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Wine or Lose board game cafe in Petaluma lets customers disconnect

The Karases' Favorites

As board game aficionados, Amanda and Craig Karas have strong opinions about the best games on the market today. Here are three top picks from each of them.

Amanda's Picks

Disney Villainous: “You get to play as your favorite villain, and who doesn't love that?! I like that each player has their own goals to win the game, but there is a ‘Gotcha!' component to try and hinder your opponent from winning.”

Azul: “Based on beautiful Portuguese tiles, this game is easy to learn. Each player takes turns drafting tiles. There is more than one strategy to score points.”

Dragon Castle: “A modern take on Mahjong, this version of the game adds another element where you collect matching tiles to build a shrine in your castle for more points.”

Craig's Picks

Fluxx: “This game starts very simply but playing the cards can change the rules. Also, a well-timed play can even force your opponents to give you the victory.”

Acquire: “There's a simple tile-laying mechanic in this game, but you have to think about the future moves and manipulate the stocks you buy hold or sell.”

Pandemic: “This is a cooperative game of saving the world from plagues. It involves great team planning and thinking steps ahead with enough randomness to keep everyone on their toes.”

Menus at the new Wine or Lose Cafe in downtown Petaluma are full of surprises. Sure, there are comfort-food standards such as macaroni and cheese, corn dog bites, and pot pie. But you also will find Yahtzee, Risk, Stratego, Candyland, and about 350 other board games.

The restaurant, which opened in the old Topsy's Kitchen space in August, bills itself as a “board game cafe,” which means food, wine, beer, and games are always on offer.

Co-owners Amanda and Craig Karas envisioned the space being a place where people of all ages come to spend time together, disconnect from technology, engage in friendly competition and maybe have a meal. Unlike other eateries that try to turn tables quickly, the goal here is to make guests comfortable enough to linger for as long as they want.

“Playing games gives people something to focus on with other people - they're in the moment, they're interacting, they're not looking at their phones,” said Craig, who has been a chef and restaurateur for the better part of two decades. “From the beginning it was our goal to give everyone a place to do that.”

Wine or Lose basically is two separate concepts in one.

First come the board games - at last check, there were more than 350 in the inventory, including Dragonwood, Trivial Pursuit, Othello, and Sequence. Games are stored in bookshelves all over the 55-seat restaurant and customers are welcome and encouraged to bring games back to their tables to play.

Getting into the game

While the games aren't organized in any specific order, each does have a colored sticker (or two) to help inform guests more about how it plays. Green stickers indicate family games, while pink stickers denote a game that's for two players only. Games with yellow stickers generally take more than one hour to play. All the games are PG, which means you won't find Cards Against Humanity.

Rules of the house are simple: No more than one game at a time, unless you're there with a big party and multiple people are playing multiple games. Bringing your own games is allowed. Also, of course, treat every game with respect.

“We see the games as a resource and do whatever we can to keep them in good condition for people to enjoy,” Amanda Karas said. She noted that she and Craig regularly replace games that get damaged due to overuse.

Wine or Lose also sells new games for a 10% discount to patrons of the restaurant.

While the food at Wine or Lose could play second fiddle to the games, it most certainly does not, with Craig Karas serving up family-style goodies that represent a modern spin on finger food.

Some of the popular items on the menu include the Chicken & Waffles ($13), which features a buttermilk-marinated Petaluma chicken with Craig's hot-wing sauce atop a sweet waffle; and Mashed Potato Spring Rolls ($9), which are mashed potatoes loaded with cheddar, sour cream, chives and bacon, wrapped in gyoza skin and fried.

The spring rolls are what Craig considers to be a signature dish; he invented during his time as chef at the Weather Mark Tavern in Chicago, a restaurant he still co-owns.

Another Wine or Lose signature of sorts: The corn dogs, which Craig prepares with a cream-soda batter.

“The menu is basically game-friendly food, things you can eat while you play,” he said. “I've tried not to make anything too saucy or drippy or greasy.”

Other items include hummus ($8), a grilled endive wedge salad ($9), and a cheese plate ($15). The restaurant also offers wines by the glass ($6-$12) and bottle ($24-$100), wine cocktails, beer and non-alcoholic drinks, including Mexican Coke and Mexican Orange Fanta ($3.50 apiece).

‘A very laid-back vibe'

Not surprisingly, Wine or Lose is popular among two distinct sets of customers: Families with young children, and grownups who come in to check out for a night.

Families usually come on weekends; a special brunch menu features kid-friendly items such as French toast fries and Belgian waffles with berry compote. The grownup-only crowd tends to visit more after work or at night (the restaurant stays open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).

In the fall, Wine or Lose rolled out a Happy Hour special: A draft beer and a plate of corn fritters or a glass of select wines and a cheese/charcuterie plate for $10. Another regular item on the calendar since October 2019: Trivia Night, which unfolds every other Monday and typically attracts players from all over Napa and Sonoma counties.

Kris Bartolome runs the trivia. Bartolome's company, Game Good Society, manages trivia nights at several bars and eateries in Wine Country, which means he meets a lot of restaurateurs.

He said the service at Wine or Lose is what sets it apart.

“Craig and Amanda are just really good people that care about creating a fun experience for folks,” Bartolome wrote in a Facebook message. “It's a very laid-back vibe at the cafe, but still they're very attentive. It's a new cafe in town, but they've been in the game for a while, and I think it shows.”

At Wine or Lose, Trivia Night comprises three rounds of questions. The top three teams on the leader board at the end of each night receive prizes such as gift cards and games.

Topics are totally random and seemingly desultory. One might be about a medical term, another might be about “Star Wars,” a third might be about a geometric shape, and so on. Participants usually order food and drinks throughout the night.

Pondering what's next

Though Wine or Lose has been open less than a year, the Karases already are thinking of what comes next. Craig, 47, said he'll be adding sliders to the menu in the next few weeks. He noted that he tries to change up the pot pie every month.

As for the game library, different titles appear all the time. Amanda, 37, said she regularly tries to cycle in new games from their collection at home, and added that she's always on the lookout for new ones.

Because Wine or Lose encourages guests to stay and play, currently there is no time limit for how long customers can use a table. While Amanda admitted this could become a problem down the road, she said to this point guests have been mindful of others who are waiting and have moved along before anyone gets too upset.

“People have been really respectful so far,” said Amanda. “I guess games bring out the best in people.”

Wine or Lose Cafe is located at 131 Kentucky St. in Petaluma and is closed Tuesdays. Call 707-773-4743 or go to wineorlose.com for more information.

The Karases' Favorites

As board game aficionados, Amanda and Craig Karas have strong opinions about the best games on the market today. Here are three top picks from each of them.

Amanda's Picks

Disney Villainous: “You get to play as your favorite villain, and who doesn't love that?! I like that each player has their own goals to win the game, but there is a ‘Gotcha!' component to try and hinder your opponent from winning.”

Azul: “Based on beautiful Portuguese tiles, this game is easy to learn. Each player takes turns drafting tiles. There is more than one strategy to score points.”

Dragon Castle: “A modern take on Mahjong, this version of the game adds another element where you collect matching tiles to build a shrine in your castle for more points.”

Craig's Picks

Fluxx: “This game starts very simply but playing the cards can change the rules. Also, a well-timed play can even force your opponents to give you the victory.”

Acquire: “There's a simple tile-laying mechanic in this game, but you have to think about the future moves and manipulate the stocks you buy hold or sell.”

Pandemic: “This is a cooperative game of saving the world from plagues. It involves great team planning and thinking steps ahead with enough randomness to keep everyone on their toes.”

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