W hile Candyland or Connect 4 offer wisps of nostalgia, today’s world of gaming is stacked with options, and store owners are passionate about getting people involved.
Gaming fever is gripping the region, and every age, skill level and interest is represented.
To handle the growing demand, several gaming stores have recently popped up around the state, and each one is unique.
Cory Chambers held a grand opening for Game Chamber in Dover on June 4. He says the sheer variety almost guarantees people can find a game that’s right for them.
“You can play every day for a year and not scratch the surface of what’s come out in the past couple years,” he says.
And it’s easier now to find a game store on the map.
“When I got into it 30 years ago, you’d have to drive an hour, hour and a half plus, to go to a game and hobby store. With the advent of the Marvel movies … they’ve sprung up overnight.”
Some gaming stores focus on tabletop games or role-playing games (RPGs for short), or specialize in trading card games (TCGs) like Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering.
Others sell board games alongside video games or offer hobby-making supplies, comic books or trendy pieces of pop culture. Newer games like Azul, Ticket To Ride, Survivor, and Exploding Kittens go toe-to-toe with classics like Dungeons & Dragons and Trivial Pursuit.
Chambers is armed with a lifetime of experience and a vast knowledge of board games. Growing up, Chambers says his family instilled in him a love of board games and spending time together. “My family always had made sure we had a board-game night.
“It’s been a passion for over 30 years,” he adds.
With experience working in retail gaming stores across the country, Chambers says he’s discovered what works and what doesn’t. For starters, he wants customers to feel comfortable with trying out new games.
“I wanted an open, friendly place. … where you can have everything happening at the same time, whether it’s board games, miniature tabletop games, roleplay games or card games.”
Game Chamber sells gaming hobby supplies — RPG supplies like 12-sided dice, and has a private room for role-playing games plus and tables to try a game or two. A video screen offers game instruction along the way.
“Watch and see how the game is played as you go through the game and learn it yourself,” he says.
He offers a variety of games to test drive, including Survive, where players must get to shore before the island falls into the sea and the board game Codenames and Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards.
A hot seller is Catan, a resource building game, and its expansions.
“There’s Explorers and Pirates, Traders and Barbarians, Cities and Knights. That’s a staple in most people’s libraries,” says Chambers of Catan.
He mentioned more standouts: the role-playing game Stuffed Fables, strategy games such as Splendor, Pandemic, and Mansions of Madness, as well as the trade game Gundalow and the medieval war game Warhammer.
Kid-friendly games include Throw Throw Avocado or Exploding Minions, a version of Exploding Kittens, where players try to avoid getting blown up.
But Chambers raved about one of his best-sellers — Scurvy Dice.
“You make a pirate ship out of your dice and you play against your opponents to try to get the gold off an island without getting scurvy. If you get scurvy, you go back spaces.”
Diversions Puzzles & Games, a staple in downtown Portsmouth, just recently opened a new location in Somersworth.
“The gaming industry as a whole has expanded significantly over the past 15 years,” says owner and general manager Laura Keith.
Like Game Chamber, Diversions is also strictly “unplugged.” They don’t sell video games, but that’s never hurt their business.
“People are really itching to have social connection and social interaction, and parents are trying to get their kids off the phones,” Keith says.
Diversions focuses on Lego, kids’ games and books, construction toys, arts and crafts, but also sells trading cards, tokens, choose-your-own-adventure games, and jigsaw puzzles, which got an early jump at the start of the pandemic.
Interest was so strong in puzzles at one point that they nearly sold out.
“We just couldn’t get them in fast enough. Puzzling is a strong New England (hobby), and it’s all ages,” she says.
Keith, an avid board-game fan herself, has several personal favorites. Among them is Stardew Valley, a cooperative game where players build farms and plant crops to defeat a big corporation. In the tile-laying game Cascadia, players build terrain from different habitats. In The Crew: The Quest For Planet Nine, astronauts strive to understand an unknown planet. There are more than 50 missions in the game.
“We sell a ton of family games, party games. I love Scattergories. I absolutely will never knock any of those games — I think that they’re fantastic. They’re light, and they let you just relax,” she says.
Honey Buzz has a single premise — make money by making and selling honey. Keith’s other favorites include Azul: Queen’s Garden, along with the tile-laying game Calico.
They look deceptively easy, but they’re not.
Keith called Calico an example of “good stress.”
“A lot of games are like that. They’re like, super, super stressful. But you’re like, ‘Oh, that was so much fun.’”
‘A family of nerds’
Wicked Gaming Center, which opened this past May in Peterborough, offers a mix of board games and video games.
Calling themselves “a family of nerds,” co-owners Brendan and Gayle Bohl got the idea for the store after playing “Betrayal at House On the Hill” for the first time with their daughter.
Gayle Bohl says game time with family has been “priceless.”
“Being stuck indoors for so long has deprived people of the social element that is so important to our mental health. Gaming offers a way to connect with others, have fun, be creative and enjoy each other’s company whether online or in person,” she says.
The store offers a mix of tabletop and video games, and carries manuals for Dungeons & Dragons and Savage Worlds. Bohl says they are working toward becoming a WPN retailer for Wizards of the Coast, which will allow them to sell Magic: The Gathering cards and host tournaments.
Popular favorites at Wicked Gaming Center include Betrayal at House on the Hill, while Beat Saber, Pistol Whip and Walkabout Mini-golf are big on the Oculus, a virtual reality headset. Popular video games are Nintendo Super Smash Bros. and Guitar Hero for Wii.
And playing Atari’s Space Invaders still delights, decades after its release.
Victor Johnson of Peterborough, a regular visitor who works remotely, likes to interact with people face to face.
“It’s been a nice change of pace to sit down with others and enjoy a game together,” he says via a text chat.
He calls the store a “perfect setup,” since they offer snacks, and there’s a pizza shop in the same building.
“I tend to order a pizza to share before we start gaming,” he says.
Johnson’s current obsession is Betrayal At House On the Hill and its expansion game, Widow’s Walk.
“The game is never the same. There’s always new scenarios to explore, new ‘haunts,’ different items in your inventory, ” he says.
Possibly the most well-known role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, is no longer considered fringe or “dorky.” Chambers recently hosted a presentation with a professional dungeon master who taught storytelling skills, role-playing skills and character-building.
Whatever your interest, gaming shops are here to please.
“I like interacting with my customers. It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, to make everybody happy with the game they have,” says Chambers.