By Charlie Youngmann
Burned out on the same board games you’ve been playing for years? While you’re stuck inside for the foreseeable future, you might get your hands on something a bit more engaging at a local game store.
Board, card, and other tabletop games are increasing in popularity again. Specialty gaming shops carry a broad selection of products while acting as a centralized event space for organized tournaments. Products range from entry-level kid’s educational games to niche interests like the complex model building game Warhammer.
Annapolis residents may remember the first Third Eye Comics location Steve Anderson opened in 2008. The small retail slot on Old Solomons Island Road did well and quickly moved to a larger space in Annapolis before growing into a full-blown franchise.
Over time, Anderson took notice of the growing interest in the games section of his store, and decided to open Third Eye Games in 2015. “We hosted events every night of the week. Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer, board game nights, the whole nine yards,” Anderson said.
At the beginning of the pandemic, safety procedures were put in place requiring all customers, retail, office, and warehouse workers to wear masks. Sneeze guards went up around the registers and the store’s HVAC system was upgraded with hospital-grade ultraviolet filters.
Anderson eventually shut down the gaming space at Third Eye Games a few weeks before the mandatory statewide shutdown. He took it as an opportunity to branch into new product categories. Once stores opened back up, the event space was filled with shirts, vinyl records, and a ceiling-high wall of skateboards, he said.
In Dunkirk, a brand new game store also struggled to stay afloat. Local newcomer Krypton Games has recently brought tabletop hobbies to Calvert County. Store owner Tommy K opened Krypton in October 2019 and quickly found a steady clientele. The fledgling business began to host regular events until COVID-19 restrictions closed their doors in March. “We got shut down upon takeoff, man,” K said. “Ok, cool, a store centered around events that can’t run events. This is going to be fun.”
Throughout the pandemic, Krypton has managed to stay above water with the support of their regulars. At first, K stopped placing orders and began to put everything towards rent and utilities for the store. He even began making deliveries, noting a few in-demand Dungeons & Dragons books that were requested through social media. “They could have just gone on Amazon and gotten those same books, but they decided, ‘We’re in Dunkirk, they’re in Dunkirk, I’m calling them,’” K said.
Due to their size and customer base, Krypton is still able to host small gatherings not exceeding 16 people. While the regular event calendar is clear for the foreseeable future, people can still come in for a game, given they mask up and follow the store’s safety guidelines.
K and his staff members Max Seaborn and Michael Scalise manage sales, answer questions, and even sit down to play with their customers.
Krypton regular Jim Amster explained that growing up, most of his entertainment came in the form of screen time. As a single father, Amster looks for unplugged activities to do with his 9-year-old son, Nicolas. The two of them try to make it into Krypton at least once a week for some tabletop gaming, he said.
Games and Stuff in Glen Burnie is the largest tabletop game store in the state, according to operations manager, Jeff Hall, and has hosted national championships for popular games. Established in 2000, Games and Stuff celebrated their 20th anniversary in May. “We didn’t get to celebrate this year like we had hoped,” Hall said.
At 7,000 square feet divided evenly between retail and event space, Games and Stuff’s game room is currently being used for storage and sorting. Normally the store would host over 150 events a month, Hall said. Now they’re relying on customer support and a soon-to-launch web store to keep things going.
“We have a very loyal community and they’ve come out to support us in ways we could’ve never imagined.”
Card, board, and tabletop games have remarkable potential as learning tools, Hall said. Many games can help children improve reading and math skills, some have even been used to build mental stamina for people with dementia.
“Games have exploded because now, with everyone stuck at home, it gives families something to do.”