There’s nothing more satisfying than quaffing a fresh draft beer after vanquishing one’s opponent in a game of skill. And now, thanks to board-game parlor The Kingmaker’s Draft, such victory is possible most nights of the week.
Finding a space for a board-game bar was a bit of a challenging game itself, especially with potential landlords who hadn’t heard of the trend. “‘So are you a restaurant or are you a bar?’ People couldn’t really wrap their heads around it,” says Jan Darnell, who opened The Kingmaker’s Draft with her business partner, Kurt Darnell.
“But we found a place and got to work,” she says. “We were prepared to open in March of last year and then COVID decided to surprise us all, and we were severely delayed.” A flood from the neighbor’s water heater delayed them further. Finally, after additional setbacks, they got their doors open in July.
“We were super lucky to have opened in Hendersonville and not in Asheville,” says Jan, noting the pandemic-related closure of board-game cafe Well Played in Asheville, not to mention that city’s higher real-estate prices. “In Hendersonville, people were begging for us to open, and we didn’t know which guidelines we were supposed to follow: Are we a bar, or are we a restaurant? We just wanted to be respectful to everyone.”
A board-game parlor is just what it sounds like: Gather a group of friends, take a table, pick out as many games as you want, and play for as long as you’d like. Grab a craft beer, wine, or coffee from the bar, and a small bite to eat (Kingmaker’s treats include baked “big-a** pretzels” served with queso or Lusty Monk mustard).
Most board-game cafes charge a table fee — usually about $5 per person — but Kingmaker’s Draft has decided not to do that for the time being, so entry is free. The venue also offers a private room with a large gaming table for larger groups, ideal for role players looking for a regular spot to gather, also free of charge.
Kingmakers’ Draft boasts more than 300 board and card games, so guests can choose from a variety of old-school favorites — think Clue, Life, Scrabble, or Yahtzee — and modern classics such as Settlers of Catan, Mysterium Park, or (appropriately enough) Pandemic.
For the hardcore hobbyist, there’s a variety of larger, more complicated RPGs. “There are some big [role-playing] games out there that are pretty intimidating: Dungeons & Dragons and things like that. And we definitely have those, but we aren’t trying to just be that type of place,” explains Jan.
“People want to learn something new, but they don’t want a whole lot of chunky rules,” she says, noting that a game style called “roll-and-write” is becoming increasingly popular among their clientele. “Roll-and-writes are a way to have your own set up, so everybody is participating, but you have your own board. We’re planning to do something kind of like a trivia night with it, where we put up a projector and everybody has their own board in front of them.” She describes a game called Railroad Ink, in which players each have a board and a dry-erase marker, and build their own roads and railroads to connect destinations on the board using common shapes generated by dice, which she would project for everyone to see.
“The biggest part is having people that are working who can help ease you into the hobby. I feel like it’s very important that our employees recognize that people are going to have questions.”
The venue schedules “how to play” events for various games, free by reservation. However, “We don’t want to pressure anyone into playing anything too beefy,” says Jan. “A lot of people don’t want something super long or super hard, and we have just the right games for them — games that will be easy to pick up.”
The Kingmaker’s Draft, 101 South Main St., Hendersonville. Hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 3-9pm; Friday and Saturday, 3-10pm; and Sunday, 12-6pm. A “Learn to Play Isle of Cats” event happens Sept. 12, and “Learn to Play Mysterium Park” happens Sept. 19. “Learn to Play Catan” happens Sept. 26. (2-4pm for all dates.) For more information, visit thekingmakersdraft.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.