October 17, 2021

Do Not Pass Tabletop Underground

A hidden gem for old and new school gamers
By Rachel Pasche | Sept. 4, 2021

What do you get when you combine a speakeasy and a game store? It probably looks a little like Tabletop Underground, a Prohibition-themed basement in downtown Traverse City where anyone can gather to play (or buy) board games. The board game has long been a favorite way to pass the time and have a little fun with those around you, but it can be difficult to get enough players to participate in a game night, particularly so on a regular basis.

The solution? A place where board game enthusiasts and those who simply want to play can meet, compete, and cheat (just kidding — no cheating) together and enjoy a host of unique, interesting, and entertaining games. 

Innocuously tucked away down a nondescript staircase beneath the new Gemini Sandwich Co., Tabletop Underground seems, at first, like a passage to a secret underworld — albeit a VIP, behind-the-velvet ropes one. Black and gold signs lend a swank “Great Gatsby” feel to the entrance; hanging lights add to the aesthetic. Enter, and discover the wealth of entertainment within.

With over 400 board games, card games, and role-play games lining the walls of this unexpectedly big but cozy space, there’s no shortage of diversions. On top of classic boxes like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Risk sit all sorts of wondrous options, like Galaxy Trucker, a game where each player is a trucker building a spaceship that’s going to fall apart turn by turn, or Parfum, where players compete to build the best perfumes and sell them to clients. To say there is no shortage of options would be a huge understatement. 

The concept started 10 years ago; a few friends who called themselves the Traverse City Board Gamers met weekly to play board games in various bars and breweries, moving around from space to space so as not to irk any owners of the establishments.

“It started off with only two or three people,” Tabletop Underground co-owner Kyle Delgado says, “and as we started to do more social media and marketing through that, we started getting more and more people coming in.”

Eventually, someone reached out to Delgado, offering to give the growing group a more permanent home — inside a space for rent near the Coin Slot and Gemini Sandwich Co.

Tabletop Underground opened in 2019, a space where anyone could come and play all sorts of engrossing games. The Board Gamers Group has not disbanded; in fact, it still meets on Sundays — which Delgado says is the best day for single players to come, because the group is always open to anyone who wants to hop in. 

Rates for entry are $7 for a full day or $5 for an hour. Customers also have the option to purchase board games, card decks, and other items (such as die), or you can rent a game for a week for $7. Players can purchase snacks or beverages in Tabletop Underground, or they’re welcome to bring their own, provided the drinks are non-alcoholic. The day pass makes it possible to run out and grab a bite to eat between games, too.

Among the hundreds of games available, you might think the classics would appeal most — Monopoly, Clue, Connect Four, and the like. Turns out, fans of cards and board games aren’t in it for nostalgia. Fittingly, they’re out for innovation and fun. And in that department, board games evolved greatly in recent years, with all sorts of fun and obscure concepts being explored.

Case in point: Delgado pulls down one of the more popular picks of late, a game called Wingspan, with a colorful bird shown on the box. He explains that the objective is to build an aviary, though some of the appeal of the game can likely be attributed to the beautifully drawn cards featuring various North American birds and vibrant tokens.

Delgado’s favorite game is Viticulture, where players inherit a large vineyard and spend the game growing grapes, making wine, and completing other viticulture tasks. There are also games where players make quilts, games where they build empires, and games based around classic books and films.  

The beauty of board games, says Delgado, is that each different round is a different experience, and it makes for a great buffer for interacting with new people.

“It gets people away from their phones and other digital devices and gets you face to face with other people,” says Delgado.

He says what has surprised him most since opening Tabletop Underground was his shift in mindset around who typically plays board games, describing how the Board Gamers Group used to consist of people who were very interested in board games and how the demographic has shifted now.

“Ever since we opened up this {space], I’m starting to notice that we’re getting a lot of different people coming in,” he says. “There’s something for everybody, and it excites me to see someone who maybe isn’t usually a board game person get as excited about this as I am.”  

Find Tabletop Underground at 346 East Front St. Ste. 6. in Traverse City. Open 5pm to 10pm Fridays and Saturdays, 2pm to 10pm Sundays. (231) 392-4205, tabletopundergroundtc.com

Game On: League Play and Trivia
Tabletop Underground plans to open up league play in October, including a Ticket to Ride tournament. They also host trivia nights that are based around trivia board games, with the theme varying each time. Event participants should pre-register for the event via email or through their Facebook page, and then arrive at the designated start time with the fee to enter the event. Check the event calendar in their shop or call them for information on upcoming events, or you can check out their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Tabletopundergroundtc


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