Thursday, January 24, 2013

Game Stores: All-Star Games (Diamond Bar, CA)

I'm back, after a near two-month lapse in blogging. No big stories to tell - work, holidays, travel, and illness all contributed to a lack of posting.

I've written about my quest to find a great, local game store since first being exposed to RPGs back in Sandy, Utah, in the early 1980s. My quest was pretty much all for naught in Utah, but things perked up a bit when my family moved to Southern California. At least, there was a bigger potential for having some great game stores.

My first "real" game store I visited was The Last Grenadier, about which I wrote previously. During this time, in my early college years, I wasn't really "playing" any RPGs any longer, as I didnt' have a group, but I was doing a ton of "world-building", which as everyone knows it essentially a way that a DM can "play" D&D solo.

I was continuing to subscribe to, and read, Dragon magazine, and saw a bunch of ads for something called the "Gazetteers" series - which, for those who don't know, were "guides" to all of the different lands in Basic D&Ds default campaign setting, which was called "The Known World" (or, Mystara, if you're a youngster and like to use stupid-sounding world names that nobody in their right mind would ever actually name a real world). I was really excited about these products because, as I've mentioned before, the Known World was a huge inspiration for me in creating my own campaign setting - it's essentially a fantasy version of Earth, so both campaign settings have cultures that mirror real-world ones like the Middle East, Medieval Europe, the Mongol Hordes, Byzantium, etc. I felt that the Gazetteers would be a huge benefit in helping me to flesh out these areas of my world, so once again I pulled out my trusty Yellow Pages and looked up "hobby stores" and found that there was one just down the road from my University (Cal Poly, Pomona) - called "All-Star Games" in Diamond Bar, California.

I hopped into my janky old 1981 Buick Skylark, which did not have a functioning reverse gear (fun story) and consistently over-heated so in the middle of Summer I had to turn the heat up as high as it could go in order to cool down the engine. I zipped down the freeway and pulled into the strip mall where All-Star Game was located.

It was the middle of a weekday afternoon, so the store wasn't crowded. Now this was a game store - well lit, due to the entire front wall of the store being made of glass which let in tons of sunlight, clean, well-organized shelves, a carpet that wasn't stained with pizza grease, and a smell that was not akin to the Funk of a Thousand Years.

The "Wall O TSR", from a cached version of their website
The "Wall O' TSR", as they called it, was literally just that - an entire wall, floor-to-ceiling, with pretty much every soft-cover TSR book and module, for every game, that they'd ever made. Looking through the wall, I even found really old, shrink-wrapped copies of the monochrome pastel versions of all three "Giants" modules (individual - not the  combined G1-2-3 one from later years) and even an old monochrome B1 module. Sadly, at the time, I wasn't into collecting out-of-print stuff, so I set my sites on the Gazetteer section and left that day with GAZ2 "The Emirate of Ylaruam" and GAZ3 "The Principalities of Glantri." Both of these are still, to this day, some of my favorite RPG reading materials.

Like any good game store, they had shelves and racks and cases of dice, minis, paints, board games, puzzles, chess boards and pieces, boxed and hardback RPGs, and card games.

While I didn't really interact with the staff much, other than making my purchase, they did seem "professional" - meaning, they didn't take a job there just so they could hang out and game with their friends and ignore the customers. These guys were running around, stocking shelves, cleaning, and in general, actually looking like they were working and not goofing off, which is a huge thing for stores like this.

From that point on, due to its proximity, cleanliness, and well-stock shelves, I made a habit of visiting All-Star Games as often as I could, and picking up games here and there when I had a few dollars to spend that I earned from my crappy college job of working at a mailbox rental store.

Right around 1993, after having been laid-off from my first "career" advertising job, I ended up hanging out a lot with my friend Mike, who worked the graveyard shift at a local grocery store, so during the day he and I would do a lot of gaming. We got into Warhammer 40k really hard, and also into this kooky new card game that was becoming quite popular - a little thing called "Magic: The Gathering." Lot a lot of guys in our hobby who get fixated in certain games, we became "collectors", and starting dropping a lot of cash on MTG cards, buying multiple display boxes of each new release in order to get all of the cards, and also on all of the new Warhammer 40k minis that were constantly coming out.

I started visiting All-Star once a week, or more, and this was the first store I'd ever visited where the guys who worked there learned my name and always greeted me as I came through the door, and also started giving me a 10% discount "just because." Back then, that meant a huge deal to me. I felt special, and kind in the "in crowd." Another cool thing was that a lot of these guys who worked there were "in the industry" - some of the AEG guys worked there, including Jim Pinto, who it turns out I went to college with (although we didn't know each other at the time, but I ended up being on a group project with his ex-girlfriend... long story), and one guy who worked there at one point won the big prize at some MTG championship game, right at the dawn of those types of events.

