Across the Board

Across the Board looks at gaming in public spaces around the world. In countries all over the globe people gather to play games in pubs, community centers, cafes, churches, and all manner of other meeting places. This series will describe some of those places and the people who gather to play games there in an attempt to encourage others to emulate them.

Muddy's Coffeehouse, San Francisco

Article by Ken Tidwell
November 27, 1995

A dedicated group of folks gather every Wednesday night at Muddy's Coffeehouse in San Francisco to play games for a few hours. Muddy's is a smallish place in the Mission District. There is a station for one of San Francisco's truncated subway systems just around the corner. One block over Mission Street is lined with tacquerias, source of some of the best burritos on the planet. A church that could have dropped out of any 1970s apocalyptic film, fronted with stressed concrete and a web of girders that does Buckminster Fuller proud, stands across the street. Otherwise, the neighborhood has a well-worn, working class feel.

The gathering is organized by David Kaye, a jovial gentleman who still seems a bit bemused by all the German games that have suddenly descended upon his small group (at least on the nights when young Danfuzz and I attend!). On more normal evenings the group might play Scrabble, Tahimi (Dahimi? Ptahimi? The spelling of this card game's name was a topic of discussion at a recent session. At the risk of being whacked by Richard Garfield, I might suggest 'Great Dalmuti' as an alternate spelling...), Hearts, Chess, and, on occasion, Adel Verpflichtet (in its 'By Hook or By Crook' incarnation).

As I mentioned, my friend, Danfuzz, and I have been dragging German games up to the Muddy's sessions. Its been interesting to watch their reactions. They are all avid game players but this is their first exposure to some of the new games coming out of Europe.

The folks at Muddy's encompass an interesting range of gamers. Some are avid gamers that seem eager to try new games or plunge into old favorites. Others have played games all their lives but seem a bit dazed by the strange systems that the German's and others have been cooking up recently but are still willing to give them a go. A few are very casual gamers who are completely flummoxed by the games we bring to play. Even fewer are wild eyed strategists intent on pursuing their hobby with single minded determination. And they are all a lot of fun!

Adel Verpflichtet is gaining in popularity as folks find their feet in the strategy of this simple and elegant game (quiet, Siggins!). Himmelsturmer drew mixed reviews. David Kaye seemed to find no meat there (fair enough; the game is very light and draws most of its appeal from atmosphere). Other folks thought it was a nice, light diversion. We tried Ole with seven players last Wednesday and the reaction seemed typical for this game. At first people had trouble getting a handle on the strategy (except for one cagey player who went most of the game without taking a point!). On later hands more and more folks found their feet and very few points were taken in the final hand. I was impressed that the game held up and could still be played strategically with that many players. Most of the players eager to have another go at it at a later session. The single largest complaint about the games so far has been the lack of availability in the United States. I hope that the buyers at Gamescape, one of our best local game stores, are listening.

If you live in the Bay Area, or just find yourself in San Francisco some Wednesday night, drop by Muddy's Coffeehouse at 24th and Valencia between 7:30 and 10 pm. Look for the small group of people huddled over the tables in the back corner. The piles of garish cardboard boxes will also be a dead give away! Grab a cup of coffee and join in the fun...

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell