Jessica Burns' Game Night Charleston is opening a board game cafe in Park Circle after two years of successful pop-up events | Photo by Ashley Rose Stanol

Board games are having a pretty big moment right now. The hobby has seen an explosion of popularity in recent years, something that was amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. For Jessica Burns, a lifelong fan of the hobby, there’s nothing quite like it.

 “My favorite board game is Othello,” she said. “I grew up playing it with my grandpa, and he taught me tricks and ways to figure things out six steps ahead with whatever your partner is doing. It’s just always been one of my favorites to play.”

 There are lots of ways to indulge in the board game hobby, but it can hit some pretty big roadblocks. Games can be pricey to buy, and it can sometimes be difficult to find dedicated friends willing to try new and obscure games. That’s where board game lounges and cafes come in. They allow customers to come in and sample, play and learn about all sorts of new games for a nominal entrance fee.

“I visited Nashville, St. Louis, other cities that had board game cafes, and they were always a good time going out with my friends,” Burns said. “The closest one to here is Asheville, which is not very close.”

 So, starting in 2019, Burns launched Game Night Charleston. Run by Burns and aided by her friends, Game Night Charleston started as a series of pop-up board gaming events where people could pay a few bucks and have access to a wide variety of board games.

 The concept has already shown itself to be popular. The first pop-up at Indigo Reef Brewing Co. in 2019 was a hit and helped business for the food truck as well. A second event at Indigo Reef recently was just as successful.

“It’s been interesting, but a fun challenge,” Burns said of the journey so far.

 You may think the most popular games at the pop-ups are somewhat surprising.

 “Honestly? Connect 4,” said a bemused Burns. “Connect 4 and Battleship, they’re pretty tied. I always make sure I have at least three copies of each at each pop-up because that’s the one people go for first. They want it right away.”

Having proven the concept successful, Game Night Charleston will open a physical location in Park Circle next month.

 Customers will be able to walk in to Game Night Charleston and pay a small fee to spend the day playing whatever board games they would like. Burns intends to offer weekly and monthly subscriptions as well for players who want to visit a lot. The entrance fee covers the entire day and grants access to every single game in the building. 

Burns is an avid collector and has a wide range of titles already. She also takes customer requests, so if there’s something Game Night doesn’t have that you want to play, ask for it, and it will be ordered. Their roster will look impressive to any serious board gamer: everything from classics like Monopoly and Sorry to modern hits like Betrayal at House on the Hill or the award-winning behemoth Gloomhaven.

Game Night Charleston currently has over 300 games listed on its website, with more added each week.

 Even if you know a game you like, Burns may be able to introduce you to a new one you might love. Game Night’s concept makes it a perfect place to learn new rules and sample new concepts. And the shop will feature special events for both casual attendees and dedicated gamers.

 “There’s National Monopoly Day, National Yahtzee Day, so I will have themed nights. I will have Dungeons & Dragon nights, Magic (the Gathering) nights that I can host for those in town who are interested,” said Burns. “I will also be doing brackets, sort of like college basketball. So I will have people come in and I’ll choose a game and I’ll have six people playing those games and they’ll battle it out until the end. So that will be fun.” 

And fear not, parents. As summer break kicks in, Burns is planning family-friendly days.

If you’re a board game aficionado at all, Game Night Charleston will be your next hangout destination when it officially opens at 1044 East Montague Ave. later this summer.

Come in, have a seat, and try some new games.

You can follow Game Night Charleston on Instagram @gamenightchs.