Bars lit up by the neon light of arcades, state-of-the-art eSports arenas, underground restaurants with gaming booths and award-winning pubs with shelves of board games – this is your guide to gaming in Sydney.
Touted as the biggest gaming venue in Sydney, Fortress Sydney is a one-stop shop for eSports, board games and video games. Located over two floors in the Central Park Mall in Chippendale, the centre of the venue houses the biggest eSports arena in the Southern Hemisphere. It hosts both professional gaming tournaments and private events so you and your friends can pretend to be pros with your very own faux championship. Along with the arena, you can choose your own adventure by going between private retro gaming booths, the encyclopedic collection of board games, gaming on state-of-the-art PCs, dining on hotdogs and schnitzels at the fantasy-themed tavern, and drinking at the Fortress bar.
While Fortress is all neon lights and Dungeons and Dragons imagery, ESC in Chatswood subverts gaming stereotypes with its modern Japanese design and menu. Despite being mostly underground, the venue’s bright, timber design is slick but warm. Jump into a booth or a private, themed room with its own arcade and dig into a menu that is led by karaage-style fried chicken and sashimi and ends with elaborately plated desserts, themed cocktails and Japanese booze. In between mouthfuls, pick up a PlayStation5 or Nintendo Switch controller – there are more than 50 games to choose from.
Sydney has two kinds of board gaming venues with very different experiences. There are board game shops and clubs with bespoke events and big selections of both board games and tabletop roleplaying games. And then you have pubs set up for casual games such as Scrabble, Chess and Connect 4.
From the first category, check out Double Kill Games in Haymarket. Despite its name, Double Kill is a cosy board game club/bar with a small entrance fee (after paying you can stay for as long as like), a colossal range of games (including Korean and Chinese language options) and a variety of inexpensive snacks and drinks. Otherwise, look for Good Games, a board game shop with venues across Sydney. Although they’re not always open for a causal game, they host regular events from drop-in role playing and board game nights to serious Magic the Gathering competitions.
Choosing a board game pub is mostly about what vibe you want, as most stock the common househould names like Scrabble and Cluedo. The following all have a selection you can borrow if you order a drink or a meal. The Lord Dudley in Woollahra is a century-old pub with pies, scotch eggs, patterned carpets and a lounge that looks like it’s been cut out from a country manor. Closer to the city centre, The Duck Inn Pub and Kitchen in Chippendale is a casual pub with 12 beers on tap, offers a classic pub menu and a dog-friendly attitude. In the suburb next door, the Glebe Hotel has a sunny rooftop, Sunday roasts and a sport bar.
The one exception to the rule is Darlinghurst’s Bitter Phew, a no-frills craft beer bar with solid list of games including game-afficionado favourites like Ticket to Ride and the cooperative and accidentally era-relevant award winner Pandemic. While you’re going through the rounds, try the bar’s rotating selection of 12 tapped beers.
As an adult, the best place in Sydney for retro gaming is at arcade bars. In terms of drinks, the best bar experience is at Newtown’s 1989 Arcade Bar, a geek-chic (its own description) craft beer and cocktail bar with a set of board games, several pinball machines, 37 arcades and a roster of tournaments. Think you’re a pretty good Mario Kart player? This is the place to find out just how good you are. At Beercade, Redfern, the focus is on pinball. The no-frills bar has so many pinball machines there’s barely room to do anything besides drink or play. They also have a range of arcades and host pinball tournaments every month.
Then you have your more family-friendly entertainment venues like Timezone, with venues across Sydney, and B. Lucky & Sons and Archie Brothers Cirque Electriq. B. Lucky & Sons in Moore Park is part-bar part-arcade arena, mixing old classic games with bowling, dance games and miniature basketball. Cirque Electriq in Alexandria has a carnival feel with dodgem cars, arcades and a colourful menu similar to what you’d find at a showground.
Sydney’s VR scene is booming, with venues now open across the city. For the unacquainted, a virtual reality (VR) experience goes like this: you pay for a set amount of time, then you and your friends are given an electronic backpack with a connecting headset which covers your vision, showing you a projection of a different world. In that world, whether it’s an apocalyptic zombie wasteland or a beautiful new world to explore, you can also see the other players. As you move in real space, your digital avatar will move too.
In the city centre, Entermission can take up to six players on virtual escape room experiences and Virtual Room (a global VR brand) takes teams of two to four on an immersive, puzzle solving mission. In the north, VR Kingdom in Chatswood uses wireless Meta Quest 2 headsets (no backpacks needed) and provides a huge amount of shooting, arcade, escape room and educational games to choose from – staff can advise on difficulty and appropriate ages. In the east, Hyper Karting has a trio of games plus a real world, state-of-the-art go-kart track next door. And in the south, the new kid on the block, Metavurx has an impressive 26 games and is open everyday until 10pm.
Both Zero Latency and FREAK have multiple VR rooms across Sydney. FREAK includes an immersive racing simulator, VR laser tag and games that allow you to explore, dance, shoot-down humanity’s enemies and solve escape rooms. Zero Latency has state-of-the-art technology, seven different games and caters for a maximum of eight players.