(Written in January 2011)
Joseph Brosnan fixes himself a coffee and greets customers with a nod and a charismatic grin.
He takes orders and makes suggestions, waiting patiently for overwhelmed customers to make up their minds.
But people aren’t having difficulty choosing coffee.
Instead, they’re struggling to find a game to play, scanning the shelves filled with board games ranging from classics such as Uno and Sorry! to newer ones like Taboo and Cranium.
Brosnan is not your average café barista. He is a board game guru at Snakes and Lattes, at 600 Bloor St. W.
The board game café was created by Parisian couple Ben Castanie and Aurelia Peynet who were inspired by toy-lending libraries back in France.
After two years of scrounging garage sales and thrift stores, the couple collected more than 1,000 games. The café’s collection continues to grow.
Brosnan, 22, has been working here since the café opened in September.
Growing up, Brosnan was always interested in board games.
“During the holiday season, [my family] would always get together and play these wild, intense games of Monopoly,” he says.
When he got older, he entered tournaments and got “super-involved” playing Pokémon and Magic cards.
But the idea of teaching games for a living was something Brosnan would have never imagined.
He first heard of Snakes and Lattes when his roommate was searching through Craigslist and found a job listing for people who could teach board games to the public.
After working for five months, Brosnan is a board game expert.
“Now it’s the height of my addiction,” he says.
After being trained in theatre at the University of Windsor, the Brampton native moved to Toronto to pursue an acting career.
Despite some work in TV, film and theatre, Brosnan says the work “soured up” and moved back in with his parents.
“My parents were furious with me because I was playing board games all summer. They were like ‘Get a job!’ ” he says.
But when the opportunity came up, he knew it was perfect for him.
“It was pure luck. Pure luck,” he says as he prepares a latté for a customer.
He notices two women having difficulty picking a game, and runs to the shelves to offer his assistance.
“Were you interested in a particular game?” he asks.
“Well, something that’s not too complicated,” says a woman in a black toque. “I don’t want to spend the whole time sitting there trying to figure out the whole game!”
“In terms of two-player games, I was thinking that you guys can play 30 minute games. A favourite I can suggest is Wasabi, where you’re competing to be master sushi chefs!” Brosnan says with excitement.
While he waits for their final decision, he pulls his hands out of his pockets with a look of amusement. In his hand, lies a circular token.
He chuckles. “You know you work in a board game café when you have little board game pieces in your pocket.”
The two women finally decide on Monopoly Deal, a card game version much shorter than the original.
He plays a match with the two women, watching intently and offering tips and strategies.
Brosnan reassures his opponents by reading the instruction card: “Start playing and it will become clear…we promise!”
After a game of Monopoly Deal, he checks the front counter and returns to help a couple with their orders.
They’re new to the place, so Brosnan gives them a run-down of the café.
“Go ahead and play the games. You can play as many as you’d like and we can teach and suggest them to you.”
Brosnan gives his suggestions and the couple finally settles on Hive, a strategy game where the purpose is to surround the opponent’s bee queen with tiles.
He briefly watches the couple play, but is soon back with the two women to teach Dracula, another strategy game.
After offering instructions, he is interrupted to fulfil other duties: cinnamon rolls for the café’s main attraction that night-a tournament for a game called Dominion, the first ever hosted at Snakes and Lattes.
“That’s how this place goes. You play games but you have these goals,” he says as he runs to the kitchen to start baking.
“These are vegan cinnamon rolls,” he says as he gathers the ingredients and pours them into a bowl. “I’m working on gluten-free, so everybody can eat them.”
While he mixes, he mentions how he prefers board games to video games due to the social aspect.
“Board games nowadays, there’s so much more them. Human interaction is so much better than swearing at someone over a headset,” he says.
By 5:30 p.m., the café starts to get busy as gamers pile in for the Dominion tournament.
As Brosnan lets the dough rise, he goes down to the basement to facilitate matches at the tournament.
After viewing a few games, he’s back upstairs to check on his baking.
While he sprinkles cinnamon and makes the icing, he talks about how people have come into the café to help out, donating kitchen utensils or bringing in games.
“It’s developed so much. It has been popular since the very beginning and it hasn’t died down yet,” he says of the café, but knocks on the wooden counter for luck.
“I may be superstitious but I don’t want anything bad to happen to this place. This is such a distinct, original point of happiness. I’ve always wondered when I was kid what places a kid can go to. Yeah, there’s a pool hall here and there and the movie theatre. But what else is there?”
While Brosnan loves his job, he plans to continue acting.
“I need to put myself back into improv,” he says.
On his days off, he watches comedy shows and wishes he were onstage doing what he enjoys most.
“So jealous,” he says about watching the actors perform. “It’s like my first love.”