In 10 years, Randolph has put board games back on the map
The Randolph pub on rue Saint-Denis celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.
When Joël Gagnon and his partners decided to open a game bar in the heart of Montreal, their ambition was to prove that, no, “board games are not boring”. Ten years later, Randolph is seven fun bars, an entertainment service and several successful board games. So we can say that they won the game, right? Maintenance.
Joël Gagnon, co-founder and publishing director
2012: creation of the first Randolph bar
7 fun pubs and 1 shop
12 edited board games
1.5 millions of games distributed
When Randolph opened its doors on Saint-Denis Street in 2012, game bars didn’t really exist in Montreal. What inspired you with this funny idea?
“At the time, I was an animator, I walked around with my suitcase of games in schools, in companies or in libraries. I met my associates at a game night and we thought we could create an establishment 100% geared towards the entertainment department. Our goal was really to show that games are not boring by introducing the public to a new generation of games.
Historically, pubs have always been a place where 'we play so it made sense to us and it made the idea more appealing. The only obstacle we saw was that people don't like to read the rules, so it was essential to provide an animation and advice service on site.
Thanks to Normand D'Amour [the actor] who is one of the co-founders, we were able to do a great media tour which quickly attracted the curiosity of many people. People came to the bar.
Now that we have ten years of hindsight, what has changed in the mentalities of the players?
“10 or 15 years ago, when I was talking about a game to a friend, I was asked 'Come on, why are you playing?'. The majority of the memories we had of the games were that it was long and that it was unfair because the rules are sometimes risky.
I also think it seemed a bit backward compared to video games… Whereas nowadays everyone is playing with their friends. People are much better informed. They know lots of different games and there are many more enthusiasts. By making that world more accessible, I think we helped change people's vision a little.”
And in the industry, what is -what has changed? Are today's games better than before?
“Yes! In fact, it all started in Germany 50 years ago. Several creators have brought new game mechanics, new ways to play, new universes.
A prize has even been created to reward the best games, the Spiel des Jahres, literally, the game of the year. It really accelerated the movement and later, in the 1990s, it pushed other authors to innovate again to finally offer games that had real commercial success.
The more emblematic is surely Catania, which has become the symbol of contemporary gaming that has become mainstream and has changed many things in the industry. So it goes back a long way, but it's really in the last ten years that the general public in Quebec has discovered all these innovations and these new games.”
The game to which you have most played?
“The two classics that are tied I think and that I have probably played the most are Las Vegas and Strike. These are two dice games that don't have so many similarities but are just as awesome and addictive as each other. I played it a lot on vacation, I played it with all my new friends and each time it's a winner. People love it!”
Speaking of creation, Randolph moved quite quickly towards game publishing, especially with the Osti d'jeu which was a great commercial success. But animator and game designer, it's not really the same job, is it?
“It's true, but at the same time it has natural enough to get into publishing. At Randolph, we see thousands of players every month, so we know their behavior and we know what they like. We often said to ourselves “Ah, we would need a game like this! If we had a game like this, it would always be played!” So we decided to do it.”
We are a team of enthusiasts and with each game, we try to surprise people while making them experience the emotions they love to experience.
Several of your games (l'Osti d'jeu, Ah ouinnn?) are really rooted in Quebec culture and that's very good, but doesn't that also represent a challenge when it comes to exporting?
“In the early years, we didn’t think too much about selling internationally. We were doing projects that we liked without thinking about it too much, but since 2022, we have decided to make games that would be more suitable for export.
I think it's possible to imagine games that are aimed at Quebec, but that can also be sold elsewhere. For example, our Miller Zoo family game takes place in the famous zoo in Beauce, but at the same time, anyone can play it. It will soon be sold in France.”
How does the future look for Randolph, is the goal precisely to expand outside Quebec?
“Above all, what we want is to expand our beautiful little network of bars across Quebec, at the rate of one new franchise address per year. And then indeed, we are also aiming for more international marketing. We opened our first offices in the United States [under the name of Hachette Boardgames] this year and we have a distributor in France who will market most of our catalog there. Knowing that France and the United States are on board will allow us to make more ambitious projects in terms of publishing since each game can be sold more widely.
And then my wish is to make games that are good enough to be able to win the Spiel one day. But it will surely take me another 10 or 20 years to perhaps realize this dream (laughs)! The first step is to have a distributor in Germany and we are working on that at the moment.»
A local entrepreneur who inspires you
“Ricardo! For its popularizing and developing side. He has this ability to transmit his passion in a very simple way and that is exactly my goal in life. And I would love to do a Ricardo show, combining food and games, that would be crazy!”
Your favorite app
“Everything Recently, I have a friend who released an app called Waverly which is a news aggregator and it's the app I now use to read news effectively.”
Your best advice for starting a business
“Focus, focus, focus! We are constantly in demand. Everyone makes their suggestions, but you really have to stay focused on your initial concept. This is the essential not to scatter.”