I grew up in upstate New York—and no, that does not mean the Bronx. I was a girl from the mountains, see, where we had a little farm with goats, chickens, and all the fixins. To prove it, here’s a picture of my mom’s rooster, Harland Sanders:
So when I first moved to the city 5 years ago, I only had two friends in the area and no idea what to do with myself. I wanted meet new people who liked gaming, sci-fi, fantasy, and all the other oddball interests I have, but I wasn’t sure how to find them. Sure, there are some great events like NY Comic-Con and shops like Nintendo World, but I wanted more. So I strapped on my walking boots and started searching. Lo and behold, I did not have to look very hard!
Turns out that New York is brimming with geeky places to visit and things to do! In this series of articles, I hope to share with you my exciting discoveries and create a geektastic travel guide for locals and visitors alike to the Big Geeky Apple. Buckle in, because our first stop is NYC’s only board game cafe: The Uncommons!
Located at 230 Thompson Street in Greenwich Village, The Uncommons is a tiny cafe with a heart of board game-engraved gold. NYC has a fast-growing tabletop gaming scene that hungers for places to play and this coffee shop (and more!) does its best to feed the board game beast. It is situated near the NYU campus and almost every time I have gamed at The Uncommons, the tables have been packed. If you are visiting for the first time, I suggest going in the afternoon during the week when everyone is in class.
The menu is pretty classic cafe fare with tea, coffee, and snacks—but their beer/wine selection is pretty amazing and always growing. The Uncommons offers many different types of craft and seasonal beers such as Hell Or High Watermelon or Milk Stout Nitro. Harry Potter fans can also get a non-alcoholic Butter Beer there, too. Once you have a delightful beverage in hand, it’s on to the games. It is $5 to play, but you have unlimited access to hundreds of board games and you can play all day. The Uncommons has a full list of their board game library available here for perusal. If you fall in love with a game, never fear! They also have a selection of games for sale.
Since it has become one of my favorite spots to hang out, I wanted to know more about it. Greg May, founder of The Uncommons, was kind enough to give me the story behind this super popular board game haven.
Geek & Sundry: Hi Greg! Could you tell me a little bit about how the Uncommons came to be?
Greg May: The origin of the Uncommons begins about 2 years ago. A couple of friends and I got together and came up with the idea to do this in NYC. We weren’t sure when or how but, I had been to Snakes & Lattes (Toronto, ON) and my friends had been to Neutral Grounds (A NYC hobby shop that is now closed). So together we came up with the idea and started working on it. We spent months coming up with the name, the logo, and finding the space. In September of 2013 we signed the lease and opened in October of 2013, which is insane for NYC. Whereas a typical build out can take you six months, we did it in 36 days. I had always been interested in this space. It was The Village Chess Shop for 40 years and was famous throughout the world for its chess community. We still try to support the chess community and we have had chess classes, tournaments, and grand masters teach. We really like the connection to the old school NY.
G&S: How many games did you start with vs. how many games do you have now?
GM: We opened with basically my games on the shelf. I donated the 150ish games in my collection to found our library. I always say that one of the reasons I started the place was because I had so many board games, my girlfriend was tired of them taking up so much space. We quickly grew from that 150ish to 250 then from there now we have close to eight hundred.
G&S: How often do you get new games?
GM: Every single week! We get at least one or sometimes as many as 10 or 50 depending on whether there is a big game convention going on. So after Gen Con we’ll have added 12ish to our library. After Toy Fair we usually have about 20-25. Most weeks its 2-3.
G&S: What sort of events do you hold?
GM: We run events every single day, or at least every single night. Those range from Magic the Gathering tournaments, hosting different communities, to tabletop-focused nights where you can meet new gamers and try new games. We are also involved with the Dice Masters community. We’re the only real place to play here in NY and I, believe, in the tri-state area. We do things for Lord of the Rings The Card Game, for Attack Wing, Star Trek Attack Wing, and the Dungeons and Dragons Attack Wing. We also host D&D encounters on Wednesday nights. If there’s a game that folks love, we will help host it.
G&S: With all of these great games, what would you say is your favorite game? I know it’s hard to pick.
GM: One of my favorites is a classic. I love Go. Its a game that will never be surpassed in its own sort of way. I also love the game of the week. I haven’t played Mysterium [Greg points to a pile of new games waiting to be added to the library], but I can’t wait to and my favorite game like that changes every other week or every few weeks. Of course I always recommend Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, and Dominion—the modern classics. If you ask me, those are the 3 games I’m going to push at you. Finally I love Cards Against Humanity. I don’t know if it’s a game like most people think of them but it’s a great title.
Thanks so much to Greg May for taking some time out of his day to give me the Uncommons’ backstory. If you are visiting NYC or are a local with a penchant for board games, be sure to head down to Thompson Street and see what’s playing! That’s all for now, but join me again on my next adventure, wherever it may be.
Do you have a local board game cafe/shop? What’s it like? Let me know in the comments below!
Photo Credits: Jessica Fisher