Forget dinner and a movie. Beer and board games is where it’s at if you really want to get to know someone, insists Jarrett Miller, founder of Ales & Allies Game Nights.
“Playing a two-player game is a great way to get to know them,” he says. “I hate dinner and a movie (dates). You go eat and then sit in a quiet theater for two hours. This is interactive. It’s a good way to get to know someone real quick.”
The Wednesday night crowds at T.F. Brewing in Salt Lake City seem to agree.
Cards, dice, and gameplay boards were scattered alongside pints of beer as Miller hopped from one group of gamers to the next.
“He has an infectious personality and creates such a great environment,” says Brittany Watts, TF’s taproom manager, who recruited Miller to provide mid-week entertainment at the Salt Lake brewery.
Playing the Game
Watts would attend game nights Miller hosted at Poplar Street Pub. When she started at T.F. Brewing and the brewery sought to build an events lineup, she immediately thought of him.
T.F. began booking Miller in mid-January. Since then, the brewery’s seen Wednesday night crowds balloon. On a recent outing, at least a dozen different games were in progress throughout the spacious taproom.
“By around 8 p.m. it’s pretty busy, even compared to what it’s like later in the week,” Watts says. “It’s so fun to see adults having a good time over board games, this nostalgic thing we used to get excited about as kids.”
Miller, who admits he never played many board games as a kid, is in his element hosting others. He welcomes players by asking what sort of game they’re looking to play. Then he floats from table to table teaching the basics, offering strategic tips, and helping to facilitate gameplay.
“I cannot stand if someone goes up there and just grabs a board game,” says Miller, who started a Sunday game night at Poplar Street Pub about four years ago. “I want to be there asking questions: What are you looking for? How many players? It might say ‘2 to 4 players’ but I know it’s way more fun if you have four instead of two.”
“I want to make sure your job is to drink beers, play some games, and have a good time,” Miller adds.
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Magic in the Middle
A lot of times people will start out with a familiar game or end the evening with something they know. But it’s the middle — when Miller might introduce someone to something new — where magic can happen.
“I’ve had people meet over a board game,” he says. “Dates come in all the time.”
He tells the story of a couple game-night regulars who recently renewed their wedding vows.
“They said, ‘you’ve been in our lives for years now,’ so they asked (Miller and his girlfriend) to go on a honeymoon cruise with them to play board games,” he says. “(They wanted) to return the favor and have a good time.”
Rolling the Dice
The impetus for game nights at Poplar Street may have come when Miller, a bartender at the Salt Lake bar, told his boss: “Hey, I’m going to a board game convention.”
Once the chuckles from fellow bartenders subsided, it proved to be a memorable Martin Luther King Day weekend for Miller.
Held at Ruby’s Inn at Bryce Canyon, attendees from all over spent the day cross-country skiing followed by eight hours of board games, beer, and banter.
“So I came back from that, told the story, and the boss asked, ‘Do you think people would do that at the bar?'” Miller remembers. “I said, you have tables — that’s a big thing. You have food, and you have beers — the games are all you need.”
Not long after, Miller provided a couple dozen board games (he now offers nearly 100) and watched as it played out.
“The first night, I looked up we and had a room full of people and I couldn’t find a single cell phone on the tables,” he says. “That caught me off-guard. It was weird. I was kind of proud. Everyone was making eye contact, laughing, having a good time.”
Business of Board Games
When Miller launched his game nights several years ago, he didn’t expect Ales & Allies to ever turn into anything more than a fun thing to do.
“I think this is kind of catapulting him into a business,” Watts says.
“I really didn’t have a plan to start a business,” Miller adds. “When Brittany approached me on Sunday night (at Poplar), I was like, I’ll think about it.”
Establishing a weekly presence at T.F. turned into more social media promotion. Soon, other bar owners wanted in on the action. And recently, Ales & Allies added a Tuesday game night at Quarters Arcade Bar.
“I didn’t think this was a thing,” says Miller, who’s also a musician. “But I think I’ve got to go with it because I love teaching board games.”
Give These Games a Try…
A couple of Miller’s favorite games:
- Alien Frontiers. It’s a dice-rolling worker placement games with just enough “take that” involved. “It’s a sci-fi theme, which I love,” Miller says. “It takes just the right amount of time — you can play at face value or dig as deep into it as you want.”
- Santorini. A two-player game, Miller says it’s super simple but, like an onion, you can peel away layers. “Once both people know how to play, it’s a different monster,” he says. “It’s a unique game for how simple it is.”
One game he always gets requests for: Betrayal at House on the Hill. Regulars frequently bring in their own, Miller says, but Ales & Allies is happy to report it now has a copy available for play.
The following are weekly game nights hosted by Ales & Allies. It’s always a good idea to confirm ahead of time with the specific establishment before making the trip.
- WHERE: TF Brewing, 936 S. 300 W., Salt Lake City, UT 84101
- WHEN: Wednesdays, starting at 6 p.m.
Poplar Street Pub
- WHERE: Poplar Street Pub, 242 S. 200 W., Salt Lake City, UT 84101
- WHEN: Sundays, starting at 6 p.m.
Quarters Arcade Bar
- WHERE: Quarters Arcade Bar, 5 E. 400 S., Salt Lake City, UT 84111
- WHEN: Tuesdays, starting at 7 p.m.