Local board game services team up

Chris Scott and Marcus Hall launched Haven Philly last summer.

Board games have always played an important role in fostering connection across communities. While we can’t safely bond over board games in group settings at the moment, it’s now a little easier for Philadelphians to enjoy a variety of games at home, thanks to Haven Philly’s partnership with board game cafe Thirsty Dice. Chris Scott and Marcus Hall launched Haven Philly last summer as a board game rental operation, after the acquisition of a physical space in West Philly was put on hold. 

As of Jan. 16, Haven will continue to run its game rental service and Thirsty Dice will provide the location for game pick-up and drop-off. Scott and Hall also deliver games to West Philly residents upon request. In the long term, Scott and Hall plan to set up a handful of game drop-off chests in different locations in the city so customers can return games more easily.

If customers enjoy a game they rent from Haven, they can purchase it from Thirsty Dice, provided they have it in stock. Thirsty Dice is not open for indoor dining and game-playing at the moment, but customers can still get takeout food or coffee, alcoholic beverages, meal kits and comfort crates, which include snacks, beverages and a game. 

After spending months renting out games and holding events at Tabu when safety restrictions permitted, Scott and Hall approached Matt Hendricks of Thirsty Dice, who was all too willing to collaborate with them. Hall told PGN that after Hendricks realized the ease with which he, a white man, was able to function in the board game business space, he wanted to help Scott and Hall, two Black gay men, find success in their venture as well.  

“That was around the time of the Black Lives protest and movements, and [Matt] had recognized how easy it was for him to navigate the space and get a space, go through the negotiations and communicate with people across the country,” Hall said. “And they all pretty much looked like him — they were in the same social circles. He wanted to pay it forward.” 

Both parties commented on the symbiotic relationship between Haven Philly and Thirsty Dice.  

“I think it’s just a really creative way to look at how to cope with the change that we’re having to live through,” Hendricks said. “I think the hallmark of great entrepreneurs is that you’re able to take what’s thrown at you and deal with it and come up with creative ways to move ahead. We found some ways to be able to do that at Thirsty Dice. I think it’s a great opportunity to help one another out.”

Hall echoed Hendricks’ sentiment about how the two businesses can complement each other, especially during the pandemic.  

“I really wanted to push this as not just our ability to have our product and service available to the entire city, but ultimately from their side to drive traffic to Thirsty Dice’s location,” Hall said. “Even if a person is just returning a game, they might stop in for a cup of coffee. And then the opportunity to buy the games — maybe if they spend $5 to try a game that’s $100 for purchase, that’ll make them a little more apt to do that.” 

Some of the games customers can rent from Haven include Apples to Apples, several iterations of Catan, as well as Monopoly, Clue, Codenames and Risk, most of which are available for purchase. The Haven games that are also available through Thirsty Dice are noted as such on Haven’s website. Scott and Hall are adding games to their arsenal every month, especially the Thirsty Dice games that prove popular. 

One of the challenges that Scott and Hall have been facing is getting the right message out about their business, considering board game rental is a relatively new concept.

“With a lot of the services, like goPuff, you understand that that’s a delivery service,” Scott said. “But to rent a board game, even a lot of my friends are unsure of exactly how it works. Just trying the idea itself out there has just been an issue.”

The fact that they can’t get the word out through events at this time has presented another challenge. 

“It’s going to be very important for us to be creative in terms of how we communicate with people in a way that enables them to see the value in the service,” Hall said. “And spend money on something that would still be considered an amenity or a luxury, considering the fact that 140,000 [U.S.] jobs were lost in December.”

Scott and Hall both indicated that they would be open to continuing the partnership beyond their initial six month agreement. 

“I think if there is a way to continue the partnership without being in direct competition with each other, sure,” Scott said. “One of the things that Matt said early in the conversation was the representation that Haven Philly would bring. There’s not a lot of people that look like us in the gaming world. He was just very generous with the opportunity to partner with Thirsty Dice, so I would hope it would continue in some way.”More information about Haven Philly and Thirsty Dice can be found at www.havenphilly.com and www.thirstydice.com.

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Michele Zipkin is a staff writer for Philadelphia Gay News, where she reports on issues including LGBTQ youth issues, housing insecurity, healthcare, city government and advocacy organizations, and events. Her work has been recognized by the Keystone Media Awards, Society of Professional Journalists, National Newspaper Association, and more. She received her BA from Goucher College and her MA in journalism from Temple University. She has been on staff with PGN since January 2020 and previously worked as a freelancer.