Emerging from an age of social isolation, the board games industry has seen a significant rise in popularity over the past year. As a borough that prides itself in its vibrant culture scene, Croydon has become the designated south London hub of the hobby.
Last month saw the release of Magnate: The First City, the first board game to be released by Croydon-based James Naylor. Having moved to central Croydon from Coulsdon, Naylor independently designed the game over some years through his own company, Naylor Games.
Speaking to Eastlondonlines, Naylor described Magnate as a “contemporary Monopoly”.
The game functions as a property development simulator, rewarding players for knowing when to invest and subsequently sell their assets.
Naylor said: “Croydon is a really interesting place. It’s been through a lot of development and a lot of proposed development over the last ten years. So, I feel that partly influenced me, the way the landscape in Croydon has changed. I learned a lot about how property developers work and used that very much to inform the game.”
The release of Magnate stands as the latest addition to the wider gaming community of Croydon. The Ludoquist, a café located on Croydon high street, won two awards last year from the Game Manufacturers Association in Ohio, USA. These commendations included ‘Outstanding Store’, as well as ‘Outstanding Store Design’.
The space currently boasts an impressive collection of over 1400 board games available for customers to play. Nick Smith, co-owner of The Ludoquist alongside his wife Carrie, told ELL the ingredients of the venue’s international success: “We think of ourselves as a board game restaurant… It’s really important that we work together. The reason we’ve got a great collection of games here is me, and the reason we’ve got a great selection of food and drink is [Carrie]. That’s essentially how we divide things.”
The Ludoquist is home to many gaming groups in Croydon, some of which may experience weekly waiting lists of up to 30 people. Smith said: “People are refreshing their browsers at noon, waiting to sign up. I think that’s an indication of what’s happening with gaming in south London, but also with the general community. The desire to be out and about and doing stuff with people on an actual table.”
As a member of one such gaming group, Naylor had the opportunity to playtest Magnate with peers until it was perfected.
Also involved in the group is Scott James, a fellow independent game designer in South Croydon who founded his own company, Minerva Tabletop Games. Swatch, the upcoming debut game from Minerva, was developed entirely by James himself, aside from single player elements crafted by colleague David Digby.
Both Swatch and Magnate were funded through Kickstarter, allowing the gaming community to directly express their faith in the projects through donations, as James said:
“It just blew me away. In six hours, I managed to get all the funding I needed. It was great to see people who I had never met, backing my progress online.”
“It was one of those moments where I realised everything I’ve been doing for the past two plus years has been for something.”
James told ELL about his and his fellow developers’ ambitions to craft each project with care: “Whether I’m tackling a theme that I think is underrepresented or trying to offer something mechanically which I don’t think exists in a space yet, I don’t want to just churn a game out for the sake of it… I want to offer something.”
Smith expressed his pride in The Ludoquist hosting the playtesting group that has led to such games being developed: “Games have been tested here that have now been Kickstarted, designed and published. So, we do what we can to help and encourage those.
“We put them on our games shelves, we put prototypes out for people to test and publicise. It’s really nice to be part of that.”
Reflecting on the growth of the hobby in south London, Naylor said: “More ordinary people have realised that this is a wonderful way to have fun with people. Analogue, good fun with real people that is not mediated through a screen, which is a very disconnected way to interact with people.”
Delighted to be part of the modern cultural identity of Croydon, Smith said: “We have become somewhat icons of that and are very proud to be. But all we are is a reflection of the area we are in, which is a cool, thriving, interesting, and curious area.”
Outside of Croydon, this year also marks a significant milestone in the greater south London gaming community. SELWG, a tabletop wargaming club based in Catford, celebrated their 50th anniversary with a trade show in Edmonton.
On the recent growth of tabletop gaming, Simon Chandler, a committee member for the club, told ELL: “Wargaming has become a lot more of a mainstream hobby… I think during lockdown a lot of people who were interested might not have known what it was, or there were those who did it when they were younger, and they got into it because they were staying indoors.”