The people who owned the store, David and Carol Turrietta, were nice, friendly people, even though Carol was a bit shy around people she didn't know that well. I remember her once telling me a story of how they went to a Game Convention and on their way back, they stopped for something to eat, and while they were inside, some guys who had apparently followed them from the Con broke into her truck and stole all of her Magic cards she took there to sell. I'm not sure if they ever found the guys.

And, as a total coincidence, it turned out that my dad actually worked with David's brother, Bob, at Unocal, so my dad knew who the owners were, too.

In the mid-90s, I ended up moving to Pasadena, which had a little game store called "Game Zone" (the subject of a future post), and my visits to All-Star Games became fewer and fewer until eventually they stopped all together.

About 10 or so years later, while visiting my parents in Chino Hills (a town adjacent to Diamond Bar), I dropped into All-Star Games only to find the store was going out-of-business, and that both David and Carol had passed-away a few years before, both while only in their mid-to-late 40s. I'm not really sure what happened, but I felt terrible about the whole situation. The store was having a huge sale to try to get rid of everything, and I remember buying a copy of "GURPS: Russia" just because I felt like I wanted to buy something, and I figured I could use it as help with my campaign setting world-building. I've never even played GURPS before and don't even own the rules.

The store was gone a few weeks later, but to this day, whenever I drive by the strip mall where it was located, I always look over where it used to sit and remember all of the fun times I had there. Although I do have a local game store near my house that I can actually walk to, and it's probably, in all respects, better in terms of its stock, size, gaming area, etc., I still don't have the attachment to it that I had All-Star Games.

It will be missed.

Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Drinking: My current favorite beer is Firestone Walker Anniversary Ale XVI
Listening: "The Ballad of a Lonely Man" by Mike Ness


  1. Welcome back!

    Ah, how fondly I recall the days when we had a game store nearby. Sadly, they've all passed away. It really is a sad thing when a fondly remembered FLGS passes. I still pine for the days when Twilight Book and Game was at its height - it was a great little store. Ironically, the distinctive "Twilight" sign still hangs on the empty building that was once home to the store - as if to mock my pain.

    (Well, technically, the last of the FLGSs is still in existence, but it changed venue years ago, and dumped most of its RPG and minis stock in the process. It's now a comics store that sells a lot of board/card games, some minis, and a few RPGs. The locals still call it their FLGS, but it hasn't really been that for quite some time...)

  2. Thanks, Christopher!

    Yeah, I'm very lucky - there are actually quite a few games stores down here - I have a list that I'm going through (my list of "potential blog topics") and, even after all of the stores I've already written about on my blog here, I still have four stores left to go (or technically I guess five, since one of them closed down, was bought-out and re-branded, and then moved).

    I've never been a fan of the comics/game store combo, because as much as we like to pretend that the two audiences intersect (I'm proof positive), it's actually much less common than we think.

    The comics shop I go to now used to be a combo card-games/comics shop, but if you went into the store to buy comics, you were ignored and treated with derision, as all of the fan-boys of Magic, Pokemon, and all of those other games were in there crowded out the space, being loud, and generally making it an unwelcome atmosphere. And I'm someone who actually likes card games, but I went there to buy comics, not cards, and just couldn't stand the place. Fortunately it changed ownership and the new owners split it into two separate stores with a wall in-between: comics on one side, cards on the other. It's much better now.

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  4. Thanks for posting this! All-Star Games was my favorite haunt in the 90's, when I was in my twenties and missing my old high school gaming group. All too often, I would go there when I was skipping my classes at Cal Poly myself. I remember Carol fondly - I think it was her being slightly less shy than me that made some good conversation possible, but I was awkward as hell. Still, she always made me feel welcome, even when I felt like a loser coming in so often just to browse for games I didn't need or couldn't afford.

    They did try really hard as a game store, including running their own occasional mini-conventions (Games University), and even opened up a second location at the dying Eastland Center for a few years. The staff came and went over the years, of course, but were always enthusiastic about games, especially Shane and Marcello. It brings me down to think that, because they had such a tiny shop with no open gaming space, I never got the opportunity to game with any of them.

    It was a sad day when I learned that Dave and Carol passed away within months of each other. Afterward, a new owner tried to keep the doors open for a while, but I think after the soul of the store was gone there was nothing to do to save it.

    1. Firstly, thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      I had completely forgotten about the second location at the Eastland Center, but I definitely went there. My friend and I used to play Warhammer 40k there because they had a much bigger gaming space and lots of terrain available for use. That mall was so janky, though.

      And I definitely remember Shane and Marcello, and a few other guys whose names I have unfortunately forgotten. Jim Pinto is the one who sticks out to me because I used to see him around my college campus at Cal Poly, and I kept in touch with him briefly via email during his d20 days at AEG.

      Thanks again - I'll be posting more "game store memories" soon. Cheers!

    2. The memories, a lot of good ones when I think about the stores, co-workers, and customers. I just found out about the his blog on Facebook. A lot of good times spent gaming and watching customers play the games I didn't on the table tops at the Eastland Center. Thanks for bringing back the memories.


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