The newly opened Bard and Bear Games Cafe is building community through board games
Apples to Apples, Candyland, Snakes and Ladders and Guess Who: the games that used to fill my days and nights back in childhood, but have somehow gotten lost over the years. Now open on James Street North, Bard and Bear Games Cafe has created a space for game nights, bringing people together over dice, decks and deals.
Steven and Megan Edmonds are the couple, co-owners and self-proclaimed nerds behind Bard and Bear. Before opening the cafe, Steven went to school for journalism and he also used to work in the board game industry at a local toy store while managing another local board game cafe, Mancala Monk. Megan spent six years at McMaster University, having just recently finished her PhD in the department of English and cultural studies.
The Edmonds first tried to open their own board game cafe three years ago, just after Steven had left Mancala Monk and when Megan was in the middle of finishing her PhD. After hearing through the grapevine there was a board game cafe for lease in Guelph, the spark was ignited for the two of them.
Though they weren’t successful in opening a cafe at the time due to other petitions for the space, the couple has spent the last three years slowly working towards opening their own cafe and finally managed to find the right space at 237 James St. N. for their grand opening on Dec. 10, 2021.
They chose the name Bard & Bear to represent their family. Though it’s still up for debate whether the Bard is Steven or Megan, the couple said Bear was chosen after the wonderfully ironic name of their dog.
Normally, people can come to the cafe and pay $5 each as a “game cover”: the cost of sitting and using the cafe’s selection of over 800 games. Staff can recommend and teach games to visitors for those new to board games or simply looking to try something new.
Some of Megan’s favorites are Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and Castles of Burgundy, while Steven recommended Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride and Power Grid as great all-around games for groups of two to five.
The cafe also offers a full menu of food, coffee and alcoholic beverage selections for those looking for a bite to eat, especially during long gaming sessions.
“[Bard and Bear] is a gathering space that focuses on community and coming together over games,” said Steven.
For a business whose principle is built on bringing people together in the same physical space, recent COVID restrictions have taken a toll on the cafe as they were forced to close for indoor seating a mere few days after opening.
As long as current restrictions last, the Bard and Bear is currently closed for in-store dining and play. Out of the closures sprung the idea for their “Game Night to Go!” promotional combos, where people can take out food as well as a game to keep. Further, every combo comes with stamps, which can be redeemed as a free game cover at the cafe once restrictions are lifted.
“We focused on lots of two player games because we know lots of people are home with a roommate or a significant other and don't have a big group to play with right now. But we've also got ones for families if you're home with your kids or larger groups,” explained Megan.
Living in often cramped and squished student houses, a trip to James Street is an option for those who don’t always have the space at home to play and store games. For students, the cafe is a great spot for a night off from studying or even as a stop before taking your night elsewhere in the downtown area.
Once re-opening their in-house seating space, Bard and Bear hopes to offer specials for students on some nights of the week to make the space more accessible on a student budget.
“Every student needs a chance to stop studying, put down the books for a bit. We are a very student friendly space . . . and if you're stuck on any of your English courses, I just finished an English PhD and I admit I miss talking about books so if you need to run an essay idea by me, you know where to find me,” said Megan.
They also hope to establish a community for tabletop role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons or Magic the Gathering. Though it can sometimes be difficult as a student to feel connected to the broader community beyond campus, Megan and Steven hope they can help create some connections between students through bonding over a love of games.
Whether you’re a board game aficionado or just trying them out for the first time, Bard and Bear has a game of every time for players of any skill level. Next time you’re in downtown, put away your phones and bond over some good old-fashioned (and many modern) tabletop games.