The Spot Check with Unplugged Board Game Cafe

Canada's beautiful east coast is where many oft venture to unplug from the stresses of big city life - and offers escape to a more laid-back style of living amidst a soothing Maritime breeze. Some may even just enjoy the reprieve so profoundly that they never want to leave. Such themes are brilliantly at play in Fredricton, New Brunswick's Board Game Cafe - Escape Room double feature: Unplugged/No Escape. We rolled a Spot Check to learn more.

This particularly unique venue-pairing was conceived by the mind of Travis Grant, a professionally-trained filmmaker whose penchant for movie-making reflects in his approach to designing rooms for No Escape - even managing to incorporate character, narrative, and theme into the trials that await thee. If you book to try your hand at the riddles within you also automatically get a FREE admission to Unplugged and the 600-game library for the same evening. That sounds likes a fun night out to us.

From nachos to poutine - and featuring mixed drinks and mead - Unplugged features a classic menu with creative flare. Proving it pays to switch off and play, their free rewards program gifts prizes of free admission and 20% off the board games they sell among other lucrative incentives. Finally, the $7 trivia nights they host base each round off of a different style of trivia game at the cafe - so variety is always being served up fresh.

I'll take five. 
By cleverly partnering with local businesses to offer gift card prizes of up to $100 for trivia night victors, the engagement is strong with this one - and the draw should always be in their favour. We had the pleasure of chatting with owner and designer Travis Grant, to gain more insight into how he fashioned Unplugged/No Escape into one of Fredricton's top hotspots for entertainment. With this Spot Check, it's your behind the scenes look at creative genius in action.

1) What's your name and where are you based?

We are called Unplugged a Board Games Cafe (or Unplugged as everyone calls it) and we are located downtown Fredericton, NB Canada.

2) What inspired you to open your establishment?

There are several factors that made me want to open up a board games cafe. My sister who lives in Ottawa took my daughter to Monopolatte (now closed sadly) and when my daughter came back she told me all about it. It sounded like a fun unique place to work. I'm a filmmaker and entertainer by trade and to make ends meet I've worked as a server in several restaurants. It sounded like a perfect way to merry my two lives. I was also tired of working for bosses that didn't care about their employees and I also wanted a place that would allow me flexibility to film when I wanted. I liked board games but hadn't been introduced to any of the modern games yet, and quite frankly I think that was a plus going in to it.

3) What inspired the name?

The name took a lot of time to come up with. We had initially come up with something entirely different, however our lawyer advised us it was too similar to another cafe in a neighbouring province. I find a lot of board game cafe's went with mashing up a drink and a game, or something clever game related. However I've always felt those names were too niche sounding and had the potential to scare away the general public. Names like that can work in larger populations where there's a bigger pool of gamers, however Fredericton is rather small by comparison and I needed everyone single person to want to come to the cafe. I think my own bad habits on my phone helped me come up with the name Unplugged. People appreciate the idea of not being on their phones and It became less about games and more about socializing that happen to involve games. There's a big difference and I think a lot of failed cafes could have learned from that. I've been on fb groups for board game owners and a lot of them started their cafes because they love games and then they make the mistake of turning the place into a niche where their buddies can hang out and then they complain because no one is going in. Buddies don't pay the bills! Did I just go on a rant?

4) What is the biggest challenge you've faced?

Paperwork has been a large challenge for me. I'm not good at it. I have manager, who bless his heart does that for me. Actually the biggest challenge was the first two years. A lot of cafes have dedicated game gurus and kitchen staff. As I learned, it's not a cost effective way to run a business. Everyone does everything at Unplugged including our No Escape Rooms. It cost us a lot of labor to figure all of this out. The other challenge is we tried to franchise Unplugged before we had a 100% grasp of the business and we tried it too fast and we partnered up with someone who wasn't in line with the brand's core values and it ended up closing. Remember that rant from earlier? It was hard pill to swallow, however a great education.

5) What makes your brand truly unique?

What makes us unique is our customer service, hands down. We strive to make sure that everyone has a super fun experience. It sounds simple but stop and think about all the times you've gone out. Did you truly have a fantastic experience?  The proof is in our reviews on FB (when they still did those) and Google. In fact I always get upset when we get anything below a three star. It means we've failed in our mission. I want everyone who walks in our doors to feel comfortable, engaged and playing at least one game they've never tried before. When they walk out the door, they should be talking about how much fun Codenames was and how glad they were someone taught it to them. Not, I can't believe we paid $5 to play monopoly and eat some pickle spears.

