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Fun rules to bring them all

Shuffles Board Game Cafe advances the play of game night

Shuffles Board Game Cafe owner Eric Fransen

Greg Bollinger

Shuffles Board Game Cafe owner Eric Fransen walked into his new establishment with a bag of limes and a story. He’d just returned from Las Americas grocery store, where he had a problematic encounter at checkout.

A Fransen-esque dilemma: He’d chosen one more lime than optimal.

Fransen knew that for lime-buying at Las Americas there exists a best strategy. The optimal number of limes should be n*L, where n and L are positive integers, and L is rate of the current special (e.g., if limes go for 8 per dollar, then L = 8). At every n multiple of L, the stair function of the total price reaches a most economically advantageous case. Today, sadly, he accidentally grabbed n*L + 1 limes.

He laughed as he told the story, pointing out the triviality, and utter sub-optimalness of his move.

“I hate it when that happens!” Fransen exclaimed.

A self-described nerd with an inquisitive brain brimming with a passion for strategic puzzles, it’s no wonder board games became part of his calling.

Despite having studied math in grad school, Fransen does not identify as a mathematician.

“Mathematics is a jealous lover, and if you don’t pay attention to her, she will find someone else,” he explained.

Regardless, his creations are informed—inspired—by numbers, patterns, and logic. His magnum opus to date, Shuffles Board Game Cafe, located at 207 E. Archer St. in the Tulsa Arts District, opens this month.

The Shuffles storefront, designed by Lilly Architects and featuring Fransen’s furniture, began two years ago as a concept and has since been worked and reworked into a space that fits together much like the snug, dimensioned fit of parts, boards, figurines, and miscellanea nested inside an expertly designed board game box.

The stunning bar top, fashioned from diagonally striated strips of beech wood, visually interlocks with the bias on the nearby cashier’s booth as well as the birch wood ledge behind the bar. They were all built from scratch, as were the angular chairs, the cabinets, barstools, and the hexagonal gaming tables that echo the tiled, polygonal Shuffles logo.

Shuffles boasts a library of 700+ games. User-friendly categories group games based on types of user experience, difficulty level, and mechanism of play. Patrons can browse by themselves, or they can consult a staff expert. The library contains mainstream titles like Risk and Monopoly, as well as new classics like Cosmic Frontier, Ricochet Robots, and Rising Sun. Many of them are also available for purchase in the retail area.

Shuffles’ board game design group, led by Dan Dvorett, helps café patrons turn pet board game ideas into reality. The café will also host date nights, corporate team building events, and private, catered parties. To Fransen, the objective of Shuffles, like gaming, is to stimulate interaction.

“It’s all about time with people.”

Shuffles’ full bar and kitchen offers craft cocktails, non-alcoholic drinks, and vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, and healthy food options—plus some less restrictive dishes like chicken tenders and po’ boys. The menu is rooted in Fransen’s vision of Shuffles as champion of inclusivity.

“We want everyone to participate. We don’t want anyone to feel left out.”

But if a player desires some alone time, one can listen to their own mp3 devices in acoustically muted, light-dimmable, USB-ready gaming booths, as they tap a touch-sensitive tableside interface and summon food and drinks, request help on game rules, or invite other players to join them.

“It knocks down the wall of awkwardness,” Fransen said. “We want to have a silent service mentality. We don’t want to bother you.”

“None of this would have been possible without my staff,” Fransen said, referring to Brent Essley (general manager), Matt Shipley (kitchen manager), Nick Flores (bar manager), Nathan Spillman (content generation), and Brandon Collins (game procurement).

Reverse engineering the concept of the board game cafe, reformulating it, and exploring the transform between art and math “represents two years of obsessive thinking,” Fransen said.

“The general populace thinks, ‘Oh you’re a mathematician? You must be really good at balancing your checkbook.’ No, I’m good at poetry, actually. Because that’s what mathematics is.”

Tulsa also knows Fransen as a woodworker and furniture designer. His designs, which can be found in Yokozuna South, Prairie Fire Pies, and The First Ward use flat shapes to approximate curves.

“Sit down in this,” Fransen directed me. I indulged him. The chair, which Fransen calls “a rectilinear approximation of an old Shaker design using planes” was comfy, the back support unflagging. It felt wholly unlike any other chair I can recall, and there are no curves anywhere in the design. Clever and elegant, it has abrupt edges and a pixilated simplicity. It was designed specifically for the purpose of gaming at the cafe—and inspired by “Newton’s method,” Fransen said.

“It was only by iterations that I arrived at these [chairs].”

The comment is as much mathematical as it is evidence of hard work. Fransen’s (and Newton’s) iterative method is the spatial aesthetic equivalent of Beckett’s “Try, fail, try again, fail better” prescription.

“It’s a series of refinements. You start crudely,” Fransen said of innovation. “In mathematics, you don’t want to copy a proof from anyone else.”

Shuffles Board Game Cafe grand opening
Friday, June 8 | 4 p.m.–2 a.m.
207 E. Archer St. | shufflestulsa.com

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