The web may rule all in terms of the dissemination of information. I love that the content I write about our great hobby is transferred from my mind to yours with alacrity and efficiency. The growth and reach of our shared past-time can be magnified by it, and when you really sit and think about it, it’s kind of amazing that I can share pictures of my painted miniatures, a new RPG character, or a decklist with gamers thousands of miles away. We live in a “golden age” of convenience; ordering the latest board game is accomplished with a few keystrokes.
And yet, despite all of this, I find myself visiting my friendly local game store (FLGS) every week. Why? I can’t always get the best prices. There are so many internet deep discounters. I can’t always find what I want. It’s a well-stocked and well-run establishment, but what game store could compete with the whole of the internet in terms of selection? I can always make a special order, but would it not be more convenient to simply order it myself, have it delivered to myself, and save a trip? In this digital age, are brick-and-mortar retail game shops still relevant?
Yes. They are!
Anyone who has had the good fortune of living near a well-run FLGS is likely well aware of the benefits. Though, they may only be aware of them on a subconscious level. Here’s a quick (but not exhaustive) list:
- Hobby Awareness – Tabletop gaming is certainly visible; our hobby continues to be covered on a growing number of websites. But, if you’re not aware of it at all, would you even bother to look? I first learned about the hobby when I dragged my grandmother into a store during a shopping trip, infatuated by the beautifully painted “toys” I saw in the window. Sure, you can see all that online, but there is nothing like seeing it in person.
- Hobby Education – I can’t even count the number of games I’ve learned to play at a FLGS. Whether it’s officially run store demos, open game nights, painting demos, or friendly fellow enthusiasts, a good FLGS will always have something new to show you. I’m super happy and proud to be at a point where I am giving more advice than I get, but I almost always learn something new.
- Gaming Space – This is the most obvious and tangible one, but it cannot be undersold. Many FLGSs provide gaming space at their expense that you get to use for free! I’ve been playing tabletop games for almost 25 years, longer if you count casual, family-style board games. As a homeowner, I’ve had my own furnished gaming room, complete with table for five years. What was I doing for the other 20? Playing at a FLGS. Don’t get me wrong, I could still host a RPG session or board game in my many apartments (though it was cramped), but gaming in my dorm room during college was a no go. And as a miniature gamer, even if I had the resources and ability to construct my own game table (for many years I did not have either), my parents were not going to give up a room for that.
- Relationships – I’m always checking out new FLGSs when I travel, but I’ve been shopping consistently at the same store since 1996. I count the owner and staff among my friends. They know me, what I like, and can make accurate suggestions based on that information. When you have been gaming at the same place for that long, you meet a few people - most of the close friends I have in Pittsburgh, I’ve met through that very shop.
The staff can help you find the right game for your group.
When I initially thought of writing this article, I discussed it with the CMON staff. They shared some of their experiences with me:
- Eric Kelley - I've had some really good games there. Met some good friends, most of whom I still know and keep in touch with. I had a 14-hour game of Battlefleet Gothic one time. It was amazing! One turn consisted of 45 minutes my opponent and I just staring at each other and the table. The clerk (Oliver was his name) kept coming by and saying, “who's move is it now?” And when I'd say, “Still mine,” he replied, “You guys haven't moved at all?!?! This game needs chess timers.”
- Jen Haley - An FLGS played a large role in my start as a miniature painter. Be a Gamer in West Dundee, Illinois, was a meeting place for many Chicago area mini enthusiasts and saw many Golden Demon winners at its tables over the years. It was the first place I gave public painting demonstrations, in tandem with Anne Foerster, back in the days when I was terrified to hold a class by myself. It was the first place I had the opportunity to work alongside other painters at my skill level, struggling with the same painting issues and trying out the same new techniques. And, it was the first place I could buy Confrontation miniatures and Vallejo Model Colour off the rack! The store was owned by Art and Sue Wachowski, for many years the force behind GenCon’s painting competition and Paint & Take. The people I met, and the experiences I gained because of Art and Sue would be a tale long in the telling. It was a 2 hour trip each way for me by train, lugging all my painting gear, but it was worth it to spend some time with others in love with this crazy little hobby.
- Jason “Polar Bear” Koepp - My FLGS was basically my second home for many years. I was there 3 times a week, at least. Tuesday night was our after-closing D&D group. Wednesday was league night for Mechwarrior Clix. Saturday was open gaming. I spent many hours on that day. I'd be there from 11am to midnight playing 40k, Warmachine, Mechwarrior, or whatever happened to hit the table in front of me.
You can participate in fun and exciting events!
I should point out that we’re lucky. Not everyone has a game store within easy reach. Let’s also be honest, not every game store is a quality establishment or reputable. I’m certainly not suggesting you blindly support a store that has mistreated you in the past. I’m also not trying to dissuade you from ever shopping online. That would be hypocritical (I purchase gaming products online) and ludicrous (considering I work for a company that sells gaming products online). What I am saying is that if you have a good FLGS in your area, throwing a few bucks their way is a good way to support the hobby.
Sometimes, when you buy something, you’re getting more than what comes in a box. When you look at the list and the stories from the CMON staff, you’ll see that not every benefit of shopping at your local brick and mortar is tangible. That doesn’t make FLGSs any less important - they remain the life-blood of our tabletop gaming hobby. By providing a space to game (often for free), a common meeting area to find other gamers and make friends, and education and outreach to introduce new people to our fine hobby, your FLGS helps our favored pastime to grow and remain vibrant. I know you’ll be visiting websites like our own CMON for great deals this week and next. We appreciate your support and business! Please also consider supporting a FLGS by spending some of your money there on Black Friday or Small Business Saturday. You may not be getting as big a discount, but in the end, you’re still getting a great deal.