STOP, read THIS. Mancala Monk proudly presents it’s first ever Comedy Night on September 27th!
Yeaaahhhhhh we are.
Now read on as I tenuously attempt to tie Board Games and Stand Up Comedy together, like passing clouds. Beautiful, beautiful clouds.
But first the pertinent info, the need-to-knows, the deetz for the streetz. The show will start out monthly and will run on the last Wednesday of each month. It will start shortly after 10pm. No reservations, just show up. The cost is a $5 Cover, per person, or $2.50 if you have come earlier in the night to play Board Games and you have already paid a $5 Game Cover to the Café. The Comedy Cover, rather than the Game Cover, is going to the comedians.
I love Stand Up. More and more, over the years, I am drawn to it.
It’s entertainment, right? Totally. And that’s good. But like Board Games, I think there is more going on here than entertainment.
It’s entertainment plus; Entertainment plus experience plus cultural engagement plus art plus changing and learning – learning about ourselves, about others and what it means to be human. Stand up artists, good ones, are secular preachers, cultural commentators, guerrilla-gospel-slingers spreading the good news that life can be laughter and that we are in it together. They remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. They teach us to laugh, which is an important skill, and perhaps more importantly, to laugh at ourselves, to not cling to the need to appear flawless, to put to death our incessant need to pose and posture for the public. The comic adopts the stage and the mic, these tools we ascribe to the polished performer, the celebrity, the demigods of our culture - but then they subvert those expectations with self-examination and confession, and humor, and in so many ways it is the opposite of what we expect from the stage and the mic. Their honesty inspires our own honesty and their stories gives us a wall, off of which we are free to bounce our own thoughts about the human condition.
There doesn’t need to be a connection between Stand Up and Board Games for us to run a Comedy Night, but the connection seems clear enough to me. What I love about Stand Up is that you get all of this, while having fun.
What I love about board games is that you get all of this while having fun.
Learning, change, growth, connection, self-examination and improvement, all while having fun.
I have enough experience with and the study of pedagogy to know that there is a strong correlation between learning and enjoyment and that the best learning, change or transformation happens within the context of enjoyment. Not exclusively, but if you are trying to shape children, or teach lessons or communicate pretty much anything, the most effective way you can do that is to make that process engaging, stimulating and enjoyable. People learn and retain the most when they are enjoying the process, and the least when they are not.
It is sad to me that there aren’t more fantastic Stand Up artists, that there aren’t more fantastic Stand Up venues. It is sad to me that Stand Up artists often don’t get paid at all or they are terribly underpaid. So, Mancala Monk presents a humble offering, fairly compensated Comedians, a high quality show, a great venue, but we need your support and involvement to bring it to life and make it happen. Come on out and support this once-a-month Comedy Event and, most importantly, enjoy!
“Welcome to the most well-known geisha street in the old capital, Hanamikoji. Geisha, the graceful women elegantly mastering in art, music, dance, and a variety of artistic performances after years of training, are greatly respected and adored.”
In Hanamikoji, two players compete to earn the favors of the seven geisha masters by collecting the performance items with which they excel. With careful speculation and sometimes a few bold moves, you may earn the essential items by giving away the less critical ones. Can you outsmart your opponent and win the most favors of the Geisha?
Today I thought I would take a new game that I have really been enjoying, a game that there is a very good chance you haven’t played yet, and review it. Hanamikoji is an excellent two-player game, on par with games like Patchwork, Jaipur and Hive. It is small, easy to travel with, sets up in 30 seconds and plays in 10-15 minutes. On the other hand, players generally play several games in a row and I it is not uncommon to see couples in the Café play this game for hours straight; Gene and I have been one of those couples. We picked it up at GenCon and played it more than any other game we brought back, mostly because of how easy it is to jump in and jump out of. You always have time for a quick game of Hanamikoji, and if you are like me, you will always want to. Carry this game around in your backpack, handbag or purse, and you will be glad you did.
I looked it up, and Hanamikoji is a well-known Geisha district in Kyoto; many people visit Hanamikoji to see Geisha in the streets or perhaps interact with them at an event or in a tea house. Geisha are well respected women of the arts, often hired entertainers – but not ladies of the night, as some may think. I lived in Japan for half-a-year and I have a great fondness for how odd and interesting Japanese culture is to me. The first thing you will notice about Hanamikoji is that it has a beautiful theme, art-style and presentation. The box, the cards and the tokens are all beautiful and enhance the game experience greatly.
