Fayetteville’s Castle House Games finds a new home | Morph Ball WizardMorph Ball Wizard, Opinion — By Daeran Wang on July 20, 2009 at 9:15 pm
By Daeran Wang
It’s a cave of treasures in the eyes of some beholders. It’s a social sanctuary in the life of certain outcasts. Yet, it’s an overlooked place for those who don’t know the code words: M:tG, WH 40k, D&D, nWoD.
Some may even revile it, calling it a den of evil and addiction.
This place, your friendly local game store (FLGS), is part of any city. Most gaming stores serve the needs of a niche population, but the games and activities, both casual and more hardcore, are extending to a much broader audience, according to Fortune magazine.
The trend toward intelligent, fun activities that exercise mental acuity and creativity is growing and Fayetteville is a city that could lead the trend.
For a number of years, Fayetteville gamers relied on a store called Gallery of Champions. This store was the haven for sports card, collectible card games, miniatures, tabletop role-playing games and board games.
In November 2008, the store came under new ownership and changed its name to Castle House Games. The new store just completed a move July 10 to the Evelyn Hills shopping center, where its new location offers more space.
I recently spoke to one of the store’s two owners, Chris Curlee, during the move and we had a long and animated discussion on gaming, the community and business in Fayetteville.
One of the things we talked about was the location change. He was very excited.
There is more space to play role-playing games and dividers allow for the separation of different groups of customers enjoying different activities. Sometimes it can get noisy and having separate space alleviates any conflicts with Magic: the Gathering, Curlee said.
Magic: the Gathering is a collectible card game that endured for over a decade. It is the only one to do so. The store holds tournaments several times a week and the noise level of 16 players could overwhelm the old location, he said.
Extra space allows different groups to meet at the same time, which favors more gamers who need a communal place to play tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons and World of Darkness. Many gamers prefer a more convenient central space rather than a private residence and Castle House Games accommodates that.
They even sell soda and snacks.
The owner gave many reasons for the move: one of which is the distance to the university. For him, new customers still come in saying that they have lived in the area for a number of years and never realized that the store existed.
“Being closer to the university will make it more accessible for more mature gamers to find us,” he said.
The hope is that the move will bring in more 20-25 year olds. That would change the dynamic away from the idea that gaming stores are only for teenagers, he said.
The old location was right next to the movie theater in Fiesta Square and Curlee said the “movie foot traffic was more often negative” than positive. Gawkers xame in to look at the gamer geeks and they would be “rude and disrespectful.” The move to the new location might decrease foot traffic or at least the unwanted type of foot traffic.
The owner said that he hopes to expand all aspects of the store, but he is not making any serious changes to his business model. The majority of his business comes from three things: Magic, board games, and role-playing books. He intends to promote and increase all three. One area he plans to focus on publicizing and building from nearly scratch is Warhammer 40K.
Warhammer 40K is a miniatures game built on painting figurines and assembling them into an army. There is a full rule set for balancing competitions involving two large armies. There are also tournaments and prizes.
Although, there are Warhammer 40k players in the area, there has not been a tournament center where they could gather and compete. To Curlee, getting the local exclusivity license was very important and having the extra space allows him to set up permanent battlefield structures for competition.
We also spoke at length about more casual activities like board games. Castle House is the one of the few places that sell niche board games like Settlers of Catan, Twilight Imperium, Carcassonne, and Arkham Horror.
Curlee mentioned these games are sometimes a hit with a completely different crowd than the normal gamer. There is a group of doctors and lawyers that come in to buy Settlers of Catan and its associated expansions. Settlers is an economy game that is easy learn yet it retains complex multi-faceted elements. It can played in one short sitting, making it perfect for casual players enjoying it after a dinner party.
One of the other things we speculated about was the concept that fathers and sons used to have hobbies together, whether it was building model train sets or radio-controlled airplanes. I mentioned that many fathers and grand-fathers had an interest in historical battles associated with World War II or the Civil War. There are games that allow someone to paint and assemble an army and replay the Battle of Gettysburg to see if Lee had any chance of winning.
I felt that historical miniatures and games like that would have great appeal with families, because fathers always like to teach their children.
Luckily, the first night that I visited the new store, there was a demonstration by local resident, Scott Christian. Scott demonstrated a game set in an Old West town on the United States frontier. Scott Christian constructed an elaborate and function model of a town and it was beautiful. The buildings and train cars all had detachable roofs so the game action could take place anywhere.
Curlee and I agreed that getting the word out about all the possibilities of strategic, tactical, and role-playing games is important. There are many misconceptions about gaming, but building awareness about things like historical re-enactment erases many of the old prejudicial associations like Satan worshiping and teen suicide.
I also asked him about a few things in the business aspect, especially the popularity of Internet sellers like Amazon.
Curlee understands that there is no way he can compete with all of the Internet sites, but he can offer many things that a website cannot. He can give them a free place to compete, a free place to meet friends, and a free place to find other gamers. He already gives them the best discounts that he can give and he hopes to have programs in place to reward frequent customers.
Ultimately, Curlee said he hopes that gamers realize that their loyalty to the store will benefit themselves.
Through talking with Curlee, I realized what a passion he had for what can be a thankless job. Although he supplies goods that bring smiles to his customers faces and enjoyment to their weekends, he also gets his fair share of bad attitudes and grief. The younger crowds tend to produce more shoplifting, Curlee said. Elitist gamers might disrespect new customers. Sales can be fickle when a store relies on selling non-essential goods.
Although the economy has affected sales, the effect has balanced itself. Hardcore gamers buy less, and casual customers buy a little more.
In conclusion, Chris offers parting words of encouragement for any new visitors.
“Don’t be afraid. Come check us out.”
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