers of Catan collection, which owner Heath Newton said will be a popular choice among cafe visitors. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Next door at Cape Fear Games, the Settlers of Catan collection, which owner Heath Newton expects will be a popular choice among patrons at the cafe. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

The thing I’m most excited about is getting people into gaming in general,” Newton said. “Showing people what’s out there beyond monopoly … and especially to get kids engaged. We talk to parents all the time who are like, ‘Man how do I get my kids off the Xbox?'”

Newton said many Xbox games have board game versions, like Bio Shock, where players must fight for control of the fictional city of Columbia. The board game, he said, teaches more strategy than its electronic counterpart; more importantly, it gets kids “interacting with another human again.”

Wallace said those interactions can get a bit heated among serious gamers, but they’ll look to keep a peaceful environment amid all the jostling and conquering.

Local craft beer, paninis, and the Waffle Mac & Cheese

The Sideboard will open with 11 craft beers and a cider, including drafts from Wilmington Brewing Company and Flying Machine. Wallace said they’ll bring in local and regional beers and are continuing to explore other brewery options in town.

“We won’t have Bud Light, ever,” Newton said. “Nothing against Bud Light, it’s just not what we’re doing here.”

Gamers with a more workmanlike approach can order Durham-roasted Counter Culture coffee. Wallace said the menu will range from healthy dishes like paninis and salads to crowd-pleasers like hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and buffalo chicken dip.

“Our big thing: the Waffle Mac and Cheese,” Wallace said. “You take our housemade mac and cheese, bread it, put it in a waffle iron, press it, cut it up, and serve it with a cheese dipping sauce.”

He’s even working on a plate he calls cookie dough dips, with buttercream icing and a binder of cream cheese and butter to replace raw eggs.

“Super unhealthy and delicious,” Wallace said, a way to compliment the menu’s healthier options.

The Sideboard Board Game Cafe is located in midtown Wilmington on 4107 Oleander Drive, several blocks east of Harris Teeter.

Sideboard owner Heath Newton, left, and general manager Chris Wallace. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)
Sideboard owner Heath Newton, left, and general manager Chris Wallace. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

Mark Darrough nan be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com

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