Open the box and place the seven oversized Geisha cards on the table between the two players in ascending or descending order according to the single large number in the corner of each Geisha card. There are seven Geishas (see pics) three “2”s, two “3”s, one “4” and one “5”. Those numbers represent both how many points that Geisha is worth and how many of that Geisha’s item cards appear in the main deck of cards, the items deck.
Each player receives a single set of four unique square tokens with numbers 1-4 respectively, and places them face up in front of themselves. These are the four actions you can and must take during our four turns. You must take each action and therefore may only take each individual action once, so that you will end up taking each action before the round ends.
Take the items deck, the only other thing in the box at this point, and shuffle the whole thing. Then, without looking at it, “burn” or remove one card from the game face-down. Deal six cards to each player.
Determine who plays first. That player draws a card and takes their first action. Draw one card at the beginning of each turn and take only one action during each turn.
The four actions involve you playing cards, often offering combinations of cards to your opponent, they choose to take a certain number of those cards and leave you with the rest. In this way you will fight over, give away, win and lose cards. When you win cards you put them on one side of the appropriate Geisha and if you have a majority at the end of the round you win that Geisha. This is a trick-taking game, if you can win four Geishas or eleven points you win the game. If, at the end of the round, no one has four Geishas or eleven points, the game continues, a new round begins, however, players retain the Geishas they have already won, and a token in the middle of the Geishas cards slides toward the player who won that Geisha as a visual reminder of who has earned which Geisha card. Generally, if the game does not end in the first round, one player heads into round two with a small advantage, as defending a Geisha is easier than acquiring one.
For anyone interested, the four actions are as follows: (1) Place one card face down, it now belongs to you but won’t be revealed until the end of the round. (2) Place two cards face down, they are removed from the game and no one may win them. (3) Place three cards face up, your opponent takes one and you take the other two. (4) Place four cards face up, separate them into two piles, your opponent takes one pile and you take the remainder.
That is all. Win, not just the most cards, but the RIGHT cards. Give away cards that you don’t necessarily need to get the ones that you absolutely do – but which ones are those? Bluff about which cards are face-down, calculate which cards still remain in the deck to be drawn, determine the correct path to victory and out-negotiate your opponent. Four quick simple actions but this game will bend your brain and force you to think in new ways.
If I had to point out any thing wrong with Hanamikoji it would be difficult to do so. Perhaps that it is only two players, or that despite it’s gorgeous theme, the game is a little too quick and simple to really impress it’s theme upon the player’s experience. It feels like an excellent, tight, elegant card game with a great theme slapped on it rather than a game where theme comes first and you feel immersed in its theme. But that is the limitation of a tight, 15 minute two player game and not a design flaw. I believe this game is truly elegant and belongs on the top of the list of great two player table-top games. I think we will see this game talked about among the all-time great two player games, unless of course it is sadly missed somehow, which would be a small tragedy indeed.
I am sitting here beside my blogging buddy Alexandra Katherine Zavarise M.A. B.A. (Alex for short). We are bloggers blogging on blogs apparently, at least today we are, but also not getting very much done because we keep chatting. Me and Alex are friends because of Mancala Monk and that’s what we are talking about right now, the connections that we both have made because of things like university, work, and board games. How different our lives would be if it weren’t for this or for that.
An hour ago I sat down with my new friend Philip and we discussed life, religion, and board games. Philip and I met at Mancala Monk, that’s how we know each other, but he asked me if I wanted to sit down, have a coffee and chat. So we did and we learned all kinds of things about each other and learned from each other and had a great time.
I keep thinking, if I chat the day away I won’t be able to blog or get my blog done. God forbid! Then Alex says, why don’t you blog about this, what we are talking about. Cool beans, I say, I’ll blog about connections.
One of the reasons my wife and I opened Mancala Monk and one of the things that I love very much about it is that this place makes connections. We connect players to DMs and DMs to players, newbie Magic Gatherers learn while playing beside veteran Magic Gatherers, random gamer rubs shoulders with random gamer and becomes friend gamer. We are a growing community. What a fantastic place to meet new people and make new friends. This is a safe and welcoming place, Board Games are a safe and welcoming place, and we are happy to meet you and share a passion for gaming and life together.
