You look around, and you’re surrounded. Do you play some pool? A game of foosball? Or do you hunker down for a few over an epic chess battle?
You pinch yourself. Is this your cool uncle’s basement rec room? No — you’re in Ho Chi Minh City at Café Monopoly.
The brainchild of Korean entrepreneur Chung Seung-il, Monopoly is along the strip of eateries and pubs in the heart of the city’s biggest Korean enclave. But when Chung saw the number of foreign teachers in the neighbourhood, he decided to delve into his considerable stash of board games to offer them something beyond just drinking and watching sports on TV. “When (teachers) have free time, I think they want to play board games,” Chung explains on the airy patio. “Teachers like to use their board games.”
True enough. An avid game collector, Chung admits that games involving financial strategy, like Shark, are among his personal favourites.
“I like games about Wall Street,” he says.
But the two huge bookcases in the middle of the bar would put Toys “R” Us to shame. The usual suspects like Scrabble and Clue (and even Twister!) are mixed in with more exotic fare like Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan and Illuminati. For those gamers who have an afternoon free, various versions of Axis and Allies and other strategy games eyeball you on the way in. An interesting assortment of framed giant moths and beetles makes for different décor than one finds lounging on a plastic bia hoi chair, trying to tune out the blasting speakers at the clubs in District 1.
Café Monopoly also serves up food in the VND50,000 to 80,000 range, and occasionally gets taken over by flip cup and beer pong at night.
“I think it’s a fun activity [going to Monopoly] since going out usually revolves just around drinking,” says Milan Fry, a 27-year-old English teacher from New Jersey who lives nearby. “There are a lot of board games. Where else can you play Middle Earth Risk? It’s fabulous.”
If you can’t find a game that piques your interest, you’re not trying. Some of the international titles that may not be familiar to English speakers are also worth a look. Apart from some French and German games, a certain Japanese version of Jenga is a favourite with bar patrons.
“Woody Unbalance? The fun is in the name!” Fry exclaims. — Harry Hodge
Café Monopoly is at R2-25 Hung Gia III, Q7. It’s open noon to 1am daily.