We all know that the city of Gent is a hotspot for everything trendy. Geeky and out of the ordinary initiatives tend to do well in our beloved city. The same is true for tabletop gaming. And no, we’re not talking about Monopoly, Clue, or Risk. We’re talking about modern board games that reward strategic thinking, stimulate the imagination, and sometimes even require working together as a group to overcome challenges put forward by the game itself.
Did you know that there are close to 100,000 games in existence today, and that the number is still growing by about 3000-4000 every year? That tabletop gaming is the number one highest grossing category on Kickstarter?
But most importantly, board games bring more people together than ever before. In an environment that’s becoming ever more digital, a continuously growing amount of people like you and me are looking to unplug every once in a while, and to interact with other human beings in real life.
I haven’t even told you the best part yet. Gent might just have the biggest community of board game lovers compared to any other city in Belgium. Yes, you can quote me on that. Let me take you on a journey behind the curtain. In this post I show you all the playful possibilities the city has to offer, from clubs and associations to shops and even local events! But first, a quick word on my personal background.
How I started with Board Game Nights
I first moved to Gent from Tongeren, a city in the East of Belgium where I grew up, about 6 years ago, when my girlfriend at the time started studying here. At the time we broke up, I’d been living in the city for almost a year, and I realized that I didn’t really know a lot of people yet. My ex and I used to enjoy playing board games together, and I already had a decent collection of games. I decided to find out whether there were like-minded people out there for me to find.
I was already pretty active in the local CouchSurfing community at the time, and tried my luck on the CS forums. Then I posted a message saying that I was thinking of organizing a game night at my house, and asked if anyone would be interested in joining me. Four people responded and came to the very first of my board game nights, back in October 2012.
Quickly, word started to spread, and it didn’t take long before activity moved from the CS forums to Facebook. That’s how the group Board Game Nights came into being. After 5 prosperous years, I would have never imagined that it would grow to the 1000+ members it counts today.
We generally offer about 20-30 game nights per month, spread across 10 organizers. We’re not a traditional gaming club: game nights always take place at the organizer’s home, and guests bring drinks and snacks. We all speak multiple languages and receive both locals and expats, mostly young men and women aged 20-35. Every month we post a calendar with game nights that anyone can attend. If you feel like attending some of our nights, get in touch with us on Facebook!
Many clubs and communities
If you’re a fan of playing games in bigger groups and want to meet a lot of people all at once, there’s about a dozen gaming clubs in the greater Gent area for you to check out. I’ve handpicked three options for you here, but it’s impossible to go over them all. For a full overview of the gaming clubs near you, please visit spellenclubs.be.
Let’s start with one of Gent’s oldest gaming clubs. Founded back in May of 2008, the Gamer’s Guild is probably best known for miniature gaming. If you’re interested in stuff like Warhammer 40K, Star Wars X-Wing, or miniature painting, you’ve come to the right place. Most of their crowd enjoys thematic games as well. Even though it’s not their main thing, it needs to be said that the club members do play German style strategy games, too. The club used to be based in the Outpost Gaming Center, but since 2016 they’ve relocated to the World’s End for the most part. Their events are usually free of charge. (Address: Ketelvest 51, 9000 Gent)
Meeples originally started as the Spelgezel Game Nights back in 2013. The club was founded by De Spelgezel, which is still one of the leading board game stores in Gent today (but more on that later). Meeples mainly focuses on strategic board games, and has its gaming nights every other Wednesday at the Parochiehuis Sint-Paulus near Gent Sint-Pieters central station. If you want to find a table to join, you can sign up for a session using their website, where you can also check their upcoming dates. Participation is €2 for a full night of games. (Address: Patijntjestraat 27, 9000 Gent)
De Bokkensprong is an upcoming club that mainly focuses on family games with a light to medium difficulty. Their game nights take place every first Friday of the month at PC Oude Bareel. Your first visit is free: afterwards the fee is €2 per gaming night. Or you can choose to go for an annual membership of €10. In the month of May they also organize a whole ‘family day’ featuring outdoor games, bouncy castles and a Kubb tournament. They even have a second hand market for board games. (Address: Beelbroekstraat 2, 9040 Sint-Amandsberg)
Specialty shops worth visiting