6) What’s something new you have in the works right now? 

There's lots of new things going on with Unplugged. We've just opened our newest No Escape Room, "A Deadly Delivery" It's been doing really well for us! We've also been renovating at a snails pace. We've installed brand new doors and new chairs last year. This year we just painted the cafe and put up new framed artwork that looks really cool. We're also fixing our entryway that 's in serious need of repairs. Oh and we are designing a new menu. We're keeping the favorites on there and trying some new interesting food items.

7) Fave game?

My favorite games are Pandemic, Survive Escape From Atlantis and Gobblet. I like Pandemic over other coops was the first coop I ever played. I love the artwork and the theme. Has anyone played the app? I think the computer cheats!  Survive Escape From Atlantis is my favorite light strategy game because there's not a lot to remember so kids can play it with their parents. It's also super cutthroat but the game isn't overly long so no ones feelings get too hurt when a whale smashes their boat. Gobblet is easily the best two player abstract game out there. I've yet to teach this to someone who hasn't played it for at least a half hour.

8) Most overrated game?

For older games I would say Monopoly is my least favourite game. There's very little in the way of strategy and it takes forever (unless you're playing with the newer rules). Have you ever played with some fool who refuses to trade with anyone? For modern games I would have to say Betrayal....even though I have fun playing it. I don't find there's much complexity to it and very little in the way of strategy and some of those traitor stories are....rough.

9) What game character would you be out of any?

I would love to be a blue meeple. What do meeples do all day, especially the blue ones? Maybe Professor Plum. I wonder how it would feel to be accused of murder on a regular basis. Actually I think it would be cool to be the adventurers in the Forbidden series. Think of the stories. You start on an island that's sinking, you escape and crash land in the dessert and build an airship and find a hidden city in the sky to go to the....I'm going to guess moon.

10) Best alignment?

I had to look this up. I was going to say Wonder Auto is probably the best for Alignments. I'm not much of an RPG person. Not a lot of time to invest in mega adventures sadly. However if I was to play I would probably choose Neutral Good.

11) Magic or melee?

I use to play video game rpgs a lot when I was younger (gasp). I would always choose melee. Maybe it's because I already know how to use magic in real life and that makes me go with the brawn

12) Old school or new school?

I'm a new school gamer for sure. There is a lot more going on in newer games (for the most part). That being said, I'm no snob. In order to understand the games of today you need to know where those roots lie.

13) Sci-Fi or Fantasy?

That's like asking which child I like the best. I do like one better than the other, but I will never tell.

14) Most epic win?

Let me take you back to 1996. My family and my best friend are camping, it's a grey wet dreary day. We pull out Risk, the version that used roman numerals for the army. It was an intense battle that caused many people to betray their loved ones. First my little brother was wiped out because he was six years old. Next my sister, because she was eight. The real threats were my mother and my best friend. We ganged up on my mother and killed her. Mostly because it was getting close to supper time and she needed to feed us. Finally it was between my best friend and I. It was a stalemate for a while then he cashed in some cards. He fought me all the way back to Australia and had me down to a single territory. I'm not making any of this up. The dice gods were on my side and he couldn't finish me off. He had made a huge gamble and thinned out almost all of his territory to go in for the kill. I cashed in cards and had a massive payday and began slaughtering what was left of his army. I won that day and cursed myself for the rest of my life. Now when I play Risk with my family they gang up on me.

15) In the battle for Middle Earth where would you be?

I'd be Sauron's contact lens maker. I've always assumed that in the movie version he had terrible vision and needed a massive contact to get 20/20. Can you imagine being the orc that has to climb up the tower and put that in his flaming eyeball? Actually, I'd probably be the guy working the latrines at Helms Deep.

Thanks again to Travis and everyone at Unplugged/No Escape for showing us all how to unplug and ironically enough, escape to the realm of creativity. It will be intriguing to see what kind of themes your future escape rooms will cook up. Congrats on all of your achievements, keep building a strong community, and as always, Happy Gaming!

The Spot Check with Unplugged Board Game Cafe The Spot Check with Unplugged Board Game Cafe Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 7/08/2019 03:21:00 pm Rating: 5

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