I have made a ton of friends since we opened less than two years ago. I know so many more people in my city now and I feel much more connected to it. Steven and William, who you probably know, both work at the Monk and both moved to Hamilton from different cities before they started work here. Now they know too many people. It’s awesome. They both DM weekly games here and have met a ton of friends through D&D but also just through a million small interactions at the Monk.
Alex is friends with Miranda. Miranda works with Allan. We love Allan and Miranda and Alex and they have become fast friends with Steven. Steven lives with Megan and Megan is pursuing a Ph.D. at McMaster. Alex just finished her M.A. at McMaster. Alex and Megan had offices at Mac on the same floor, four doors down from each other for over a year but didn’t meet and become friends until they met at Mancala Monk.
Connections are the stuff of life. Our connections are our lives, good or bad. We hope we can help you make and maintain good connections, the ones that enrich and encourage you. We are strong believers that a warm space, a warm latte, a warm brownie and a warm Board Game are a great way to create warm connections – okay, that was me being weird because it’s fun, but that’s what I do and I hope it makes you smile. Hope to see you around.
Guess who’s back! I am uploading some photos to the website and here is where you can read a bit about our trip to North America’s largest table-top gaming Convention, Gen Con.
First, the numbers. Something like 208,000 gamers descended upon Gen Con this year for its 50th anniversary.
Over 500 exhibitors and 16,000 events awaited us.
We took over the Indianapolis Convention Center, Lucas Oil Stadium, Bankers Life Fieldhouse and several of the major Hotels in the area.
The city was replete with a myriad of posters, banners and sandwich boards welcoming “Gen Con 50” and all of its attendees.
Almost every restaurant we visited in the area had Geek Art added to their menus and many of them had changed the name of their food items to geeky new names. Some had created a special Gen Con Menu just for the 5 days we were there or even Gen Con pricing. Indianapolis was prepared for us but were we prepared for Indianapolis?
I believe we were. Extra toilet paper in case the bathrooms run out? Check. Fun-sized hand sanitizer bottles to avoid contracting “Con Flu”? Check. Copious amounts of water bottles and granola bars tucked away in our carrying packs? Check. Hundreds of American dollars in our wallets to avoid the slight bump in conversion rates when using Canadian credit cards in the U.S.? Check. Badges, tickets, maps, coupon book, and wide-ranged walkie talkies to avoid costly cell phone charges so that we can communicate with our entourage? Check. The walkie talkies didn’t end up working very well and we don’t recommend them for future Cons. We kept picking up radio interference and conversation from other people.
As a team of Retailers, we left early to begin the Con experience with a special Trade Day on the 16th. Our Retailer Badges allowed us an entire first day with loads of special seminars and early access to everything except the exhibit hall. They also gained us access to the coveted Retailer’s Lounge on the 2nd floor of the Convention Center which we took full advantage of on multiple occasions. On the 17th we were able to get in to the Exhibit Hall exactly One Hour before the throngs of thousands of chanting gamers would burst through locked doors to join us. That one hour was very special, it was the only hour that Exhibit Hall wouldn’t be bursting at its seams for the rest of the Con.
We visited every publisher and vendor we could during that hour, not wasting time to demo any games or get distracted by long conversations, we were there to grab any hot titles we could before they would all be snapped up and made unavailable. We knew there would be time to chat and play games later. We were able to grab nine games in that hour, and the tenth game we picked up took us more than an hour to acquire because we had to stand in a winding line that barely moved due to a single point-of-sale station.
Other highlights of the trip include: 10 hour trip in my van with great friends. Buying beer from a gas station. Meeting new people including game designers, game publishers, other board game café owners, etc. Several informative seminars. Playing more Board Games than I normally get to play in a week. Spending kidless time with my wonderful wife. It really was a perfect trip for our crew and a dream come true. There are some other conventions out there I am interested in attending but I will definitely be going back to Gen Con.
GenCon GenCon GenCon!
What’s a GenCon? GenCon is short for Geneva Convention, the original name (and location, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin) of what is now the largest tabletop-game convention in North America. It is now in Indiana, Indianapolis every year. It was established in 1968 by Gary Gygax, who would go on to create Dungeons & Dragons. Last year there were over 60,000 attendants. This year is their 50th Anniversary, GenCon50. What have we signed ourselves up for?
