The kings and queens of Marvin GardensIn a cozy cafe in Apgujeong, groups of three or four people huddle together, intensely reading cards or excitedly throwing dice. Waiters saunter around the room assisting customers in need of help. In this cafe, though, people are rarely focused on eating or drinking. The most common phrase you’ll hear is “C’mon, go, it's your turn!”
This is no standard overpriced cafe, mind you. These are scenes from Jumanji, a fusion cafe that invites customers to play both board games and computer games as they sip a hot cocoa or Coke. On this weekday, more than 30 people have gathered by 10 p.m., concentrating on such games as “Monopoly,” “Clue,” and “Settler of Catan.”
“In the beginning, many of our customers were students who were part of a ‘board games’ club in their schools,” says the manager of the cafe, Koh Woo-hyun. “But now we have ordinary folks who come to learn or play board games at our cafe.”
Typically found in dens and kitchen tables of American homes, board games are gaining popularity in Korea. Since last year, cafes, which woo customers to play board games for hours on end, have sprouted in many of Seoul’s college towns, such as Sillim-dong, near Seoul National University and Sinchon. Now franchise board game cafes exist all around Seoul.
Jumanji has nearly one hundred board game titles, such as “Acquire,” “Citadel” and “Lord of the Rings” stacked on the shelves, mostly imports from the United States. Only a handful of Korean games, like “Blue Marble Game” ― a Monopoly spinoff and the quintessential board game of Korean childhood, can be found. A team of game coaches translates English game rules into Korean for customers.
Eight out of 10 customers are first-timers. But at Jumanji a couple of part-time cafe staffers can explain the rules of every game and help out confused players. Visitors hang out an average of three hours, either playing board games or cards.
Customers like Lee Wha-yeong, a college student, first visited out of curiosity but soon got hooked on the challenges.
“I come to play at least four times a day and stay for three hours at a time,” she says while playing “Settler of Catan” with three male friends. Ms. Lee, who bets on games with her pals from time to time, adds “[Board games] are a great hobby. I mean, it’s wholesome and it’s great fun.”
At the busiest time of day here, from 6 p.m. to 11 pm, the 60-seat cafe is jammed with students and working men and women. Chess is also in great demand at Jumanji, and some foreigners have trickled onto the premises.
So far, the cafe has not suffered a surfeit of noisy arguments, but management says problems do exist. “Some customers play one game for 10 minutes, get bored and then ask us to get them another game and to explain all the rules,” says Mr. Koh. “Now that’s annoying.”
The cost of playing games (one drink included) is 3,000 won per person for one hour. Additional hours cost 2,000 won. For more information, call (02) 545-0669 or visit www.cafejumanji.com.
by Choi Jie-ho