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.

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5 thoughts on “FLGS”

  1. Agreed – likely very few people would pick up, learn, and play Fiasco if they saw it on display at a game store – which is the same story for DnD (which has enough cache and renown to get would-be DMs over the hump)

    But I think the people that would learn Fiasco in store do exist. A vicious cycle of self-selecting supply and demand means that game stores stock what is safest, and those that visit are likely not looking for the indie stuff. The niche indie players learn that the stores just don’t care about their niche interests, stop patronizing those stores, and the store doesn’t feel any pressure to stock the niche stuff for non-existent niche patrons.

  2. Yeah, I had one of those kind of game shops just open up here too–though they focus a lot on sports cards too. My usual game stores in this college town have all specialized in some way (magic and WH40K, magic and comics, magic and other ccgs), all of which carry some amount of board and ttrpg options. The new one feels like it’s just D&D, though with the amount of indie ttrpgs out there, even my older FLGS’s collection is still not much.

    All that is to say, finding play spaces in somewhat public places (that are also pleasant and clean) to gain traction with indie games is still a challenge. It’s hard to keep the doors open on any amount of D&D sales, let alone indie ttrpgs.

    My home games and groups have been getting better and better at playing different games. We’ve also gotten better about going out and helping other players just get back together after the pandemic. We might still meet over D&D, but there’s enough interest in changing that up and trying FATE and CoC and other things that it’s at least a way to go.

  3. My game Maximum Recursion Depth is published on Exalted Funeral (https://www.exaltedfuneral.com/products/maximum-recursion-depth-pdf) and has been getting shopped around for FLGSs, and I personally reached out to some game stores to see if they’d carry it, and did get some positive responses, but ya it’s hard to make that work. It’s a tough sell when most people just want their safe, comfortable, traditional fantasy D&D; stores know what they’re selling, buyers know what they’re buying, and it can operate at scale that makes it more economical even as companies like WotC arguably overcharge (while also arguably underpaying their employees…). How many people want a weird magical realism game with Buddhist concepts baked into the game mechanics? Anyway, now you’ve got me feeling a little guilty for trying to shill to the stores haha, I hope they’re able to sell the copies they purchased 0.o…

  4. I can’t agree more.

    My only hope is the number of YouTube channels, podcasts, etc. that feature anything other than “5E” stuff makes for more opportunities for people to find out about PbtA games, and other Indie stuff, more than it having to find a niche on a game shelf somewhere where they were struggling to pay the rent.

  5. I can’t really blame shops for operating that way, D&D and Magic cards pay the rent after all. But its left me feeling that the “FLGS,” once vital to my gaming life, is now irrelevant to established hobbyist gamers. Several times recently I’ve made motions towards setting up a weekly open table at a shop just a couple blocks away from me, but everything I want to run is indie or distributed solely digitally or by POD (or worse, my own vnity design). I can’t imagine the proprietor being thrilled for promoting sales they can’t get a slice of, or stocking obscure books without a supplement stream with vague chances of appealing to their base clientele. Really, game shops aren’t primary means to network with potential players anymore, or to find new and different material. All that community stuff is online now. In talks with others about this trend, the consensus is we don’t really need a shop from which to buy games anymore, as much as we want a comfortable space to play in. Something we’re already seeing in some areas of hobby gaming with boardgame cafes; give me a space with a big clean table and refreshments close at hand, and I’d be a regular.

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