The game’s up for KEN TOWL, who after trying to Monopoly-se a weekend night out, at first didn’t have a Cluedo where to go, but went on a Trivial Pursuit for a new venue and after a final roll of the dice, discovered somewhere that has lots to offer
With a visit from my good friend Ashley imminent, I was looking for a place to go on a Saturday evening, a place that would provide a true impression of Croydon, but not one centred around beer. Ashley is not fond of pubs, and is currently celebrating (if that is the right word) both “Dry January” and “Veganuary”.
So otherwise decent town centre venues such as the Royal Standard, the Spread Eagle or the Green Dragon were out of the question.
While I am not a great fan of unnecessary exclamation marks, and while Ludoquist! sounds like the name of a past-his-sell-by date rap artist, it is actually a venue that describes itself on its website as a “board games café”. It has even, in its short existence, won awards and stuff. This, I thought, could be the answer.
The atmosphere, when we arrived, was laid back and friendly and the only people trying to get rich or die trying were the ones playing Monopoly.
I asked co-owner Nick Smith why people should visit his establishment when there were plenty of pubs to choose from in the centre of Croydon. Ludoquist! is about as central as you can get, on the corner of the High Street and Mint Walk, in the stretch that no doubt someone will try to claim is known as the “Coffee Quarter”.
Nick said that he offered an evening that was not centred around just drinking (“Result!” I thought, unable to suppress the exclamation mark), a venue for all, families with young children during the day, groups of friends and couples in the evening. There does seem to be a demand for what Nick is offering. The place was fully booked all day Saturday, so we arranged to come back on Sunday.
Much as it offers an impressive range of games, you will not lose out if you do appreciate a drink. With local draft beers on tap, a selection of bottles to rival any pub, an attractive-looking Chilean Merlot at £16 a bottle and lots of fashionable soft drinks for Ashley to choose from, as well as hipster coffee, most beverage bases are covered.
I can attest to the good condition of the draft beer – there must be an overlap on a Venn diagram of CAMRA members and gamers. There is food, too. I was particularly taken by the Bowl of the Day concept, “A complete meal in a bowl [that] can be eaten with one hand (so you have the other free to roll the dice)”.
On offer on Sunday were jackfruit chilli and basil bisque soup, both at £4.50 and both apparently vegan and thoroughly on point. This place is catering to the Croydon metropolitan elite. And some nerds in the corner, too.
The games are varied and reflect the clientele. Nick explained the games library system, easier games at one end, getting progressively harder as you browse your way along the shelf till the games become positively intimidating-looking, with rule books bigger than boards.
There’s a section for two-player games. One of these was called First Dates and appeared to be based on the popular TV programme. It is, at least, popular with Ashley, who confided to me later that the couple at the next table sounded like they were on a first date.
I hadn’t noticed, engrossed as I was in trying (and failing) to beat Ashley at some complicated (to me, at least) game which involved buying camels and selling gold in a Middle Eastern bazaar. We played a few games – you can play as long as you like for £4 per person, which seems like a good deal.
And as Ashley pointed out, you drink more slowly if your hands are occupied with a game – even more slowly when one of them is in charge of the jackfruit chili bowl.
As is always the way, we only noticed the more intriguing games when it was time to leave.
On the top shelf – they actually have a top shelf! – was a game called Gutterhead (“the fiendishly filthy drawing game”) while, by contrast, Ruk-shuk, “the game of rock balancing” claimed to be “fun for the whole family”.
There was also something called Tired of London, “The party game for miserable Londoners”. I made a mental note of this for when I come back, though Tired of London might need to wait until I have tried Bucket of Doom.
I asked Ashley for a reflection on the place.
Ashley said that the predominantly 20-something crowd on a Sunday evening was more diverse than the average pub crowd, that the library arrangement cultivated respect, you had to return the items to the right place according to their coded stickers and everyone depended on everyone else to make sure the games were packed up properly, that it would be as good as anywhere to have a first date and that, if you were new in town, you could come to the Meet Modern Games and Gamers evening (every Monday evening 6.30pm till 11pm, if you are so inclined).
Don’t go to Ludoquist! if you want a quiet pint or a night of drunken debauchery. But do go if you don’t mind an ambience of good-natured chatter and want to have fun amid a friendly, smiley bunch of people without breaking the bank.
After all, as Samuel Johnson might have said, when a man is tired of Ludoquist!…
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