But there it is, and here we are, four days ‘til GenCon and we are darn excited. There will be five of us, in my van, driving the 8-9 hour drive, staying together in some hotel, and heading to the Con-to-end-all-Cons each day. We have the privilege of attending the Trade Day on the 16th making this a 5-day convention for us, 4 days for noobs and casuals. Just kidding.
I don’t know quite what to expect. First timer. But we will post pictures and I am sure I will have some stories for the blog after we return. I am excited to check out a few new upcoming games such as Photosynthesis, Down Force, Viral, Crossfire, etc. I am excited to possibly get a bunch of sweet, sweet swag (Stuff We All Get) and game promos. I am hoping to meet some Game Designers and Publishers and ask them some questions. I am planning to attend a handful of interesting seminars. I am stoked about travelling with a group of people that I love and am blessed to get to work with. I am going to bring a prototype game of my own design or two to try out with roomies. And to be perfectly honest, a week with my lovely wife and no children might be the most exciting part of this whole trip. GenCon50 feels like a game of Coup, with ten coins, Contessa and the Assassin in hand. I can’t possibly lose.
I’ve got games on the brain these days. Have you ever wondered about what goes into the making of a Board Game? What the design process is like? What the production and publishing processes are like? I sure do. In fact, I am currently reading an excellent book called “Board Games That Tell Stories” by Ignacy Trzewiczek, a very successful Polish board game designer. This book is a collection of his blog posts during the years that he was working on some of his most successful games, such as Stronghold, 51st State, Pret-a-Porter, the New Era and Robinson Crusoe. The book is a fascinating window into the world of Board Game design.
I’ve been enjoying the book so much that it has inspired me to try my hand at Game Design. Have you ever designed your own Board Game? I sure have. I designed a Board Game with my friend over a decade ago while I was working for a window cleaning company based out of Burlington. We called it “Roam” and it was a tactical strategy game that had elves, humans and dwarves battling out with a bunch of dice rolling. It was sweet. We would discuss the game endlessly while cleaning windows, we worked on it after our work shift ended as well, tweaking the rules, balancing, play testing. We built a large prototype of the game and had a ton of fun just playing our made up game. No one else ever played it. Their loss.
So, I don’t know a TON about the industry honestly, but I am hoping to learn. I interviewed a Board Game designer, Jacob Chodoriwsky, designer of Stratos, last night. He was very kind to meet with me and very informative. I hope to chat more with him in the future. I’ll be looking to absorb information from anyone out there who would be willing to pass some education my way. I’ll be reading some books and working on some game ideas that I have. I might be attending a Board Game Designers night at Snakes & Lattes in Toronto, and may aim to host an event like that at the Monk. And who knows? Perhaps one day Mancala Monk will be able to offer you a Board Game of it’s very own creation. We will need play testers. Something tells me we won’t have a very hard time finding them.
So, I will be hard at work, designing new games from my own mind's imagination and discovering whether I am destined for design greatness or, perhaps, absolute rubbish. And you, reader of my little blog, will be the first to know about it.
Just yesterday I was engaged in conversation with a close friend who has a Ph.D., is close to retirement, and is concerned about having a lot of free time and not knowing what to do with it. I suggested, “Maybe you could take up a hobby.” I remember that I enjoyed his response; it was something along the lines of, “I don’t think so. I am a bit of a serious person. [This is true]. I want what I do to have meaning.” Ouch.
Last week I ended with a few of the salient benefits of Board Gaming. This week I’d like to offer up a few quick thoughts on three of those benefits that I believe often go unnoticed. They are what I will call, a sense of the heroic, an empowered imagination and lastly, the utility of strategic thinking. The idea is that Board Games are time well spent and have real value relevant to real life.
Some of the best people I know are avid gamers and they can talk endlessly about the role of gaming and how it has shaped who they are. From a unique small business perspective, my staff and I have often remarked – with sincerity – that we have some of the nicest, most courteous and friendly customers of any business we have ever worked for. Yep – I think to myself – that’s because they are gamers.
So much of humanities problems are wrapped up in thoughtlessness and self-centeredness. These qualities are stifled at the Game table. When you are gaming, you are punished for thoughtlessness at every corner; you are 3 cards down, 15 points behind, your Camel didn’t win the leg, your farmer didn’t yield a bountiful harvest, you are out of contention and ashamed. As for self-centeredness, the Gaming table has no interest in you. No one wants to spend 3+ hours stuck at a table with someone who “just doesn’t get it”, who doesn’t bring a spirit of fun, friendliness and good-gamership to the table.
