Special feature Special Feature

Game lovers

Bar à jeux La Pharmacie
Published on 23/11/2023

Who said playing was just for kids? With more than 2000 new board games released each year, the pleasure of gathering around a game is making a comeback in our daily lives. This is true for both children and adults, who are making games the focus of social gatherings like home drinks, themed parties and even tournament-reunions. What are the forces at play behind this trend? Which are the star games and addresses on Lyon’s scene? And how about giving them a try yourself?

We too often forget that, throughout the history of humanity, playing was considered to be such a serious activity that it was reserved for adults! (…) What’s more, as far as we go back, children had very few toys,” psychoanalyst Gabriel Balbo told us.
Long gone is the time when playing cards, dice and board games were the preserve of adults lucky enough to have the leisure to indulge in play. Games are now an integral part of our lives as adults, and they became even more important during the lockdowns and imposed return to indoor pursuits.
They are a way to have fun, of course, but they are also a chance to unconsciously learn, like the “learning trick” introduced by Erasmus in his time. They cover all areas of knowledge, from history to maths and language sciences, and offer something for all ages and tastes. 
Lyon is perhaps a city that loves games more than most. With board game cafes, shops, publishers, designers, illustrators and more, Lyon boasts an extremely vibrant game scene. Each year (or almost), the ‘CAL’ (Compagnie des z'Auteurs Lyonnais – a community of local board game makers), publishes a “CALtalogue” that reflects the rich and fascinating range of locally produced games.

Lyon, city of games 

For Florent Toscano, director of Jeux Opla, a board games maker based in Lyon, playing is an effective educational tool: “If a game is fun, and makes players want to return to it and share it, then it can be a real tool for learning, even if the players don’t realise it! (…) A successful game is both novel and has a theme and mechanics that are seamlessly integrated.” These are undoubtedly the ingredients behind the success of [kosmopoli:t], a game created in collaboration by Jeux Opla and the University of Lyon’s laboratory ‘Dynamique Du Langage’. The aim of the game is to manage a restaurant serving specialities from all over the world and in 60 languages! The extension released in November promises yet more fun for the game’s players.

Lyon has many other success stories. There is for example the multi-award-winning Secret Identity, created by the prolific Lyonnais game designer Alexandre Droit, and Cubirds, published by the Lyon-based Catch Up Games, which has sold 100,000 copies in fifteen or so countries since its release in mid-2018. Then there is TTMC - Tu te mets combien, which has sold more than 300,000 copies since it was self-published by its creators Rémy Ponton, Maurice Mura and Florent Boiton, in 2016. Its little sister – TTMC 2 – has just been released, based on the same idea. To win, each team must bet on their level of expertise before challenging their knowledge on technical or wacky topics, ranging from football to maths, industrial cereals or YouTube. 

Moi j'm'en fous je triche

Rules of play

Whatever subject matter they deal with, the main aim of games is always to be fun. It’s not just about using your head, but having a good time and playing with a group of people if possible. In addition to the 14 escape games dotted around the metropolitan area, which are part of another leisure genre altogether (see box), Lyon currently has eight board game bars in business. 
Originally from Quebec, this concept is nothing new and some of them have been around for almost 20 years, like ‘Moi j'm'en fous je triche’. New places regularly pop up to reshuffle the deck, however, like ‘Yakapiocher’ and ‘Tire-toi une Bûche’, in Lyon’s 6th district, where the large tables encourage people who don’t know each other to chat and play together. “People come here to disconnect from the day-to-day, take a break from the screens and meet up,” says Gaëtan Sanchez, one of the founders. Having fun the old-fashioned way, and learning like children, is also intergenerational! From 3 to 6 pm, families get together to discover new games and then the 25-45 age range takes over from early evening until closing time.
From games that take minutes to complete to board games you can play for hours on end, there is a wide choice. For Florent Toscano “Short, fast games are a good way to get started. You don’t need to be an expert to have fun.” There are party games with simple rules that can be wrapped up in less than an hour. You will also find “single-use” games where you can use the box and scribble on the cards, which take around 45 minutes. 
The latest trend is solo games, like Cartzzle (Opla), where the player superimposes and adjusts cards to reveal an image filled with secrets… So, whether you’re playing alone, as a family or with friends, there is only one rule: have fun!

Three questions for Claire Iselin

Director of Lugdunum, Museum and Roman Theatres

" People have been playing games in Lyon since Antiquity"

Could you tell us a bit about the relationship that the city of Lyon has had with games?
In Antiquity, people played in Lyon just as they did throughout the Roman Empire! For example, during excavations of the Jardin de la Visitation (Lyon 69005), dice games dating back to the Roman period were found. An army barracks was located there and soldiers would pass the time by playing dice when they were not in battle. There were also board games with counters, articulated figurines and more. Public games, which helped build social cohesion, also played a central role, in the form of comedy and tragic drama, mime shows, chariot races and gladiator fights… Things today haven’t changed all that much as people back then were already betting on the outcomes!

