Tuesday, 24 May 2011

goodbye my witch

The Witch House (Taipei) is closing down, due to a directive from the city council, that bars are not allowed to operate in a non-commercial area. This was where my boardgaming hobby started, back in 2003, during a long work assignment in Taiwan. I learned Carcassonne there. Carcassonne was one of the first games that my wife Michelle and I played very heavily. It was also the game that brought a group of my Taiwanese friends together to become my first, and so far biggest, regular game group. So it is sad to hear that Witch House is closing down. I have always thought about visiting Taiwan and Witch House again, but have never got around to actually planning for it.

2004. Some of my Taiwanese friends. From left: me, Ingrid, Peter, Jessy, Cheryl. This was the little apartment that I stayed in, in the city area.

I first found Witch House on the internet when I was looking for shops in Taipei selling boardgames. The concept of a boardgame cafe was alien to me at the time. Then I had thought the pinnacle of boardgames was the Axis & Allies series. I was hoping to find something similar while I was in Taiwan. On my first visit I had trouble finding the place. It was tucked in a small alley off the main road next to the National Taiwan University. It looked nothing like a boardgame shop. It looked like a regular small restaurant / cafe (which it actually was). The selection of games for sale was limited (most of their stock was somewhere else because there wasn't enough space for displaying all the games - this was a cafe, not a shop). The type of games (Eurogames) was alien to me too. Carcassonne just felt weird the first time I played it, and I definitely did not expect to like it as much as I do now.

A few months after I started working in Taiwan, Michelle joined me there. We had no children at the time, and one of the things that we did on weekends was visiting Witch House to try new games. I would take down the names of interesting games in their library beforehand, read up the rules on the internet, and make hand-written rules summaries. This was how my concise reference sheets started. Later when Michelle became pregnant, we continued to do this. I wonder what the staff or the other customers thought - this enthusiatic guy always dragging his pregnant wife along to play games, and always bringing along a stack of notes like some mad scientist's recipe for some deadly concoction.

One of the things I remember is meeting Yoyo, the owner. He is from Germany. I remember speaking English to him, only to be surprised that he spoke fluent Mandarin. Yeah, I was rather naive. I thought all Caucasians spoke English. I remember asking him to order Medici for me. When it arrived I opened it and played it at Witch House. When he saw the quantity of the game components, he muttered that the price was too high for just some cards and cubes, and gave me a discount on the spot.

Bamboleo was a popular game at Witch House. When I was there I often heard loud crashes as the platform with the many wooden pieces toppled, usually accompanied by quickly-stifled shrieks and followed by giggles. It has been more than 6 years since my last visit. I wonder whether it has changed much.

Witch House is much more than a boardgame cafe. It is probably more well-known as a concert location for indie / non-mainstream bands and singers. Some performers started their careers here. I used to listen to music much more than now, and one Taiwanese band that I liked a lot was Luan Tan (乱弹). It was much later that I found out that they had started their career in Witch House too. I read that Witch House has been operating for more than 20 years and has been a platform for budding musicians for a long time. It has become a cultural icon. It has also become a regular target of complaints from neighbours. Rock concerts aren't exactly quiet, even with all the sound-proofing equipment that they have. There are special pads custom made to seal off their windows during concerts. I never attended a concert there though. I have only been there for boardgames.

They have a library (of books). I think they used to do traditional Chinese puppet shows too (布袋戏). The whole theme of the place is a little naughty. Some names of food and drinks are rather unconventional. I can never forget "Period Milk Tea" (as in menstruation), even though I have never ordered it. I think they still have the special offer of 10% off for ladies who do 10 push-ups. So, Witch House is a cafe, a restaurant, a boardgame cafe, a tiny concert hall, a mini library, and a pub (I actually don't remember them selling alcohol back in 2003-2004, maybe it was only more recently that they started doing it).

I don't know whether Witch House will reopen somewhere else. I hope they do, and continue to bring people into the boardgaming hobby.

Update 26 May 2011: I just received an announcement from Witch House that they will not be closing down afterall. They managed to plead with the city council and worked out a solution that will allow them to continue to operate, which includes better controlling order and noise levels during their mini concerts. Long live the witch!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your memories. It sounds like a great place.


Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I just received good news that Witch House is not closing down afterall. They managed to work something out with the city council. What a relief. It's like a good friend's terminal illness turned out to be not-so-terminal afterall.

Log said...

Hi Hiew, I was in Witch House 2 weeks ago & met Yoyo too! It's a great place!

wankongyew said...

Tried to visit it on Monday (30th June) but it was already closed. Someone was cleaning around inside but wouldn't let us in even just to look at the games. She said that the person in charge of the games won't be in. Oh well.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...


that's a pity. the latest news is they are not closing down afterall. they managed to work out an arrangement with the city council. i think many of their supporters have been lobbying.

i think they were closed on 30th and 31st may to do some clean-up and reorganising. so, unfortunately, that clashes with your trip.

if they are still operating with more-or-less the same model as 7 years ago, they don't really have many games to sell there. most games there are used games for customers to play.

wankongyew said...

Oops, yeah, I meant 30th May of course.