Game stores can be a hit or miss thing. The great ones can be really, really great. Some of the rest can leave you wondering how the idea of a “Friendly Local Game Store” even caught on. Meeples Games in Seattle goes beyond the cliché right out of the gate, however. They bill themselves as your Friendly Local Game Café. And I gotta say, their root beer floats are better than anything you can get at a fancy smancy coffee shop type place. Their staff really live up to the “friendly” moniker, too– if you’re looking for people like “The Comic Book Guy” from the Simpsons, you’re at the wrong place. Just in the short time I visited, I heard clerks patiently explaining to entire families how they can sort through getting started playing Magic together. With a whole shelf of free-to-play games behind them, these guys really are the perfect ambassadors for the legions of people that have no idea what hobby gaming is or how to get into it.
But with the advent of online retailers, people hit up game stores for more than just a place to buy games and get a snack. It’s the scene that separates from good from the best. Here’s a run down of what was going on there on a random, lazy Sunday.
First up was the guy getting ready to teach people how to paint figures. Now… people like this seem to just materialize wherever Warhammer model kits are sold, but I have to say, this guy was especially good. I wasn’t even paying that close of attention and I found out why it was I ruined my nicer paint brushes so quickly. His passion for miniatures painting was so infectious, he soon had a table loaded with people eager to try it out. It wasn’t just dedicated “gamer” types either, but casual gamers and avowed non-gamers as well.
Meanwhile, at the next table, this guy’s counterpart from the world of Pokémon was playing games, teaching people the rules, and giving advice on deck-building. It wasn’t until the binders came out that I finally understood that trading really was half the fun of this game. I saw kids with extensive collections that had never played before experience their first games. I saw relieved parents look on, elated that a game store denizen could provide something for their kids that they would never have figured out on their own. And wave after wave of Pokémon fans arrived until a half dozen tables were dedicated to the game. It was awesome, really. Even better, the guy facilitating everything was a paragon of patience and good sportsmanship.
Now… neither miniatures painting nor Pokémon is quite my thing. While I enjoyed seeing so many people having such a good time, I was still sort of the odd man out. Lucky for me, a couple of clerks were playing Hive and invited me to try it out. It’s essentially a simple chess variant where the pieces are the board. Quick to learn, easy to teach, and quick to play. Very nice! I’d always wondered about this one….
Meanwhile over in the next room, the largest tabletop space battles I had every seen were raging. Imperial Star Destroyers attempted to annihilate Calamari Cruisers as swarms of fighters clashed around them. This looks to be much more of a naval game compared to the more familiar dog-fighting of X-wing. The big ships would deflect portions of the damage they received to off side shields– and when moving through fighter swarms, the fighters would “stick” to the front facing as they plowed through. Also, unlike the temperamental movement that you see in, say, Wings of War… the plastic “erector set” style turning keys seemed to allow for relatively precise movement.
The two monster battles I witnessed played for a set number of turns before being called for the side that had scored the most damage. Not quite the dramatic “check mate” ending you might see in other space games, but really… the models looked fantastic and the people in the games were getting a great deal of enjoyment out of them.
About midway through the first Star Wars game, I saw a couple of guys come in that looked like the sort that you might see at a Euro game club or board game convention. My hopes for getting into another hobby type game were dashed however: they were there to play “Living Card Games” and nothing else. Just like the Star Wars game, this did not appear to be the sort of game where a novice could just randomly drop in.
So what’s a Living Card Game…? Well, it’s like a Collectible Card Game… except the randomness of the booster packs and so forth are eliminated entirely. When you buy a core set or expansion for this type of game, you’ll know in advance exactly what you’re getting. Now… I did ask these guys if this was like Dominion— and they answered with a fairly dismissive “heck no!” Poking around online to try to get to the bottom of that reaction, my theory is that these guys really are not “Euro” gamers at all. See, the Living Card Games are basically Collectible Card Games with a variant business model.
And they did let me watch a couple of games. Unlike Pokémon and Magic, you have an asymmetrical conflict here. The corporate player lines up his cards in a chain representing his computer servers. The hacker player lays out a variety of cards representing computer programs and then tries to hack into the corporation. Various markers get laid on the cards. Players earn and spend credits to do things. And the hacker gets to look at the corporate players’ hand almost every turn.
I must have watched this game get played for about an hour or so and I have to say… the interactions between the various cards and the tactics required in order to play well are completely beyond me. As I tried to parse what all was happening, the three guys into the game would make snarky comments about how new releases had tweaked the various factions in the game for good and for ill. It wasn’t long before I realized why it was that these guys were incredulous when I compared their game to Dominion: this game was several orders of magnitude more elaborate than that. Really, several orders of magnitude.
So how does Meeples Games score just on the basis of one random lazy Sunday…? I think I can safely hand them a Decisive Victory in the cause of great gaming. They really are pulling in a lot of new people into the hobby and helping them get a good experience out of it. The variety of events and activities they have going on at any given time cover a fairly impressive spectrum. Finally, the “Alpha Gamer” types that pitch in with the teaching and coaching and demonstrations are among the best I’ve seen anywhere. If gaming heroes of that caliber are going to hang out in a place like Meeples, you know they’re doing something right.
And yeah, “Friendly Local Game Store” isn’t just a catchy phrase. This place is the real deal. Check it out if you’re in the neighborhood.