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Board Game Gurus Rolling the Dice With Bonus Round Game Cafe

By Ariel Cheung | September 3, 2015 6:14am
 Courtney Hartley and husband Drew Lovell host Bonus Round pop-up board game nights as they prepare to open their own game cafe in Lakeview or Logan Square.
Courtney Hartley and husband Drew Lovell host Bonus Round pop-up board game nights as they prepare to open their own game cafe in Lakeview or Logan Square.
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DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung

LAKEVIEW — Take a Risk, get a Clue or get into Trouble — the choice is yours.

Then again, if you're feeling more adventurous, perhaps you'd prefer a round of Trekking the National Parks or Smash Up. From childhood favorites to quirky nontraditional games, if you've heard of it, chances are Bonus Round Game Cafe will have it.

The first game cafe, Snakes and Lattes, opened five years ago in Toronto, and it was there Chicagoans Courtney Hartley and Drew Lovell first fell in love with the concept during their honeymoon.

"If you have somewhere you can go where someone can teach you whatever new game you want to learn, that's great, and it's something we think people really want," Hartley said.

 As co-owners of Bonus Round Game Cafe work on a brick-and-mortar location, they've been hosting pop-up game nights in Lakeview and Logan Square.
As co-owners of Bonus Round Game Cafe work on a brick-and-mortar location, they've been hosting pop-up game nights in Lakeview and Logan Square.
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Provided/Courtney Hartley

Bonus Round plans to have 200-300 board games when it launches, along with a full espresso bar, beer and food. Employees trained like Toronto's game gurus will be able to suggest games with the perfect playing time, number of players or theme for a group.

While visiting Snakes and Lattes "planted the seed," Hartley and Lovell started seriously working toward their goal about a year ago. Since developing their plan, the pair began hosting pop-up game nights to build buzz for a game cafe of their own.

This month, Bonus Round will host game nights on Tuesdays and Fridays in Lakeview and Logan Square. This Friday, game night will be at Osmium Coffee Bar in Lakeview, followed by an event at Emporium Arcade Bar in Logan Square on Tuesday.

"We think it's really going to help us hit the ground running. The response has been incredible, and it keeps the fire under us and keeps us motivated," Hartley said. They are working on raising money and securing investors, but are also considering a crowd-funding project as well.

The Uptown couple hopes to open a brick-and-mortar cafe by spring 2016, and Hartley said they're hoping to find a spot in Lakeview or Logan Square.

Lovell lived in Lakeview for years, so it was "kind of the place he knew would be a good fit for what we wanted to do," his wife said.

At the same time, "Logan Square kept getting recommended to us by people we were meeting who know that neighborhood is a place to go for something to do," Hartley said.

Bonus Round will be the first game cafe in Chicago, Hartley said. While Guthrie's Tavern in Lakeview and Geek Bar Beta in Wicker Park have board games, "there's not anyone there to teach you. So if you've never played Parcheesi, you have to get through the rules yourself," Hartley said. (Dice Dojo, in Edgewater and South Loop, is a board game shop that allows customers to try out games before they bring them home.)

Over the last decade, board and card games have risen from a stale family pastime to a community filled to the brim with unique, smaller-scale games, often published outside of big toy corporations or with the help of crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter.

As older Millennials start to settle down, "going out to a bar where you can't talk to anybody was losing its appeal to us. You want to spend quality time with people," Hartley said.

Snakes and Lattes' exploding success has spawned hundreds of board game cafes and bars, with the original expanding and launching a sister bar, Snakes and Lagers.

"There are a lot of interesting things happening in gaming right now. Or maybe," Hartley said with a laugh, "we're just really good at finding the good games."

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