Located straight across the west entrance to the Zuidpark, De Spelgezel is probably the most logical first stop for all of your board game purchases. They have the biggest assortment of games in all of Gent, ranging from modern classics to thematic games, strategy games, family games, card games, you name it! On top of all that, shopkeeper Pieter will be glad to offer you extensive advice if you’re not exactly sure what it is you’re looking for. (Address: Franklin Rooseveltlaan 140, 9000 Gent)
World’s End Comics & Games
The World’s End started out as a store for American style comics, but in 2016 they relocated to a very spacious location with stunning arcs and alcoves. They offer board games for sale now, too. Most of their stock is comprised of thematic games, although they have a small selection of strategic games as well. I mentioned before that this is the headquarters of the Gamer’s Guild, which means you can also go there to purchase your Games Workshop paint and brushes. There are a number of games behind the bar that you can just pick up and start playing while you’re having a Belgian specialty beer or a grilled cheese sandwich prepared by Jeroen or Zoë. (Address: Ketelvest 51, 9000 Gent)
Outpost Game Center
One of the oldest venues for playing and buying games in Gent is the Outpost Game Center. Because it’s located a stone’s throw away from Gent’s most famous student party street, the Overpoort, you’ll always find a crowd here. Aside from playing one of the board games they have on the shelf in the back, they also offer LAN gaming. The drinks and snacks served by Mark are tailored to a student’s budget. Every Tuesday night you can also go to the Outpost to play the classic Chinese game of Go. (Address: Ottergemsesteenweg 13, 9000 Gent)
Gaming events throughout the year
Still can’t get enough of playing games? Then check out these special events and local conventions that tend to draw hundreds of gamers and their friends and families.
Zomerspel is the biggest board game convention in Gent and is usually held in June in the event hall of Merelbeke. For an entire weekend you can have the greatest time playing games. De Spelgezel, which we mentioned earlier, co-organizes the event and offers special convention prices on their games. There’s also a huge second hand game market. Each year, the con has a different theme, with matching decorations and the volunteers dressing up. On some of the previous installments, we’ve had pirates, cowboys, knights, and Egyptians. Seriously, if there’s only one thing you’ll do this year that’s board game related, go to Zomerspel! (Address: Kloosterstraat 26, 9820 Merelbeke)
Warcon is co-organized by the Gamer’s Guild and held in February, in the same event hall in Merelbeke that also hosts Zomerspel. At 30 years and running, it’s the oldest gaming convention in Gent. Regular board games are a tad underrepresented here, but if you’re at all interested in war gaming or miniature painting, this is the event for you! Lots of traders and clubs are present, and there are tons of demos. (Address: Kloosterstraat 26, 9820 Merelbeke)
International Tabletop Day
International Tabletop Day is not really a convention, and it’s not limited to just Gent. Founded by Wil Wheaton (best known from his parts in Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Big Bang Theory), ITD takes place all over the world. The goal of the event is simply to get as many people as possible together to play games for an entire weekend. Usually it takes place the last weekend of April. Various clubs and associations will probably have special events planned on several locations throughout the city. Keep your eyes peeled, as more information is likely to be released a few months beforehand. (left: picture of the ITD event I organized at the Vooruit in 2015)
And now it’s your turn
Ever since I started my board gaming experience in Gent, just over 5 years ago, I must have met over a hundred interesting individuals. My board gaming buddies make up the largest part of my current social group. I even met my girlfriend at one of my Board Game Nights events! Our group also gets together frequently to celebrate birthdays and holidays together. Or we just to go out and have a good time in our marvelous city.
I guess my point is pretty clear by now: give tabletop gaming in Gent a try. Who knows, it might change your life, just as it has changed mine.
For other tips on how to meet new people in Ghent, check out this the Square.Gent post.
About the author
Jo is a 30-something from the East of Belgium who has been living in Gent since 2011. Modern board games are part of just about every aspect of his life. He is the founder of the Board Game Nights page on Facebook, as well as a Flemish gaming blog called De Tafelridders (Knights of the Table). Jo is currently working on his first game, which is set to hit Kickstarter in the second half of 2018. He is a freelance translator by profession, who regularly works for renowned publishers to translate their games into Dutch. Feel free to contact him via the FB page if you want to find out more about his gaming nights!