‘The world of board games has been my first work environment to feel like home’

Manager Rhys Chamberlain hopped from job to job before landing the jackpot at one of Cardiff’s most popular board game cafes

The colourful interior of Chance & Counters reflects the energy and excitement that the job brought to Rhys’ life. Image credit: Robyn Quick

As the staff at board game café Chance & Counters prepare for another busy day before they open, manager Rhys Chamberlain organises the collection of over 650 games with a smile.

To a casual observer, it seems this is the job Rhys was born for, but it was a long journey to find his way to the world of board games.

Listen to the story here:

Starting from square one

Board games were the last thing on Rhys’ mind when he began a theatre technology degree at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA).

“It was a strange environment – the actors were weirder than we were,” he reflected.

After finding theatre work in pantos, doing a small tour with a company in Bury St Edmunds and working at University of Cambridge, he decided to leave the industry entirely.

The 29-year-old said: “It was such a ruthless industry. So many amazing people go on to achieve nothing and so many mediocre people go on to achieve greatness or, at least, financial stability.”

Originally from York, Rhys moved around in pursuit of work, but he struggled to find anywhere that was fulfilling.

One day after a bad shift at a bar in Birmingham, he saw a Facebook ad for the role of manager at the local branch of board game cafe Chance & Counters and leapt at the opportunity.

The world of board games opens up…

Here, Rhys discovered a love of board games and the community that they created.

He said: “Like everyone, I played them at Christmas when I was a kid and with my grandparents. Then when I was at university, I started to play board games more with my housemates.

“I’m a bit of a nerd all round so I thought it would be my thing!”

He explained that since working at the Birmingham site, he became hooked on the activity.

While living with his best friend and their fiancé during lockdown, Rhys found enjoyment in longer form board games to distract from the chaos outside.

“We bought long games such as Pandemic where you get a month’s play out of each series. They gave us something to communally sit down and do as a group,” he said.

In April 2021, the Cardiff site for Chance & Counters found itself in financial trouble because of lockdown. Rhys bought half of the property and moved to the city.

The future of board games

Since finding a life and community in board games, Rhys has not looked back.

He said that re-opening after the pandemic has been a challenge, but he is happy with his decision.

“’The world of board games has been my first work environment to feel like home,” he said.

“We have been doing really well, it’s been getting busier and busier. Now we’re just trying to settle down and run more events for the run up to Christmas,” he smiled.

He added that unlike pubs and bars, winter is the peak season for board game cafes.

He said that board games are “very much a winter sport”, unlike bars and restaurants that focus more on the summer months for their events and income.

Rhys added that customers are increasingly looking to save money, and Chance & Counters offers the opportunity for people to try games out instead of buying them in the increasingly expensive game market.

“The board gaming market is ever expanding and reaching out to a wider audience than ever before. There really is something for everyone.”

Rhys’ top three game recommendations for new players:

  • Root – Rhys’ personal favourite, an asymmetrical heavy strategy game similar to Risk where every player is playing a slightly different game. Extremely cute characters are a bonus.
  • Escape the Dark Castle – A choose-your-own-adventure game where players take on the role of wrongfully convicted prisoners who must find a way to escape.
  • Pandemic – A long-form game where players must discover four cures to diseases that threaten to wipe out the world’s population.