Leighton Hipkins: Mind Games

A healthy addiction to board games followed Leighton Hipkins home from a year spent backpacking around the world in 1974.

He quickly found that he couldn’t satisfy his obsession in Melbourne.

‘There was nowhere to buy board games, except Scrabble and Monopoly. I thought it would be good if there was a shop that carried nothing but games, puzzles and jigsaws’, says Leighton.

As the backgammon craze spread, Mind Games opened in 1977 and expanded to three shops, opening in a city arcade in 1980. Leighton took a chance on a Swanston Street store in 1985 and Mind Games has been a fixture of the city’s main thoroughfare ever since.

‘It was much quieter then. I often walk into the shop today and think Swanston Street looks like it used to look on Boxing Day, when it would be packed with people. But now it looks like that every day of the week’, says Leighton.

The fantasy roleplay game Dungeons & Dragons gave Mind Games its first big break in the late 1970s, quickly followed by the Rubik’s Cube.

‘Rubik’s Cube put us on the map. It gave us a big kick along about five years after we opened. At the time we realised how big it was going to be, and we got most of the stock that came in for Australia’, he says.

People appeared to tire of Monopoly and started playing a new European type of board game around 20 years ago.

‘Settlers of Catan started a revival in board games. They’re so much better now. With Monopoly, you know you’re going to lose and you’re waiting to land on someone else’s Mayfair. Most of the games are designed now so there are lots of ways to win’.

Also a computer programmer, Leighton devised his own stock control system to keep track of the business. Eventually the bigger game of running the business outmatched his love of playing games.

He dabbled three times in selling new and used computer games, and opened a business briefly in Sydney, but always returned to Swanston Street. He believes that small businesses need to find a niche to thrive.

‘Start with something that you and your friends are after, something that no-one is fulfilling properly. That’s why I’ve lasted longer than everyone else’, says Leighton.

Leighton’s business received a silver Lord Mayor’s Commendation in 2006. Mind Games can be found at 244 Swanston Street Melbourne.

Applications for the 2016 Lord Mayor’s Commendations program are open now, until 20 May.