By Hannah Harn
BU News Service
Cards shuffle, elevator music plays and three friends sit around a table. They are laughing, organizing their decks, ordering pretzel nuggets.
The Baby Barbarian’s threat echoes: “I’ll beat ANYONE who interrupts my naptime!”
Then, an announcer: “Beginning in three…two…one!” Seconds later, it’s complete chaos.
But this is normal at Roxbury’s Tavern of Tales, a new immersive board and tabletop game cafe.
One player throws down a card that reads “Defeat Monster” in big black and red letters, complete with a picture of a fireball. Another searches his hand for the three Sword and two Scroll cards needed to defeat the next monster, a gelatinous cube. Another discards three of the cards in her hand to pause time for a moment. But it’s no use. They’re stuck.
And so returns the elevator music. Their first attempt at Tavern of Tales’ new game, Five-Minute Dungeon, has ended. There’s laughter as they shuffle, redeal the cards and get ready to start over. Emma Shiring, 21, is still fairly new to tabletop gaming and switches to a new character. Clay McDermott, also 21, asks the game master how he came to be the voice behind this oddly tough-to-beat baby.
“I was not originally intending to voice him, and then I got pulled into the room to do placeholder lines, so we could test it,” 23-year-old Nico Hall said. “And I was like, I’m just gonna go with a Boss Baby thing because that’s what’s going on in my head. They liked it enough to be, like, well here’s the real guy now.”
Hall is a game master, Dungeons and Dragons campaign host and writer, server and occasional voice actor. He laughs as the team sighs in relief. It took three tries, but the Baby Barbarian is finally beaten.
Tavern of Tales offers far more than Five-Minute Dungeon. They offer full Dungeons and Dragons nights on Tuesdays, with makeup sessions on Thursdays, and they run mastered games like the psychic-led-murder-mystery game Mysterium, as well.
Their game rooms are comfortable and well-stocked, or players can borrow one of the cafe’s board games and play at their own table. For McDermott, a tabletop game master himself, it was a new experience to be on the player side of the table while Hall ran the games.
“They’re very good at making the whole room and everything really fit what you were doing,” he said. “They play music, they have sound effects. It was very cool.”
Even non-experienced players can fit in, though. Shiring said she has listened to her friends talk about their own tabletop gaming experiences for hours but hasn’t played much herself beyond the classics like Clue and Monopoly.
“I was a little intimidated at first because I hadn’t played any of the games [at Tavern of Tales], to be honest,” she said. “But the game master made me feel ready. He explained the rules and let us talk it out for a minute and probably gave us a little more leniency than normal, just so we could take a minute to figure it out.”
There’s certainly a learning curve when approaching tabletop games for the first time. But there’s also a learning curve in bringing them into a more marketable setting.
Tabletop games have enjoyed a recent surge in popularity, in part due to gaming sites like Polygon, who feature demo videos of new and unique board and tabletop games — from in-depth roleplay games like Cyberpunk Red to the Pictionary-esque adventure that is Fake Artist Goes to New York.
McDermott also cited the rising popularity of gaming-based restaurants and cafes, which offer patrons the chance to play games of all sorts as part of their experience.
“I think [Tavern of Tales] is probably going to be at the head of a kind of surge because there’s been a lot more of these [gaming cafes]’ recently,” McDermott said. “Trivia is everywhere now. It’s always been everywhere, but even more so now.”
But overall, it’s about creating an experience.
“It kind of creates conversation,” McDermott explained. “We had a lot of fun conversations in the process of doing this that I don’t think would have happened without the games.”