Creator Kenny Li talks to us about why Dice Roll cafe is more than just a game.
Deputy Culture Editor (Film & TV)
Sitting in the warm din of the CCA Kenny Li strikes a fairly casual figure, but the event that he runs every few weeks, the Dice Roll cafe, is anything but.
“Dice Roll is very casual, but that’s because it’s centered around accessibility more than anything – it has to be inclusive, philosophically for me, boardgaming is a participatory, very inclusive hobby.”
Kenny started the Dice Roll Cafe at the CCA in late 2015. Since then it has continued to be a regular fixture, with a small donation getting you access to an extensive library of games for a whole evening in a cool setting, with like minded people. As we chat, all around us small and large groups are playing all sorts of games, from a couple playing the tactical Star Wars: Rebellion, to a contingent of tipsy students playing out monster skirmishes with dice in King of Tokyo.
“Seeing Snakes and Lattes’ [one of the first boardgame cafes to open in 2009] success in Toronto was inspiring, as it showed me that there could be a second home for hobbyists, a nice safe space for a community”
There are other places to play board games in Glasgow, but there aren’t really any quite like this. For one, the setting is more accommodating than most, and Kenny prides himself on curating the collection as if it were a public library, “It’s helpful, otherwise you’re just a consumer who is consuming and it takes the soul out of the gaming a little. We take the hit and they have a good collection of tried and tested classics.”
Frequently referring to the endeavour as “we” Kenny eventually reminds himself that this is his own passion project that he has built entirely from the ground up, fitting around 45 hour work weeks. “You can’t really do everything that Dice Roll needs to have done unless it was a dyed in the wool passion or obligation.” The cafe is thus more than a hobby, he frames it as a mission that he has to undertake.
It sounds a little trite on face value, but Kenny speaks with a knowledge and passion that belies the scale of the event. He believes in the power that games have as social levellers, and as a healthy hobby that encourages interaction and many forms of cognitive exercise such as short term recall. Dice Roll exists to facilitate and make inclusive a hobby that can be quite ostracising via high prices and groups that often cut out more casual players, or those without confidence.
Kenny highlights that board gaming requires only one thing from players beyond ownership of a game (something that Dice Roll takes care of) and that is a willingness to participate. Because of this he believes an organisation like his can have a wide reaching impact in the community if it gains traction “I’d like to strengthen the social conscience side. Setting up sessions for vulnerable groups, like the elderly, the vulnerable or people with depression and other mental health issues. Anecdotally a lot of attendees who are part of vulnerable groups have said they find coming to the event really helps.”
Due to this, the curated library he has created contains a wide range of games, but primarily caters to those which encourage sociability and steer clear of complexity; games that can be played easily in larger groups. The shelves are bursting with co-operative games like Ghost Stories and Mysterium, or games like Coup and The Resistance, and Cash and Guns which coax people out of themselves and help them integrate with new players; “even though we have a large selection of big, mechanical games, they don’t get used as often. Simple games are definitely the ones that get used the most.”
At the end of most nights, Kenny set ups a larger scale game, usually alternating between Two Rooms and a Boom, and Ultimate Werewolf; “you can have comfortably 30 people playing it. It’s all very fun, involved interactions but light rules so it’s really easy to get your head around.” Beyond the social conscience aspect, Kenny sees this as the ultimate goal of Dice Roll Cafe, to expand on the original emphasis of the event: good food, good games, good fun.
“I want to host regular nights of fine food and fine games, in a non-pretentious environment. Food orientated, inclusive events and you get to mingle and eat interesting things and have a good time which is just so compatible with a large format game where you get to mingle and have intriguing interactions and let loose and have a really a good night.”
In its current state, the Dice Roll Cafe is still a fantastic night out and a great way to experience a hobby that might otherwise feel out of reach. Kenny’s passion is obvious from the laughter and cheers from the various tables, and as an event it is without a doubt one of the more interesting ways to get to know your friends. Every game is an opportunity to slip into a new role, or learn some of the more covert traits and talents that your friends might hold. If it all goes wrong, you can always play Jenga with a few pints afterwards, Dice Roll doesn’t discriminate; it’s entirely founded on inclusivity.