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Victory for Berkeley gamers: board game cafe to open Wednesday

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Karen Chow/Staff


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SEPTEMBER 21, 2015

At Victory Point Cafe, railroads are built, territories conquered and empires felled — all over lunchtime lemonade and paninis.

For owners Derek DeSantis and Areg Maghakian, craft beer, local coffee and tabletop board games make a winning combination at their new board game cafe. Victory Point, which will open Wednesday in South Gourmet Ghetto, hopes to cater to game aficionados and beginners alike with a library collection of about 800 tabletop games accessible at $5 per person.

“I did not like the day-to-day grind and had to find other things to do and support my family,” DeSantis said. “I always loved coffee, beer and board games, and combining (them) for a space for people to enjoy — I thought it might be a good idea.”

Victory Point was inspired by the success of Canadian cafe Snakes and Lattes and was born from a passion for board games more than two years ago. What started as a not-so-trivial pursuit to own a business became a serious career after both partners took a risk, leaving their corporate jobs when Maghakian joined DeSantis last September.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign — a recent hot spot for financing original board game projects — generated more than $9,000 for Victory Point by June, the founders strategized and secured a spot at 1797-A Shattuck Ave., establishing the Bay Area’s first board game cafe.

On Sunday, the cafe held a soft opening for its Kickstarter backers, friends and family. Many look forward to the opportunity to play games outside their home.

“My son and I play two to three hours of board games a day, and having a place to play games and supporting a local business sounded like a really good thing,” said Bill Press, a Berkeley resident and Kickstarter backer, over a game of 7 Wonders.

Jethro Beekman, also a backer, questioned the sustainability of a $5 admission fee. Press, however, said the cafe setting allows people to try a variety of games for as long as they like.

“These are way more games than we have at home, and we don’t even have the expansions,” said Press’ son Judah.

The week marks a victory for DeSantis and Maghakian in the long struggle to open the cafe’s doors. After unanticipated construction problems and city permit delays, Maghakian said he is optimistic that Victory Point will be successful, especially because of its location and its potential clientele.

“We’ve been surprised by the number of gamers (in Berkeley),” Maghakian said. “The fact that there are two board game shops still around says a lot about the local community.”

Victory Point joins several well-established gaming spots in Berkeley. Erik Bigglestone, managing owner — and “evil overlord,” according to his business card — of Games of Berkeley said he thinks the local board game scene is coalescing, adding that as long as the different game stores are succeeding, “everything is good.”

“When (Victory Point) announced that they were moving in here, I didn’t think of them as competition,” Bigglestone said. “They’re more of an enhancement … an addition to something that’s already becoming more and more vibrant.”

Other businesses in the area are also pleased to see the cafe open. Just three doors down, Caravaggio Gelateria Italiana’s owner Emiliano Cecchetti said Victory Point is doing tabletop games in a “refined” way, which will benefit the neighborhood.

“Normally when you think of a game space, you think of the place as really nerdy,” Cecchetti said. “They’re trying to do something nice for both boys and girls, so it should be interesting, and we like that it attracts more life.”

The games offered range from nostalgic — marathon-effort Monopoly and flashback-inducing Yahtzee — to canonized yet lesser-known works, such as Twilight Struggle and Agricola, DeSantis’ favorite game.

Ultimately, however, the focus of Victory Point goes beyond the cardboard, tokens and dice, Maghakian said.

“The board game itself is arbitrary. … It’s about sharing that experience,” Maghakian said. “Nowadays, we don’t do that as much as we should, and this gives us another reason to share space and share experience with others.”

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks is the lead business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.

SEPTEMBER 21, 2015

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