Yesterday, Ann Arbor Made Me Cry

I am one of my few peers lucky enough to be married to a lady who loves gaming. Not always RPGs, though she does dig RPGs (she just can't muster the "campaign commitment" she'd need to play in a regular one), but also minis, card games (though never Magic or any CCGs) and board games. So, when I suggested that we spend our Sunday going around to all the game shops in the area that we rarely hit up or have never been to, +Kathryn Muszkiewicz's resounding "Hell yes!" wasn't exactly a surprise. And so, after a disastrous breakfast as the diner across the street (which is another story in and of itself), we headed off to hit up some of the local gaming holes.

That sounds terrible. I was aiming for something like "watering holes" but for gaming. For future reference, do not refer to these places as gaming holes.

Our first port of call was Warriors 3 in Wayne. My pal +R.J. Thompson of Gamers & Grognards fame seems to have some connection with the place and I had never been there so, despite their snarky email about why they don't participate in Free RPG Day, I thought we'd head out to see what was up, what with the place only being about 15 mins from my house (just in a direction I never go: towards Detroit). When we got there, I was completely and totally underwhelmed. They had two four-foot sections of mixed Warhammer stuff, on 8-foot island of board games and a bookshelf of RPGs that could easily have been condensed down to one shelf, all of it Mathfinder and 4e stuff, making absolutely none of it useful to me. Even their dice display was sparse. Seriously, they only had a few sets of Chessex polys and d6s. What they did have was a huge amount of Magic cards that made the local place I avoid (Ypsi's Fun 4 All) look conservative (I tend to think of them as being over-the-top with that sort of crap) and an absolutely huge (and pretty damn awesome) second room filled with tables for gaming. Whenever I see a place like this where the only way to go would be up, I tend to think of how great it could be, but then I think of the snarky "RPGs don't make money" email that they sent me about FRPGDay and how I know this place won't be. Game over, Warriors 3.

Verdict: Avoid this place. Not worth the effort. Ryan might be able to turn me around on this place, but it will take quite a bit of convincing.

As we left W3, disappointed and grumbly, a short thunderstorm rolled in and we decided that, despite the torrential rain, we were going to hit up Get Your Game On in Ann Arbor. It was a surprisingly busy day in the Ace-Deuce, what with it being an "off season" Sunday and all, which was okay for people watching, but less awesome for the amount of congestion that was happening up in the place. GYGO has its own retro-vibe, but that has nothing to do with tabletop gaming, but rather the tons of classic console games that go back to the NES (nothing older, though; this place is targeted at the sorts of brats who think the Nintendo was the first gaming console). These guys had more of selection than W3, centered around 4 segments of shelving. Warhammer (both Fantasy & 40k) took up one segment, then Privateer Press's wargames, which was pretty neat. I dig wargames, just not modern ones. At least I know a place I can get supplies. A third segment was devoted to board & card games, and here the lovely Mrs. Muszkiewicz picked up an expansion for Red Dragon Inn (the barbarian character; +Doug Kovacs you've created a monster!) and another game that looks pretty awesome, but the name escapes me now. One last segment had som e RPGs, but it was weird. Yes, it had 4e and Mathfinder, but also the new FFG Star Wars games (both of them) and some other random stuff. Some White Wolf stuff (Katie was drawn to Exalted, which terrifies me), the WoW d20 books and, this was the big surprise, some Palladium. It was good to see Palladium on the shelf in a Michigan game store, but all in all the bookshelf that was the RPG department (it was one wall of one segment of the store, the rest of which was filed with minis terrain and CCG junk) was pretty underwhelming unless you're into the whole superglossy splatbook-o-rama that is the currently dominant publishing theory in mainstream RPGs. But then, if you were into that sort of thing, you probably wouldn't be reading this blog, would you? On our way out, I asked the guy taking our money if GYGO had participated in Free RPG Day last Saturday, to which he was confused. "What's that?"

Verdict: Okay if you're looking for WH stuff, but I'd rather just order that from the Model Cave here in Ypsi. They've got a good boardgame selection, but that's all I'd ever go here for again. Oh, and their staff is pretty well lobotomized.

We took some time just wandering around Ann Arbor at this point, which sucked because it was crazy hot. Katie decided she wanted bubble tea, so we walked a few blocks to the good bubble tea place and on our way back decided that we'd hit up the Vault of Midnight. Really, it was a foregone conclusion. When you're in the Ace-Deuce, it only makes sense to go to Michigan's largest comic store, especially when you've been a friends with the owners for nearing two decades. Vault does no wargames, but does have an absolutely huge board game selection in the basement along with a smaller assortment of "you can take these games anywhere" sorts of games like Timeline and Zombie Dice upstairs. They also have the largest selection of RPGs in Ann Arbor (probably even including the place that we avoided) which does focus on 4e and includes some Mathfinder, and yes, dips into the (apparently quite popular) FFG Star Wars rpgs, but also includes stuff like Fate, Torchbearer, Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, Dungeon World and other smaller, indie games. However, there was no DCC on tap here (or anywhere in A2), nor any Labyrinth Lord, nor OSRIC nor any of the games that drive the OSR. Bummer. Vault has a room for gaming (which I've never played in, but we could see into), so maybe I could get something going here. I didn't ask about ordering stuff, but at least the staff at Vault try to help and see if there's anything they can do to make your trip worthwhile, unlike the other two places I'd visited that day.

Verdict: Better selection than the other two places, but still not focused on old school gaming (they did have the LotFP Grindhouse Edition last time I was in, but it had sold out). I feel like they'd be the most receptive, especially if I can demonstrate that no one else in town is supporting it.

When I set out to visit W3, I didn't know that I was opening a can of worms. I wasn't yet on a mission. I thought "we'll just go here and see what they have, I'm sure they'll have something I'm interested in." Particularly after visiting +Todd Bunn's very excellent Gateway Games & More in Cinci last weekend, I had this feeling that everybody should carry something I was interested in. Instead, I went off on a journey of disappointment from one store to another. In the end, the closest to Appendix N-style adventure gaming I got was picking up an ERB hardcover and a Leiber paperback at Dawntreader Books. A part of me wants to host games at these places, to show them what they're missing, to generate love and interest for old school games. To let the kids know that they don't have to be a slave to the mainstream game trends. That they have a choice and to show them what some of their options are. That there's great stuff out there worth getting excited about. That they don't have to suckle at the unimaginative games-teat of Wizards & Paizo.

But then I wonder if it's worth it.

Time will tell, I suppose.