Playing has a central role in your museum. Could you tell us why?
Learning is a major aim of museums. It helps puts visitors at ease so they can acquire knowledge. Fun is an essential part of this. In 2012, the museum set up a games area in collaboration with the children's book publisher and graphic design studio Maison Georges. It rapidly became very popular and some visitors came for this area alone! We therefore decided to create a comprehensive trail with several mini-modules along the way, based on six themes, from gladiators to mythology and death. For each one there is a game, a multiple-choice questions section and a “search and find” challenge. The concept is popular with both children and their parents. It plays an important role. Playing helps people easily grasp basic concepts, such as power struggles in Antiquity, for example.

You have even released your own board game and an escape game?
In 2021, as part of our exhibition EnQuête de Pouvoir (Power struggles), we created an escape game – Les documents compromettants (compromising documents) – which has been a huge success. We actually extended it until June 2023. It is set against the background of the battle for Lugdunum, a major turning point in Rome’s history. During the battle, Sextus Egnatius Paulus manages to escape and get his family to a safe place before the legions arrive. However, in his haste to leave, he left behind some important letters... In the same vein, we are releasing our first family board game at the end of this year: L’année des 5 empereurs (The year of the five emperors), in collaboration with the agency L’Equipe Ludique and the Grenoble-based company Game Flow. The aim of the game is to succeed the emperor Commodus, by using all the means of rising to power in the Roman Empire: being worshiped, raising an army, building consensus or… using corruption. We tested it with members of the public and they thoroughly enjoyed it!

Deck-building game
Ages 12 and over; 2 to 5 players
Average game time: 40 minutes
On sale at Lugdunum Museum, book shops and game shops

Board game bars
Address book

Games on wheels
Cédric Chaffard told us that, “as a board games player for many years, I thought to myself it was a shame that my games stayed in a cupboard and weren’t used by more people!”. Inspired by the concept where people sign up to get a weekly basket of fruit and veg delivered to their homes, he dreamt up the idea for a board games rental service, which he named ‘Passeur de jeux’ ( ‘games smuggler’). Since 2017, he sets off on his bike every Friday to deliver his “games baskets” to the fifteen or so pick-up points dotted around Lyon. His catalogue includes 800 games and, thanks to a partnership with the shop Archi Chouette, which he also happens to be the manager of, new games are added to the list every day!

The doyenne
The oldest board game bar in Lyon will celebrate its twentieth anniversary in 2023! This non-profit bar is run by fifty or so volunteers and offers a selection of some 1800 games. 150 new games are added to this vast collection every year. Annual subscription holders can borrow games.

Fun for all the family
This is the latest addition to Lyon’s board games bar scene. Margot, Grégoire and Cyrille have created a welcoming space, with 450 games and a dozen toy crates, as well as a kids area to welcome children and their parents as soon as schools close. Margot even organises birthday parties. There is also a selection of sweet and savoury snacks, including cookies, cakes and brownies, as well as platters to share and croque-monsieur (toasted ham and cheese sandwich), to top up your energy levels during a break or in the midst of a game!

Just what the doctor ordered
In 2019, Antoine Lavernhe opened a hybrid place that is both a board games bar and a restaurant. The name is a tip of the hat to his qualification as a pharmacist: La Pharmacie. He dispenses effective cures for boredom with some 650 board games. To guide customers through the selection, Antoine and another facilitator offer “recreational consultations”: “I’m like a waiter: I go to a table and suggest a game to get started, followed by a second, according to the number of players, how long they have, their desires…” There is also plenty for the taste buds to enjoy, with a menu that includes “burgerology”, “biscuitherapy”, mixed salads and “group therapy” platters to share. 

Rise to the challenge
This board games bar was opened last year by three friends Alexandre, Augustin and Gaëtan, who jointly manage it. The name was inspired by an expression from Quebec that roughly translates to ‘grab a chair and join us’. Their bar has 250 games to choose from, as well as three highly immersive “challenge rooms” where teams are given 15 minutes to beat various super fun challenges.

Tire-toi une bûche

Games in all flavours
This is the shop to inspire your imagination in Lyon. For the past 17 years, it has offered a specialist book section, a games section (which even includes a selection of games in their original English language version), and two games rooms. These are open to the public during the shops opening hours. Trollune also runs games activities every Wednesday along with the association ‘La nuit tous les chats sont geeks’ and introductory evenings to different games.