Meet the Trader: A boardgame café where everyone is equal

Carrie Smith, Co-founder of The Ludoquist. Pic: Faramade Olaitan. 

Walking straight down from West Croydon station, one passes many shops and cafes, but none quite as interesting as the cute little cafe on the corner of the High Street, with an eye catching deep green exterior and little blue sign. 

The Ludoquist, a board game themed café in Croydon, with a bar, is a niche space with an inviting atmosphere, though according to Carrie Smith, the café’s co-founder, not many people know exactly what the place is.  

She told ELL: “We had a guy come in and say what is this place? And we get that quite a lot, people just coming and going what is it? Is it a pub? Is it a restaurant? Is it a games place? Is it for kids? Is it for adults? And the answer is yes to all of them.” 

“Ludo means game in Greek, and we just made up the word Ludoquist, it doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s just a made-up word that sounded good. But the best thing about it is, when you type it into Google or any search engine, that’s the only thing that comes up.” 

‘Central Perk’

It was in November 2017 that the café went into business. “It all started when my business partner was collecting board games, and we had way too many of them,” Carrie told Eastlondonlines.

“They were taking over the house. And he said to me, do you want to go into business together and open a boardgame cafe. And I said, that sounds like a really good idea, because I’ve got a background in hospitality,” Carrie said and admitted that she is not much of a gamer herself. 

At the time it was one of only two board game cafés in London, filling a niche. Carrie said that she wanted to create an inclusive environment for customers.  

She said: “I didn’t want that stereotypical, geeky hang out of a load of guys sitting around the table pushing bits around and drinking one coffee. Because I thought I don’t want to work in a place like that, I certainly wouldn’t want to go to one myself, I’d feel alienated.

“The idea was to make an inclusive and welcoming space for everyone, so that everyone could find something that they enjoyed or liked doing. So, sometimes we get people who come in and they don’t even play games, they just enjoy the atmosphere. It’s quite cool. It’s a bit sort of like ‘Central Perk’ in Friends.” 

Inside The Ludoquist Croydon. Pic: Faramade Olaitan

The café won a Good Food Award Blue Ribbon in November 2023, which has resulted in a surge in customers. Carrie told ELL that they were “worried about bills and not being able to pay them” before winning the award and now the café is often fully booked to the point of turning people away at the door. 

“It’s never nice turning someone away, but at the same point, it’s a really good situation to be in where you’ve got too many customers and you’re having to tell them to come back later or rebook for the next weekend.

“It’s stressful, but it’s a good stressful to be in. Because I’m very aware that a lot of independent places are going under and to be in that situation where we’re actually getting busier, is just fantastic.” 

Everyone is equal in a board game

Carrie was amazed when The Ludoquist won the award. She said: “I’ve always said, you know, our pizzas are probably the best in Croydon, because I think they’re wonderful. And everybody that as one is always surprised that a boardgame cafe has such good pizza. And obviously somebody had come in and voted for us and said, Yeah, this is a good place.” 

She said its was special because only one other place in South London won the award. 

The space within the board game paradise is like something out of a romantic comedy with its shelves full of amusements, its bright lights, radio music and the ‘book nook’ tucked in the back corner for reading.  

Carrie told Eastlondonlines: “it’s nice to see people actually laughing, and having a joke, enjoying spending time together. And we get a lot of dates as well because of that. So if you’re on a date, it’s very easy to just be stuck sitting across the table from someone with nothing to say, anyway, what do I do? But if you’ve got a board game in the middle of you, you’ve got something to talk about.” 

“It is fantastic to see everybody getting on together and just enjoying spending time playing board games. And just being focused on that and not being focused on what anybody is wearing or what they look like or their gender. Nobody cares when you’re playing a board game everyone’s equal. And that’s the wonderful thing about it. It’s a great equaliser.” 

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