By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
In the garden city of Victoria, British Columbia, Gauntlet Games is making an impact upon the gaming community living in the municipality of Saanich. Not only is the University of Victoria nearby for this operation to cater to students but also, lots of nearby residents find this place convenient to get to. When some folks do not want to travel into town or elsewhere to get their fix in Magic the Gathering (MtG) or Warhammer, this place is happening. It has been in operation for more than a month now.
In what I witnessed after successive visits is a very open and bright place to visit. In what I see during the evening hours are a dozen people, if not more, playing one type of game or another. Myself, I was here to try out a few role playing game systems I have not played before and tried my hand at playing MtG again. There’s only so much I can enjoy out of the electronic version (side note: the company is making a huge mistake by not completing the Amonkhet story in Magic Duels).
Brodie Cawdell is the manager of this operation. When he immediately saw that the area of Gordon Head did not have easy access to a game store, setting up shop was fortuitous. He got the best spot at University Heights Mall. People passing by can gaze through the large windows and see the fun going on inside. Some folks do not understand the gaming culture, and most of the staff and customers here can explain. They love to talk about the hobby and give tips when they realize that the visitor is new to the game (or rusty like me).
Unlike other operations which feel intimidating because that’s where the best players go or just looks dingy, Cawdell wants to change public perception. He wants people to discover what this hobby offers in establishing camaraderie. More importantly, he wants to see folks have fun. This venue has plenty of space so any type of game can be played. If needed, tables can be rearranged. In the past, I found a few businesses lacking the appropriate amount of space to host a lot of people. “There’s also a problem where previous stores (in any mall) were tucked away in the back or located downstairs. They did not get the same foot traffic as we do,” he observed.
I can relate; one store I frequented from decades ago was in a corner of an alcove area of a T-shaped shopping center. Gauntlet Games is located right at the entrance. It’s hard not to miss because it is there for everyone to notice when they enter the mall. Also, he believes operations like board game cafes and comic-book based movies have allowed this culture to grow. He said, “I don’t remember it (D&D, Fantasy or Sci-Fi) being as socially acceptable to talk about 15 years ago. These things are now in the open and it allows more people to try [whether to play games or to watch a superhero movie] without the fear of how it may look or sound to their peers.”
This businessman is still an avid gamer. He started in elementary school and played all the popular products which include Decipher’s Star Wars CCG, Privateer Press’ Warmachine/Hordes and Fantasy Flight Games Legend of the Five Rings. Before opening this store, he was in restaurant management. At some point, he decided that he needed to do something new and be in a career where he can challenge himself in new ways. Running a retail operation comes with its own set of rewards and challenges. He wanted a place where he can interact with the public and see players contest each other in fun ways.
“‘Throwing down the gauntlet seemed appropriate,” said Cawdell, and the name of the store was born.
This operator also has the guidance from friends in a variety of different game groups to help with event planning and in knowing what to sell. The emphasis in what this store carries is in what games are currently popular. His short-term goal is to wow the local community with its event offerings. His long-term goal is to be the store players outside of Victoria or even the province will want to visit for large regional events.
He also has thoughts on the electronic versions of these games. “Online versions of games like MtG and Pokémon allow players to play the game they enjoy when they aren’t able to meet with other players on a regular basis (remote town, shift work). While online sales may help players find those cards and have a price advantage, but it doesn’t provide the space for players to meet and hold events. I’ve noticed in the last couple of years that players are more willing to purchase at a local game store to support and fund that play area.”
Open play is just as fun. At this store, they have an event nearly every evening and some of them do not require registration. It helps folks like me to drop in to discover something new. Free to play (or bring your own) board games take place on Tuesday. The D&D Adventurers League started and this Wizards of the Coast organized club keeps tab of plays instead of points. To see their event schedule, please visit their Facebook page.
Who knows, maybe for the future, store wars may take place again. Here, each business would have a team of their best players competitively play against another’s. Cawdell is not against the idea but to see this challenge happen will take time.
Another thought includes how this business’s logo evokes a faint recollection of the arcade game of the same name. For nostalgia’s sake, to see this game make an appearance at the store might draw people in. I remember this mall once had an arcade and video game rental outlet. When they closed, I hardly stick around when grocery shopping. If the coin-op was brought in, I would have a reason to hang out here more often. “A Gauntlet arcade machine may appear in the future but for now I’ll stick with the NES version at home,” laughed Cawdell.