Simon Read opens the cafe door like a ringmaster welcoming audiences into a circus tent, unveiling shelves stacked floor-to-ceiling with more than 2,000 games.

Its entrance is inconspicuous, much like the wardrobe door that led C.S Lewis’ curious characters to snow-drenched scenery and a mystical lion.

With its unassuming position in Oxford’s Gloucester Green, most passers-by are too busy rushing for their bus to know of the hidden worlds lurking in Thirsty Meeples’ bookshelves.

Here the luxurious streets of London’s Mayfair and bustle of King’s Cross Station are even quicker to reach than on a traffic-free Oxford Tube journey, crammed into cardboard Monopoly boxes in this quirky board game café.

There are no acrobats or trapeze artists, but with an unfortunate throw of a dice and an adventurous imagination, you could find yourself facing a fire-breathing dragon or a ladder-slithering snake.

Duty manager Mr Read, 35, came across the café in November 2013 – five months after owner John Morgan and wife Zuzana Morgan declared it open.

He said: “I’ve always been a gamer. I was brought up on games, I played Scrabble with my granddad and my family would have rounds of Monopoly – the classics, as we call them.

“My mum was on a shopping trip in Oxford and came across Thirsty Meeples. She said ‘you really should go into town, it’s right up your street’. I walked in and pretty much immediately demanded a job.

“I have very clear memories of going up to John and saying ‘hi, can I have a job please?’ He laughed at me and we had a nice chat. I came back pretty much on a weekly basis and eventually he relented.

“I did some volunteering and helped around because they didn’t need anyone, but I was happy to turn up for the joy of it. My parents are teachers and I suppose I got some small skills teaching games from them.”

A few months later the Oxford-born manager, who grew up in Burcot near Berinsfield, was offered a full-time job.

In those early months in the cafe he met his now-fiancé and former colleague Evi Meldere while she covered holiday shifts.

The couple now live in central Abingdon near Market Place, where Mr Read spent several childhood years as a pupil at John Mason secondary school.

He said: “I have always ricocheted back to Oxford, I love the city and the people.”

The former bar and restaurant manager has worked in the hospitality industry for more than two decades, straying only for a brief and curious stint as an estate agent.

He said: “I’ve always loved the services industry – talking to people is one of my ‘things’. Directly before Thirsty Meeples I was working as an estate agent, but absolutely despised it. I wasn’t terribly good at it. I tell people I was too honest.

“It uses similar skills and I wanted a more regular timetable that didn’t mean working evenings and weekends. But here, I adore what I do. It’s a pleasure to come in and see customers enjoying themselves.”

The Star Wars fanatic also has a passion for reading books, watching science fiction series and pulling on eccentric outfits for cosplay (short for costume play, in which people dress up as their favourite characters from comic books, television shows or cartoons).

He said the café was the first of its kind in England, which is reiterated by website

It states that Thirsty Meeples was the second board game café in the UK, second only to the Games Hub in Edinburgh which opened in 2012.

Mr Read said though there are now counterparts in cities such as London, Preston and Nottingham, Thirsty Meeples remains the biggest in terms of collection size.

He said: “There are possibly about a dozen in the country, they are popping up all over. Board games are becoming more mainstream and more acceptable and sociable to play. They are a wonderful alternative way to spend an evening, sat around a table where you can see each other - no-one is looking at screens in silence. It's all of the joys of that but with entertainment.

“People do think sometimes it is nerdy. The traditional image of the gamer is an overweight guy with a beard who lives in his mum's house. That’s the stereotypical view and it’s a sad fact that the hobby has been quite exclusive and internal for many years. But we see all sorts here, young and old.

“Games can be enjoyed by anyone. It can be a challenge to find a game for someone who is colour-blind or autistic or doesn’t speak any English, but it’s a wonderful thing.

“It is a hobby I have loved for many years that was mostly reserved back then as a boys’ club, but I have seen that change. We are seeing the hobby become much more inclusive. Looking into the cafe now, the split is about 45 per cent to 50 per cent to the boys. It's much nearer to being balanced."

He described himself and his colleagues as “alpha nerds” who break the gamer mold by being sociable and chatty alongside their passion for playing.

They water players with soft drinks including smoothies, milkshakes, barista-prepared coffee and loose-leaf tea, and stave off competition-crushing hunger with sandwiches, cakes and snacks.

For those wanting a tipple before their Jenga tower topples, alcoholic drinks available include exotic craft beers, classic cocktails, ciders and wines, encompassing the ‘thirsty’ aspect of the café’s name.

As for ‘meeple’, the word apparently refers to the character or object that represents a player in a board game, thought to have derived from a mix of the words ‘meeting’ and ‘people’.

Mr Read reflected on the Pokemon Go mobile phone app and encouraged game lovers to embrace their secret urge to scramble for the Scrabble board.

He said: “Who could have predicted how popular it would be? I missed the Pokemon age, I was already past that age by the time it came out, but a lot of my friends and so many others are playing it. It's bizarre and that's cool. It's cool that it's nerdy.

"Geeks shall inherit the earth. Look at the computer CEOs who are nerds. They have risen up – and that is wonderful to see.”