Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Day in a Life of a Board Game Guru

Joseph Brosnan fixes himself a coffee and greets customers with a nod and a charismatic grin.

He takes orders and makes suggestions, waiting patiently for overwhelmed customers to make up their minds.

But people aren’t having difficulty choosing coffee.

Instead, they’re struggling to find a game to play, scanning the shelves filled with board games ranging from classics such as Uno and Sorry! to newer ones like Taboo and Cranium.

Brosnan is not your average café barista. He is a board game guru at Snakes and Lattes, at 600 Bloor St. W.

The board game café was created by Parisian couple Ben Castanie and Aurelia Peynet who were inspired by toy-lending libraries back in France.

After two years of scrounging garage sales and thrift stores, the couple collected more than 1,000 games. The café’s collection continues to grow.

Brosnan, 22, has been working here since the café opened in September.

When he isn’t cooking and serving guests, the avid gamer spends his shifts wandering around the café teaching games and playing with customers.

Growing up, Brosnan was always interested in board games.

“During the holiday season, [my family] would always get together and play these wild, intense games of Monopoly,” he says.

When he got older, he entered tournaments and got “super-involved” playing Pokémon and Magic cards.

But the idea of teaching games for a living was something Brosnan would have never imagined.

He first heard of Snakes and Lattes when his roommate was searching through Craigslist and found a job listing for people who could teach board games to the public.

After working for five months, Brosnan is a board game expert.

“Now it’s the height of my addiction,” he says.

After being trained in theatre at the University of Windsor, the Brampton native moved to Toronto to pursue an acting career.

Despite some work in TV, film and theatre, Brosnan says the work “soured up” and moved back in with his parents.

“My parents were furious with me because I was playing board games all summer. They were like ‘Get a job!’ ” he says.

But when the opportunity came up, he knew it was perfect for him.

“It was pure luck. Pure luck,” he says as he prepares a latté for a customer.

He notices two women having difficulty picking a game, and runs to the shelves to offer his assistance.

“Were you interested in a particular game?” he asks.

“Well, something that’s not too complicated,” says a woman in a black toque. “I don’t want to spend the whole time sitting there trying to figure out the whole game!”

“In terms of two-player games, I was thinking that you guys can play 30 minute games. A favourite I can suggest is Wasabi, where you’re competing to be master sushi chefs!” Brosnan says with excitement.

While he waits for their final decision, he pulls his hands out of his pockets with a look of amusement. In his hand, lies a circular token.

He chuckles. “You know you work in a board game café when you have little board game pieces in your pocket.”

The two women finally decide on Monopoly Deal, a card game version much shorter than the original.

He plays a match with the two women, watching intently and offering tips and strategies.

Brosnan reassures his opponents by reading the instruction card: “Start playing and it will become clear…we promise!”

After a game of Monopoly Deal, he checks the front counter and returns to help a couple with their orders.

They’re new to the place, so Brosnan gives them a run-down of the café.

“Go ahead and play the games. You can play as many as you’d like and we can teach and suggest them to you.”

Brosnan gives his suggestions and the couple finally settles on Hive, a strategy game where the purpose is to surround the opponent's bee queen with tiles.

He briefly watches the couple play, but is soon back with the two women to teach Dracula, another strategy game.

After offering instructions, he is interrupted to fulfil other duties: cinnamon rolls for the café’s main attraction that night-a tournament for a game called Dominion, the first ever hosted at Snakes and Lattes.

“That’s how this place goes. You play games but you have these goals,” he says as he runs to the kitchen to start baking.

“These are vegan cinnamon rolls,” he says as he gathers the ingredients and pours them into a bowl. “I’m working on gluten-free, so everybody can eat them.”

While he mixes, he mentions how he prefers board games to video games due to the social aspect.

“Board games nowadays, there’s so much more them. Human interaction is so much better than swearing at someone over a headset,” he says.

By 5:30 p.m., the café starts to get busy as gamers pile in for the Dominion tournament.

As Brosnan lets the dough rise, he goes down to the basement to facilitate matches at the tournament.

After viewing a few games, he’s back upstairs to check on his baking. 

While he sprinkles cinnamon and makes the icing, he talks about how people have come into the café to help out, donating kitchen utensils or bringing in games.

“It’s developed so much. It has been popular since the very beginning and it hasn’t died down yet,” he says of the café, but knocks on the wooden counter for luck.

“I may be superstitious but I don’t want anything bad to happen to this place. This is such a distinct, original point of happiness. I’ve always wondered when I was kid what places a kid can go to. Yeah, there’s a pool hall here and there and the movie theatre. But what else is there?”

While Brosnan loves his job, he plans to continue acting.

“I need to put myself back into improv,” he says.

On his days off, he watches comedy shows and wishes he were onstage doing what he enjoys most.

“So jealous,” he says about watching the actors perform. “It’s like my first love.”

Monday, 14 February 2011

A Cynic's Valentine's Day

I'm not a fan of Valentine's Day. I never really was, and I'm not sure if I ever will be.

Sure, it was fun in elementary school when I received Valentines and chocolates from my classmates. But as I got older, I realized the holiday was just another commercial gimmick.

Roses, chocolates, cards and other gifts are nice...but I personally think that there shouldn't be ANY DAY AT ALL during the year to feel obliged to buy something for someone or tell someone how you feel about them.

