|The front of the store. What treasures await inside?|
Secondly, once again being wild and crazy, I'm going a bit out-of-order. I had intended to talk about my game store visits in roughly the order they occurred, starting with the first game store I visited back when I started role-playing in Sandy, Utah when my mom drove me to a place called the Cosmic Aeroplane in Salt Lake City, then talking about the various stores I visited after I moved to California, and along the way mentioning any shops that I could remember while on vacation in other states - I distinctly remember visiting one in Denver in the mid-1980s but I sadly don't remember the name.
However, I recently made a trip to Westchester County in New York for business reasons, and while I was all the way out there, I took an extra day to go to Manhattan to do a little site-seeing. I've been to Manhattan a few times before, so I've seem most of the "big stuff." For this trip, since I was by myself, I planned specifically to go visit one of the old-school grand-daddies of game shops, the semi-mythical Compleat Strategist.
This was back a few weeks ago, on October 16th. I'd had meetings that morning in a place called
|Halloween Decorations |
in the Window
I had planned to visit the Compleat Strategist on Thursday, but as the cab slowly made its crawl along the New York freeway, I realized that I'd be getting to my hotel around 4pm and the store didn't close until 6pm, so I could go that very evening after checking-in. I stared out the window into the gray, cloudy October sky and began daydreaming about my old issues of Dragon magazine I'd been given as a gift those long years ago back in Junior High School, and the little black-and-white ads in the back where game stores advertised all of the products they carried. They all seemed to be concentrated in the Midwest and East Coast, but as a little kid growing up in Sandy, Utah, they may as well have been in the Soviet Union (that place still existed back then).
I didn't get to visit my first "real" game store until the early-to-mid 1990s, which was the Last Grenadier in Burbank, and by then, the store was a little past its prime. I've always had this romantic vision of those early game stores, stocked full with games by Games Designers Workshop and Fantasy Games Unlimited and all of the other companies that made games that I'd heard of but never seen because they weren't carried at Gemco or Hammond's Toys.
As the cab got closer to my hotel, I started to get pretty excited. This store, the Compleat Strategist, had been around since the early days of the hobby. What kind of treasures might I find there, tucked under a pile of books long-neglected in a forgotten corner of the store? My mind raced at the possibilities.
The cab finally arrived near my hotel but he overshot it and we were on a one-way street. I threw some money at him, ran back the way he had come to get to my hotel, checked-in quickly and then ran up to my room to change out of my "oppressive monkey suit" as my friend Cal would call it (I actually had to wear a button-down shirt and a sport-coat with my jeans!) into a t-shirt and hoodie, and then I walked over to the Compleat Strategist.
Well, with all of that build-up, you can probably guess how my visit was. I couldn't help but be disappointed, but that's really not the fault of the store. That's partially my fault for having built the Compleat Strategist up in my mind into this perfect end-all, be-all type of retail game location that no store could ever live up to. I'm also pretty spoiled in that I have a very large, and fairly well-stocked game store (with a huge "second-hand" used game section) that's about three blocks from my house.
|Some of the store shelves.|
Like most old-school game stores, at first glance there appears to be a pattern of how the games are organized, but as you squeeze through the aisles, you quickly realize that's a mere ruse, and any type of game or accessory could really be found anywhere in the store.
I spied some old-school stickers and advertisements plastering the walls toward the back of the store, which made me smile. There was a pretty large section of old d20 stuff (which is sad when I'm thinking of that as "old" now), lots of Pathfinder and 4E stuff, and other typical games like Warhammer, Iron Kingdoms, a smattering of Savage Worlds and other RPGs. The store seems to focus mainly on strategic board games and some card games, however. I was actually expecting a larger ratio of role-playing games but I suspect these days that board games carry better margins and also probably sell better. With only one other exception besides me (a young woman who said she was from Montana, it might have been Wyoming), everybody else there was focused on board games. A mom came in with her young son to look at some trading cards for some game (I wasn't really listening). The girl from Montana said that every time she finds a game store while she's traveling, she tries to pick up something unique for her gamer friends back home. Last time she'd gotten some distinctive dice. This time she was looking for some miniature figures that were easy to travel with. She spent a lot of time browsing through the old 3.5 stuff.
I did see one section which puts my local store to shame, and that was of non-standard RPGs, with a
|Games, Games, as far as |
the eye can see.
Where the Compleat Strategist fell short of my over-expectations (and again, this isn't a fault of theirs) was in older material. I really expected I might find stack of some old Dragon magazines here that I could pick up to fill in the gaps of my collection, or even some older modules or 1st Edition books (I have most of them but am still missing a few of the later 1E books). I was also hoping to see some 2nd Edition settings or things like the green Historical Reference Guides, which were some of my favorites. It would have been cool to also find some older games by other companies, like the FGU and GDW I mentioned above. Obviously the store has been around long enough that all of those items would have been picked over and purchased a long time ago. I guess I was just hoping against hope that something might still be lingering around somewhere.
In terms of help at the store... well, to be fair, I didn't engage with anyone directly. I just overheard things.
A few favorites involved:
|One of the shelves of Cthulhu. I snapped this for my friend, |
Sean, who GMs our Friday night came when we often play
through Masks of Nyarlothotep.
I guess that's not bad, but it was that kind of typical attitude of "Don't call the store while I'm working. You're bothering me."
Another guy toward the front of the store continually screamed for help from someone at the back of the store, because people would ask him about various games, and with one exception, he had no knowledge of any of the games they were selling. Everything went like this:
"HEY! CAN YOU COME OUT HERE AND HELP THIS PERSON? SHE HAS A QUESTION ABOUT [insert name of game]!!!!!"
Now, the guy at the back of the store seemed pretty knowledgeable and helpful, so that was cool. If I had a question, I hope he'd be the one who would help me out.
In the end, I didn't buy anything. I had wanted to pick something up, and I almost bought something "just because" but I ended up talking myself out of it mainly because at this point I just don't need another RPG accessory that's never going to see use in an actual game. I used to buy things just to read, and considered it for the plane trip back, but I'd brought 13th Age with me to read and wasn't even halfway through, so I took a pass.
I also think I've learned my lesson that no game store is going to live up to whatever expectations I've built up in my mind over the years, going back to those heady days when I first started playing D&D and tried to find and devour as many games and modules as I could. It's impossible that any store could match my wishes...
Or, is it? Stay tuned for future entries in my game store series, particularly when I get to my first visit to Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica, CA...
Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: 2010 Holus Bolus Syrah
Listening: "Gone Fishin" by Louis Armstrong & Bing Crosby