Gaming demands that you consider others and that you consider your own thoughts, movements, actions and speech very carefully. Tread thoughtfully and behave yourself if you would like a seat at this table. Nobody, of course, says that or even thinks that and gamers are quite the welcoming troupe. It’s not the people who exclude you, it’s the Games themselves. The Games will not allow you to remain your selfish, unthinking self. They will beat it out of you. They demand more, they demand better.
So, a few quick thoughts: (They are never that quick though, are they?)
Sense of the heroic.
I doubt anyone will debate that we are currently enjoying a cultural resurgence of both Board Games and Comics/Super Heroes. Sales are up, production is up, Sheldon Cooper is a household name; it’s a good time to be a geek.
But what is it all about? Why the resurgence and what use is it to the world? I’ll suggest just one thing here.
Super-heroes may seem, at times, absurd or silly or over-the-top but heroism is real, exists in this world and is needed. Super-heroes may not be real but heroism is and heroism needs to be inspired in us. We look to great books, historical figures, films, and I would suggest, great games, to inspire our sense of the heroic. Heroism is not just a once-in-a-lifetime act of bravery or sacrifice – rescuing someone from a burning building – it is daily. It is responding to conflict with calmness, facing our own personal fears and striving for personal growth when complacency is more comfortable, supporting an idea or a friend when we have something to lose in the process, loving a spouse or loved when through an illness or a damaged relationship; it’s everything from treating a neighbor with love to providing food or clean water to someone who doesn’t have it on the other side of the world. Heroism is every day life, micro-decisions that add up, and we all need sources of inspiration to keep that flame burning. Great games develop that sense in us, the desire to struggle for good over evil, the desire to improve, grow and get better, the desire to compete against a challenge and triumph over it. Role-playing games in particular force us to make decisions about who we are, what we value and how we will respond to a variety of imagined encounters. They are like a great film or book but you are in an active seat, you determine the narrative and you act out your decisions, there is nothing quite like it.
An empowered imagination.
I’m no expert but at some point I began to realize how important the role of our imagination is to our every day lives. We can only be and do what we imagine is possible and we act out of our imagined sense of what the world can and should be like. I imagine, therefore I am. Our ability to respond to a problem or solve a problem is limited chiefly by our imagination. The more we can clearly imagine a brave new world, the more empowered we are to create it. A dull imagination leaves us anemic and inert, we have no vision of what could be, we just sort of coast along with glazed eyes.
Great games are just one more great source of guiding and training our imagination. Games encourage you to imagine paths to victory or ways to solve problems or even fictional worlds, characters and stories. A regular habit of gathering with friends to lay tiles and roll dice and make up stories or create absurd and silly answers to questions you would have never asked is a regular habit of imagination honing. And we take that imagination, sharp or dull, into the world every day and we either make use of it, or we don’t. \
The utility of strategic thinking.
What are these silly hobbies good for? What use? What meaning?
Forget the fun. Forget the exhilaration of heated competition and the uncontainable gut-busting laughter of party games. Forget the education of young minds in terms of math, reading, logic, and social etiquette. Finally, forget the profound image of human beings, who own a sordid history of hatred and war, gathered together around a table that spells welcome and acceptance in a safe environment developing meaningful relationships with big, bright smiles on their faces and love in their hearts.
What do you learn when you sit down to play a game of chess or cards or Agricola or Pandemic or Kingdom Builder? Strategy my friends. You learn how to think, how to organize your thoughts, how to approach a problem, how to eke out an advantage, how to assess the value of one thing as compared to another, how to think ahead to the future and to the consequences of the decision you just made, how to sequence your actions for maximum efficacy. It is a training ground for real life, for real problems and real relationships.
I use strategy every day. Perhaps every second of every day.
In my marriage, in my home, in my business, with my finances, with my time, etc. etc. etc.
I have six orders up that involve two fridges, an oven, a grill, a microwave and several utensils and ingredients. Which should I start first? How should I sequence my movements? When should I multitask and when should I avoid doing so? Can I combine making two things at once to increase efficiency or will that result in a customer not receiving their food and beverage at the same time?
I have three young children. Life is a zoo. Their needs are limitless. They are wild, they are asthmatic, they are having an allergic reaction, they are tired, they are cranky, they are loud, they are scared, they are hurt, they are insatiable. Every moment with them is a test of my ability to strategize and problem solve.
