Why we need more tabletop game stores

Rumor was that when Goldfinger played the G.I. Forum, at the height of their ska-punk powers in the mid-90s, a gaggle of teenagers climbed up to the minimal lighting setup in the small bar’s back ballroom and within seconds brought down the toothpick lighting rig. This gave the Forum their final impetus to shut down local shows for the next decade. From then on, it was two hours to Denver by car or a random house party for me and anyone I knew to see live music.

Years later, a group of us lucked out when our buddy Brian’s dad bought an empty building to move his radio business into, but didn’t actually need it for a long while. Being something of a musician himself back in the day, he understood our desire for a space to do shows and support players who were too young for the bars around town. We started slowly, tried to encourage local bands of all stripes, and even got a few of our heroes to come through town.

These memories flooded me while I dragged some friends to Twenty Sided Store while visiting Brooklyn this past new year’s day. I haven’t played Magic: The Gathering since my deck was stolen while swimming at the Municipal Pool in tenth grade, but I’ve hit the tabletop beat for Kill Screen pretty hard since going to PAX East last year. I mostly wanted to check out Twenty Sided Store for a particular game, but my two friends and I ended up staying for four hours. What kept us there was that same sense of community, of people getting together and doing something, that defined our time in Brian’s dad’s empty building.

When we arrived the place was empty, but it filled up as the hours passed (playing Sushi Go, Menu Mash-Up, and Bang!) with a variety of men and women of various occupations and headwear, all there to set up for the store’s weekly Board Game Social night.

Tabletop continues to gain prominence in the national mindset and ex-teenage players rediscover their love of cards and dice.

These sorts of spaces where games and table time can be rented for a fair fee, from a staff of employees who are happy to help with the rules, are becoming more prevalent as awareness of this new “golden age” of board gaming continues. It’s no surprise really, as tabletop continues to gain prominence in the national mindset and ex-teenage players rediscover their love of cards and dice. Kickstarter has been just as big for creators of tabletop games as it has been for digital games.

One felt a part of this movement in Twenty Sided Store, which is to say that it isn’t two floors underground and teeming with teenage musk. Not that players in every stage of life shouldn’t share a table or have their own. All-ages shows forever, I say, though of course, “all-ages” includes both ends of the spectrum. This is what differentiates shops and spaces like Twenty Sided Store, and is necessary as social gaming expands past the monitor: a truly welcoming atmosphere for all players.

As the people who play games grow older, work and family take up more time, and willing friends move away. This is why it’s so important for these spaces to continue to grow. It’s not merely a matter of your favorite coffee shop having some sun-bleached copies of Battleship and Scrabble in the back, but a place where the logistics behind organizing a board game night are simplified. Come in, pay less than a movie ticket, learn a game with an expert, and suddenly a whole afternoon has evaporated into a good time. A place where you can get loud with your role-playing, your victories and defeats, and play like a high schooler again. Maybe even with some real-life high schoolers who will obliterate you with the latest MTG expansion.

Twenty-Sided Store reminded me why these spaces are worth working for and patronizing. I hope, as board gaming continues to thrive across the world, that they not only profit and proliferate, but that they stay warm and open to players of all stripes and skill levels.