There’s a new game shop in town, just opened yesterday. It took over a space that had also been a much beloved local game store for, like, two decades (after moving into the space from one much closer to our university). I dropped in today to check it out, feel out the new management, see what they’re going to be about.
Honestly I’m not sure what I was hoping to get out of the visit. At the back of my mind I hoped I could chat with an owner about starting a little weekly “let’s try a new game” club there. But the only owner on the premises practically ran to the back of the store and left me to talk with the manager, who was very pleasant, very new, and very not in charge.
I confess I have not been in a game store in, lordy, a decade? That can’t be right, I brought my daughter to the old store pre-pandemic, so maybe in the last 3-4 years. I even really liked the old owners! We knew each other from the years I was writing for the product lines they were selling (Deadlands, Mutant Chronicles, Earthdawn, etc.), and a check-in every couple years was a nice way to keep in touch. But I stopped buying games from physical shops when online prices and breadth of offerings were just so much better. I did this knowing I was costing them my annual game budget. But they trucked on for decades and decades.
What jumped out at me from spending a half hour in the new store is recognizing that some folks love games, and some folks love selling games. The old folks loved games, and these new folks love to sell games. And given my own buying habits – I know for a fact I’m not alone, having attended a board game swap meet last weekend where probably half the stuff being sold off were Kickstarter-only – it is totally not a surprise to see the selling formula get refined and tightened. This store has a roleplaying section that sells only D&D, a board game section that sells only Asmodee, a card game section that sells only Magic, and a mini section that sells only Games Workshop. No surprises, and they’re taking no chances.
Since my idea was that I’d love to show folks literally any RPG other than D&D, my “let’s try some games!” club idea is not a great fit for them. Are they really gonna try and sell five copies of Apocalypse World? Maybe several dozen Avatar Legends? When I walked in they had probably 25 copies of Journeys Through The Radiant Citadel, both covers, on display in front of cases and cases of D&D. I’m not complaining, and I totally understand the incentives at play. It is what it is.
It’s been far too long since I tried to actively recruit new folks into this crazy world of small-press roleplaying. And honestly I have no idea what that path even looks like any more. My standby has been attending conventions and tabling funky stuff, which I’m doing at RinCon in Tucson next month, but even then I’m relying on an audience that has already opted into attending a con. And maybe that’s the right framework. I’m not sure anyone is walking into any game store, grabbing Fiasco, and figuring things out on their own.