Going to the Game Store: Then and Now

Going to the game store used to be a rare treat. As a kid and teenager, when I had the extra cash to spare, a trip to the game store or bookstore (that sold games) would supply the weekends reading material. After I got a driver’s license, the trip became a little less magic – it could whenever I wanted – but there was less cash to spend on games (it went to girls and fuel).

As an adult, the game store was still special, but with the invention of the Internet, print-on-demand publishing and the ubiquitous PDF document game stores started to close down.

There are four here in Madison, none of which are particularly awe-inspiring. When I lived in New Mexico, I would frequent War Games West (when it was still on Central Blvd.), a massive store compared to what passes in Madison. In Minneapolis, I used to go to the Source, another massive gaming/comic outlet. I’ve watched these stores close down or downsize, one by one. In Chicago, there used to be Games Workshop outlets – now I think there’s just one. My point is, going to the game store is no fun anymore, and here’s why:

Today, I saw the shelf of D&D 5th Edition books – rehashed versions of the same content we’ve seen since 1980. All with shiny new covers and new art. Triple the price and damn the player.

I saw a few independents – things I genuinely might have purchased if they’d not been priced at $60.00 with black and white interiors. I saw a book called World War Cthulhu. I almost bought it. But it was more than $50 and much of the book was content we’d seen before. It feels that every new game wants to re-invent the RPG system – be it D6, D10, D20, FATE or Paper-Scissor-Rocks. I heard the guy at the game shop today try to sell a system that allows you used any die – the idea being an even roll is good, an odd roll is a bad. Why not flip a coin? If feels like we’re trying way too hard to get away from a common system.

That’s okay, but the more elaborate a system, the less likely people are to learn it. Further, no system is inherently better or friendlier than any other. The arguments over Pathfinder vs. 2nd Ed. Vs. 5th Ed. (well, okay, 4th edition sucked) vs. Roll-Master or d20 or whatever are meaningless. The game flow, the joy of the experience, in inherently in the hands and minds of the players and GM. Any GM will add +20 HP to a monster if its too easy. It’s just not an issue.

All that said, game mechanics are so secondary to playing – they hardly matter. I know a lot of folks like to count their “gold pieces” as it were, and maximize their adventuring profit (XP) via fine tuned accounting methods. To be honest some of the best games I’ve ever played in used some really odd XP awards systems. That’s a whole other blog article itself.

What I’m wondering is where did the thrill of the game store go? $200 bored games, slews of repetitive card games; the whole thing is just a drag. I for one want content filled books with that sell me ideas, not a new way to swing a sword – don’t even get me started on custom dice.