The thing is, I've grown up receiving mixed messages about love. I thought love was supposed to be simple.

But instead, I was easily influenced to believe in the commercialism and the stupid media for giving me false hope that Prince Charming was near. 

How naive...

But now that I'm older, I refuse to be sucked in any longer.

Love is all around, and love is universal.  Love should never feel like an obligation.

Valentine's Day shouldn't be about getting something for your loved ones.  No need for gifts, a fancy dinner out, or a bouquet of flowers.  Instead, it should be just purely a day about love, and sharing it with others with a sincere "I Love You" or just a meaningful gesture.

Better yet, can we just please take away Valentine's Day in general?
There shouldn't be a day dedicated to love.
That can be everyday. 

P.S. please check out Freaky, but superbly awesome...considering that Arcade Fire sings the background music.  Canadian pride for the win!  Shout-out these Canadians for winning Record of the Year at the Grammys!

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Going to work: A Chinese Holiday Ritual

Well, it's been over a week since Chinese New Year started, and I honestly don't quite know when it ends. I would like to say it probably ended already, but seeing that the festivities are going into the weekend, I guess it really lasts for two weeks?

Either way, I'm not too serious about it. Unlike other cultures who may celebrate Christmas on a different day, have a special Easter, or have their own New Year's holidays...Chinese people will never give themselves a break.

Never in elementary school or high school have I ever skipped school for the New Year. And why should I? It's just one of those holidays when you REALLY celebrate during the weekend.

I don't even know if I'm making sense here, but the point of this post is:  Chinese people are always working too hard!

During Christmas while every western store, mall, library and restaurant were closed...the Chinese ones remained open.  I live a three minute drive away from Pacific Mall, notably Toronto's most well-known Asian mall...and when we drove by on Christmas day, the parking lot was almost as crowded as the DVP during rush hour.

And having been inside during several random weekends, I didn't even want to know what it would be like inside.

But since it's Chinese New Year, one WOULD think that Chinese people would close down their stores for once and take a breather.

But they don't.

Instead, they're in their stores and restaurants, working harder than ever, happier than ever...AND LOUDER THAN EVER.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing bad about working too hard. Chinese people strive for success and look out for ways to be honoured.  I mean who doesn't?  I guess it's just that Chinese people are extra-determined. 

I've got to admit though, many of these traits are instilled in me.  I have always been a very driven individual, and I rarely let anything stop me from reaching those goals. Some may call it being stubborn, but in the end, I always do end up getting what I some way or another (even if it's not the ideal way...)

WOW, I realize I sounded really snobby and spoiled over there, but all I meant was that sheer determination will always get me where I want to be. 

And that's what I think most Chinese people think as well.

But really, when isn't Pacific Mall crowded?

And since I can't find a picture of me in Chinese attire, here's an old gem from Grade 9.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Stop the Meter Rally (meeting Jack Layton!)

Today I attended the Stop the Meter Rally that took place at Yonge and Dundas Square. The protest was organized because Internet Service Providers are planning to add more to online billing costs by charging per byte. Protesters are now trying to get the CRTC to reconsider their plans.

I interviewed some of the protesters on why this cause is so important to them. Watch the video below!

I also got the chance to speak with NDP leader Jack Layton. For those of you who don't live in Canada, Jack Layton is a federal political leader, well known all around the country.

Technical glitches later, my whole interview was not recorded. I was lucky enough to encounter two men who happened to film some of it. So, thank you very much. I appreciate it a lot!!

Better than nothing right?

For more information on Stop the Meter, please visit:

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Just another Canadian Winter...

I'll probably get a lot of comments for speaking about this matter for the umpteenth time, but I DID NOT feel that today was a snow day.

Perhaps it was a lot worse uptown in Scarborough, but downtown Toronto did not seem to have a lot of snow.  Everywhere I turned, snowplows, salt-throwers and shovelers were at hand to keep the sidewalks and roads clear for drivers and walkers to travel safely and efficiently.

So my question is:  if this was possible for many downtown university students, why couldn't uptown students do the same...considering that there isn't much of a difference distance-wise?    

Yes we were expected to receive around 20 cm of snow, but there were years where many of us have endured worse.  I remember around two to three years ago, my high school was still open despite the super, heavy blizzard taking place outside.  Not to mention, I actually braved that storm to make it to school.  (Well, I actually lived across the street from my high it doesn't give me an excuse...)  But today, both the TCDSB AND the TDSB were closed?  I couldn't believe it.  To me, it didn't SEEM that bad...

But really, I'm only complaining because I wanted a snow day.  I really shouldn't because there are several homeless people outside braving the snow without shelter, food...or even a blanket.  Why can't we just stop complaining...or stop rejoicing about this said "snow storm" and think about all the people outside who are freezing?! 

How's that for ya'?

On another note about snow...I seem to attract a lot of people who want ME to take their photos.  I don't know if it was the snow or Downtown Toronto, but a couple and two friends asked me to take photos of them.  Nevertheless, I helped them.

In return, I asked the couple to take a photo for me!  I'm not sure if I like the photos, but I appreciate the effort!

They had very funny dialogue.

Man:  My picture is better because you can SEE EVERYTHINGG.
Woman: NOO.  Look at my picture! It's better, because you are the center of attention!!

I don't know... :P

By the way, my winter boots broke, and I'm looking for new ones! Suggestions??