Published on February 4th, 2015 | by Luke Turpeinen2
The Evolution of Brick & Mortar
Last week I posted about my feelings on why the tabletop game store business model is self-defeating and why I feel that the game cafe is the logical next step in the brick & mortar game store. This week I’ll be reviewing two different game store/cafe combos, and talking about their strengths and weaknesses. Both are great businesses and I highly recommend each of them!
These are the two board game cafes that we frequent the most in Seattle, WA. There are tons of other cafes and game stores in Seattle and the neighboring areas, too! For a list of game stores and other nerdy attractions in Seattle, we recommend looking at Nerdy Seattle.
One thing that many game stores have in common is some sort of gaming space in the store and tables where you can play one of the dozens of opened games they have set aside. There is no charge for this, and as long as there is table space you are welcome to play. If you check out one of the store’s games, the store isn’t necessarily making any money unless you decide to buy the game you’ve purchased.
Many of us have had that awkward feeling of taking a freebie, even one offered with no expectation of return, and feeling like you should give something back. This is one of the reasons I enjoy playing games at a game cafe- I like being able to have a beer and some fries, playing a game before deciding to purchase it, and know that I’m contributing to the store that’s letting me try the merch before I buy. Even if I don’t buy the game, I’ve had fun and alcohol and the store gets its cut: win/win.
Cafe Mox / Card Kingdom
Located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, Card Kingdom is within a short walk of a developing nightlife center. In what is still mostly a dock-and-warehouse zone, popular restaurants and mixed use apartments are springing up to accommodate the growing number of programmers wanting to live near Downtown.
Card Kingdom hosts a very large selection of board games, impressively large even. The games are arranged by genre on Barnes & Noble style islands with signs denoting the play style (Deck Builder, Worker Placement, etc). They feature new releases near the door, there is a wealth of casual card games near the register and there are even children and family games and puzzles in the back.
In addition there are two large war gaming tables; a smaller selection of miniatures like HeroClix or Infinity are sold in that area. It seems like there is just enough material to get someone started on the war game hobby, but not enough to sustain a fan of the game. But the tables are here, which is its own draw. Magic the Gathering has a section, as Card Kingdom’s main business is its online M:tG sales, but it doesn’t dominate their retail space.
The cafe space is known as Cafe Mox (named after the famed Mox cards from Magic) and it features booths, tables and bar space for seating. Compared to the retail space, Cafe Mox is relatively tiny and is almost always full. This speaks well of its popularity, but it can sometimes take a while to arrange a table.
Cafe Mox has multiple drink options, espresso, beer and wine- and it is notable for its selection of meads. The food menu is larger than other game cafes, and higher quality, though it also is more expensive. Prices are normal for the neighborhood, and the cuisine fits the character of other restaurants in the area very well. While Cafe Mox isn’t a place I go to specifically to eat, it’s a place where I enjoy the food when I order it.
The decor of Cafe Mox is really nice, it’s sleek and clean, with great colors and textures. The interior design is very strong and you get a sense that a lot of thought was put into the way that the interior of the building looks and feels. Forget your poorly lit game dungeons, this is the model for suburban mall game stores right here. The private rooms are even better, with themed decorations and lighting. The room reservation prices are surprisingly reasonable, and your food/drink tab goes towards your reservation, so you might as well have a beer or three.
Other considerations when going to Card Kingdom or Cafe Mox is that parking in the area is limited to the street. On Friday and Saturday nights you will have a harder time parking because of the nearby bars, but during the day it’s almost empty. Using public transit to get to Ballard is simple but usually takes forever, especially during peak hours when the bridges are packed. Being so close to other destinations in Ballard makes it a great place to start a night of bar hopping, or as an ice breaker before heading out for dinner.
Raygun Lounge / Gamma Ray Games
Raygun is poised at the entrance of Seattle’s LGBT and youth culture epicenter- Capitol Hill. While the neighborhood is quickly being turned into premium condos, the main draw of the Hill is still its legacy of local rock music, gay clubs and alt fashion. This has been at the forefront of what it has meant to walk into Gamma Ray Games from the beginning.
As the demographics for the neighborhood start to shift, we will continue to see Raygun’s clients shift as well, but it has already established itself as an active participant in community affairs and trends. Being closer to downtown, Raygun gets a lot of traffic during conventions like Penny-Arcade eXpo, GeekGirlCon and Emerald City ComicCon. It has hosted Pink Party, an event put on by Queer Geek! to get LGBT nerds to mingle in one really cool after party.
While Gamma Ray doesn’t have the selection of games that Card Kingdom does, it makes up for it by being a cultivated list of games. Gamma Ray’s inventory is more catered towards the dedicated board gamer or people looking to become one and includes less filler titles. This is especially true when looking at their RPG selection, which showcases a bunch of indy story games that never saw a full print run. It’s much harder to find an example of a bad game at Gamma Ray than it is elsewhere.
The Raygun Lounge area is in close quarters with the game store, without feeling cramped. This makes the space feel less like a cafe and more like a board game store, which I personally like. The decor is nostalgia based: old action figures, video games and board game boxes line the walls. The space has always had a close tie to local artists, and it’s rare that you see Raygun without a bunch of pop art on the walls. Art purchases, of either originals or prints, can usually be made at the counter.
Drinks at Raygun include beer, wine, hard cider and soft drinks. The food selection is fairly limited, consisting mainly of pizzas and sandwiches made off-site, then prepared at the Lounge. I prefer to eat before hand and spend my money on booze and impulse game purchases when I’m here, personally, but they have my favorite drink (Seattle Cider’s Dry) so that’s no problem for me.
The main draw of Gamma Ray / Raygun to me are the special events that get held here, and the community the owners have cultivated who support those events. There are open board game nights where people are encouraged to bring games from home and play with whoever shows up. UnPub and designer playtest events are frequently held here, and many local designers from some of the area’s top tabletop companies come to them. Everything from D&D Encounters and Friday Night Magic to MeetUps for the local Story Gamers group can show up, and the local alt newspaper The Stranger at one point had a recurring happy hour event.
The local community is very friendly and diverse- people from all sorts of backgrounds and disciplines show up to share their love of board games. There are also events like Geek Out! Trivia Night, which while not directly board game related, is written and hosted by local community wrangler and podcaster Andrew Asplund.
These events do more than just bring people into the Lounge to spend money on drinks, it really goes a long way to make Raygun feel like an actual Friendly Local Gaming Store instead of just another place to buy things. You wouldn’t ever go up to some stranger’s table at Cafe Mox to introduce yourself and see what they’re playing- the environment doesn’t foster that at all. At Raygun, on the other hand, you’re much more likely to be introduced to the local denizens.
Not to be too sappy, but Raygun has really succeeded in making a place that feels like “everyone knows your name.” Raygun’s focus on community building and business citizenship pay off in the way that its customers engage with each other in the space they’ve made.