News - Fun, Games, and GU Influence At The Hungry Hippo

Fun, Games, and GU Influence At The Hungry Hippo

By Carla Morris

Note: The NPR interview referenced in this story took place before COVID19 redefined social gatherings for many of us. A recent check with the Hungry Hippo's Facebook page reveals plans to reopen when reopening becomes possible.


In one corner a detective uncovers a clue that puts a killer-professor named Plum behind bars for life. Across the way, a robber makes his way onto a settlement stealing untold wealth in sheep, bricks, and wood. Nearby, an art dealer shells out tens of thousands of dollars for Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” only to discover it’s a forgery. 

Dice clatter; spinners whirr; cards from draw piles elicit groans and cheers. Welcome to a night of games at the Hungry Hippo Board Game Café in Decatur, Illinois. 

The café brings pleasure to table game enthusiasts of all ages, just as owner-operator Kyle Tomey ’10 hoped it would when the café opened last fall. 

Ever a problem solver, Kyle finally figured out what to do with those hundreds of board games he had collected and enjoyed over the years: share them with others. He tells the story in a recent interview with NPR.

Resurgence In Board GamesMonopoly01

An environmental biology major at GU and now a quality auditor at Caterpillar, Inc., Kyle still loves a good game. He’s not alone. Surging sales in board games and the emergence of board game cafés nationwide point to a clear trend. 

In 2016, Chicago’s WTTW reported the opening of more than 5,000 board game cafés in the U.S. One year later, Leisure eNewsletter reported a 28 percent increase in U.S. board game sales, and board game giant Hasbro began offering game packages by subscription, including delivery.

Filling the Loneliness Gap

Today, visitors to the Hungry Hippo choose from more than 540 games. The collection provides a wealth of opportunities for face-to-face encounters and conversations. Board games seem to do something social media can’t.

“A lot of times people feel lonely when they’re on social media,” Kyle said.

Board game cafés provide a pleasant balance of public and private space. Players engage in structured social interaction around game rules and taking turns.  

boardgame-4“You can see the excitement on their faces,” says Kyle. “You can see them laughing; you can see them smiling. You can see them getting upset, and then next thing you know, they want to play another one and try something new.”

He notices that gameplaying rejuvenates spirits. In a world saturated with technology at every turn, people yearn for something more personal. 

“I think that’s what games bring to the table,” he says. 

Gameplayers at the Hungry Hippo pay a $5 entrance fee ($3 for kids) for all the games they can play until closing. Snacks, beverages, and a mismatched assortment of tables and chairs lend a welcome feel to the space—much like the kitchens and dining rooms where, years ago, many players first encountered games like Candyland and Monopoly.

Listen to the full NPR interview with Kyle here.    

Learn More

“Just” Play – Work, Play and the Educator’s Dilemma
Serious Games By Design
GU Offers Scholarships For Competitive Esports
Baseball Theology, A Homerun With Students

Encourage a student today by helping to fund a GU scholarship. For as little as $10 a month, you can inspire creative thinkers, hard workers, and students who feel God’s call. Thank you for giving.

Photo “Monoply Shoe” By Rich Brooks is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This story was published on April 23, 2020

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