I constantly find myself strategizing every minute aspect of my life subconsciously, my brain takes over and finds the best (or at least a very good) way to sequence and balance and evaluate everything and I’m glad my brain is trained to do that. I notice when something that I just did felt “sub-optimal” which is one of my favorite terms by the way. I feel strongly that I avoid all kinds of wasted time, effort, money and energy and other costly grievances by strategizing my way through life’s hurdles and obstacles.
Thank God for games.
It is Saturday July 15, 2017 at 8:36pm and Mancala Monk Board Game Café is a packed house. Every chair in this place has ensconced some keen, budding board game enthusiast of one sort or another. I am sitting in the back room, finally writing the blog post I was supposed to write yesterday. At the moment I can’t see them but I can hear them; the humming and buzzing, the laughter, discussion, the occasional shout or shriek or triumphant cheer.
People have a good time here. A really good time.
It’s humbling and we are so grateful to be a part of a thriving small business, a thriving community.
I love Board Games and I think they do remarkable things. I believe in them. I think they are good for the world. I think they are good for me and that whatever it was that inclined me towards gaming has been an inclination that has served me very well in my life and it is something that I value highly.
One of the things that seems as clear as day to me but obfuscated and obscure for my beloved non-gamer friends and family, is the value or merit of spending hours and hours playing Board Games. Let’s be honest, Board Games often do consume hours and hours, they don’t make you “cool”, they aren’t a form of exercise, they are indoors and weird and expensive. I can picture in my mind an entire generation of young gamers who grow up constantly trying to smuggle their love of games past the surly cynicism of teacher’s, peers or even loving parents who just aren’t sure that their progeny are going to benefit from this obsessive behaviour. For the record, my parents were very supportive, but as a life-long gamer, you bump against the naysaying of unbelievers all the time. But that’s okay, persecution only strengthens our faith.
I think that this kind of unbelief stems from a single error, a misconceived notion about the triviality of games. To an untrained mind, all games are good for is distraction, a way to kill time on a rainy day. Games are, at their worst, evil and degenerate, or at best, useless fun. An aimless diversion for the mindless or anti-social. Games are just games. But ask a dedicated gamer, it’s about more than “having a good time”. It’s a way of life. Games are never just games for me.
In the same way that some people use music or books or films or fantasy to escape from life, others use those same media to engage with it. Games aren’t an escape for me, they help me engage with the world around me more profitably. Even Dungeons & Dragons, a game that most people assume means escaping reality and living in a fantasy world for a few hours, is for many of us – I believe – a fun, engaging exercise that pushes us beyond our social inhibitions and natural timidity or introversion. It is scary to meet up with a group of friends, peers or complete strangers and improvise a fictional characters thoughts, feelings, actions and speech. It is collective story writing, imaginative group improv, and advanced strategy academy all wrapped up in a memorable social gathering with food, drinks and snacks. Beer if you’re lucky. What’s not to love?
But the point is that it is an activity that is good for you, good for your present and future existence within the real world. It gives much more than it takes and that is why we play. Every person who plays D&D believes this is true. The power of a great game is not that it takes you away from your life or responsibilities but that the time you spend with it benefits you on your journey through life and the best games equip you with friendship, personal courage, a sharp intellect, social awareness, strategic thinking, an empowered imagination and a sense of the heroic.
Next week, as a continuation to this discussion, I am going to write about, specifically, the role of Heroism, the power of Imagination, and the utility of Strategic thinking for our every day lives. This is stuff I think about all the time. Much love everybody. Catch ya next week.
Tired. Tired is what we have been for the last 20 months.
I’m not complaining. I’m really not. And next week we move on to some of the bright and positive things that the Monk represents. And truthfully, we are so grateful, happy and blessed. The Café is successful and has exceeded our expectations across the board. But dayum people. We spend most of our time just trying to put another foot in front of the other. Between all the planning, driving, creating, cleaning, baking, shopping, emailing, ordering, pay rolling, operating, it can be difficult to find living, relaxing, enjoying, breathing, sleeping, eating, resting, gaming, friending.
Gene and I once sat down to discuss the year that had passed by, our first year being self-employed. We both agreed without much hesitation that it was the hardest year of our lives. And remember, three kids. And we’re in our thirties. We’ve been through challenges, we’ve been through hardships, none of us avoid those and they are real. But we agreed that 2015-2016 was the hardest year of our lives.
My small business mentor used to love to observe that: “Most people think that self-employment will be so great because you will get to set your own hours. Okay. Which 80 hours a week would you like to work?”
For the first year-and-a-half I worked 80 hours a week, six days a week, with a one-day weekend that easily turned into more work if I wasn’t very careful. One day of rest in a 7-day week feels like coming up for a breath of air once every 70 seconds. It gets harder each time simply because you’re not getting enough air to breathe. It’s not sustainable. Now I work a 5-day week but it’s still 60ish hours. When you get home from that 60-hour week you come home to three young budding, growing, changing, transforming children who need you around and emotionally available. Or you’re a bad father. Way to go Dad. Gene is in the exact same boat and I honestly don’t know how she manages under the weight of her responsibilities sometimes.
But you know what helps when you’re Tired? Knowing that you are not alone. Because we’re all tired. Everyone is working hard. And we’re all in it together. Last week I briefly compared owning a small business to having a small child, and, as they say, it takes a village to raise a child. We are tremendously helped by being a part of the villages. The village of small business owners in Hamilton, the village we have created within the Monk (Steven, William, Cat and now Charlotte – we have an amazing team guys, thank you so much!) and the Monk Village, the village of enthusiastic gamers who like, follow, share and support the things that happen here. The Monk doesn’t exist and couldn’t thrive without all these villages raising her up. We thank YOU, readers of blogs, drinkers of Lattes, rollers of dice, and everyone who supports this community. Sincerely and with felt emotion. You have no idea how good it is to see a smiling and supportive face in the store during a week when you secretly feel exhausted and terrified of the future. We have AMAZING customers whom we truly love and adore.
And at the end of all of that, the last thing that keeps us going through it all. We serve Coffee and Beer.
My beloved wife, Glorygene, and I, opened Hamilton’s second Board Game Café, Mancala Monk, in November 2015. We had no idea what we were doing. But that’s not true, that’s just how we felt. It’s not unlike when you have your first child. You plan, prepare, you are literally Purpose personified; but you quickly are made to feel inadequate and overwhelmed. In the months prior to Opening Day, we did everything we could to make sure we weren’t driving our lives directly into the ground. That’s a whole story itself. All the discussion, dreaming, planning, research, interviews, sleepless nights; the back-and-forthing; the risk calculation; the wild internal oscillations; the leap; the birth.
A small business is a lot like a small child; it’s amazing how many times Gene and I mused over that and noticed all the similarities in the first months after lil’ Mancala was born. Mancala Monk is our first business, our fourth child. So, we know what it’s like to have a tiny project tear away every ounce of freedom and sanity you once held so precious. Pfffft, Sanity, so over-rated. (Side note: In August, we are taking the Monk staff on a road trip to GenCon50 in Indianapolis. One of the seminars Gene and I signed up for is called “Small Business Sanity Reclamation”. Can’t wait!)
According to Startupcan.ca, “Current survival rates for small and medium-sized businesses decline over time.” About 70% survive the 2-year mark and only 50% survive the 5-year mark. Thankfully, that is where the analogy breaks down; infant mortality rates in Canada are much, much better. (That was supposed to be funny). 50% is about on par with marriages by the way, but that’s a whole other analogy. The idea is, the longer a business survives, the more likely it is to continue to survive; small ones don’t survive as often as big ones; and while almost any small business can force itself to survive a year or two, if it isn’t healthy and sustainable and growing, it won’t last much longer than that. It’s HARD work. And the death of an infant is no easy thing.
The question we get the most is, “What made you do it? Why open the Cafe?” I never have a good answer to that question. I usually say something along the lines of, “We thought it was a good idea.” “We like a challenge.” “We love Board Games and Coffee.” It’s hard to say. No one ever asks, “Why did you choose to have children?” I probably wouldn’t have a good answer to that either.
Opening a small business, like all major, high-impact life decisions, is a decision you make somewhere in your viscera, not in your brain. Your brain is, hopefully, involved. But I don’t think your brain ever decides to do it, you realize that you have already decided. You agonize, work and educate your mind up to a point, but eventually your viscera take over, make all the intangible calculations that are beyond your conscious awareness and then produce an answer that your mind becomes aware of later. And you’re just as shocked as anybody else.
“So … we’re really gonna do this?”
And then she looked back at me and smiled, “Yeah. Let’s have another one.”