The Game Store in Warrenton; the newest hub for local gamers
By Gary Carroll, Photos by Kara Thorpe
Visitors to Warrenton’s new Game Store will find a large but comfortable room with long wooden tables packed with excited game players of all ages. Experience levels of the players vary wildly, and while some are casual players, many are very dedicated and practiced in the games. Some will be playing one of the numerous available board games already set up and ready to go, and others will be enjoying the snacks and drinks available for purchase or just laughing and chatting with new friends. Owner Cameron Rivenbark opened the store just over a year ago because his entire family—he, his wife, and three small children—are gamers. After learning there were no game stores in the Warrenton area, he started his own to provide an alternative to electronic games.
The atmosphere feels a little bit mysterious, appropriate for the other-worldly imaginary “realities” that most of the games are played in, as if you’re entering an environment where a fantastical world is not only possible, but available to enter. Local artist Sarah Miller’s fine art prints, hung on the walls, make the various games come alive with their many fantastic characters and scenes.
For Brandon Owens, partner and manager of The Game Store, this is a dream job, since he’s an avid gamer himself. His previous job, selling insurance, just wasn’t his thing. Here, he is able to build a gaming community, connect with fellow gamers, both experienced and new, and introduce new people to gaming. “People don’t realize how many people play these games,” he said.
Brandon welcomes all visitors to The Game Store, regardless of experience level. So, you don’t know how to play one of the most popular games like the card games Magic and Pokemon, the tabletop war game Warhammer, or the highest rated board game ever made, Gloomhaven? No problem, it is easy to find a regular gamer or store employee willing to help you to get started on these games. Brandon teaches some card game classes once a month, mostly Magic and Keyforge, and other volunteers teach the war games such as the extremely popular Warhammer. Michael Miller, Ryan Kaffa, and Rachel and L.J. Blakey are some of these community leaders, as they are called, who volunteer their time for love of the game and the gaming community.
Many of the games are strategic challenges. In Magic, for example, your goal is to use strategic thinking and your cards — representing different characters and strengths — to reduce your opponent’s “life total” until they have none remaining. One uses cards representing various strengths to win incremental engagements as the contest progresses. The different settings and eras that are played in can best be described as “realities,” according to Brendan, and they can differ widely. There are thousands of cards available for purchase to use in the contests, from individual cards to packs of random cards to specialty cards, kept in a glass case.
Not into fantasy games played in different “realities”? If you are more of a traditionalist, you may choose to play one of the old favorites — Clue, Life, or Chess, for example. Whatever your preference, the lively atmosphere and friendly patrons are likely to entice you to stay and join the fun. During my visit, a young woman player volunteered that she always feels welcome, especially on Saturday evenings, when she and other Dungeons and Dragons fans gather to play.
The Game Store also maintains tabletop sets for war games such as Warhammer, a high strategy game that rivals chess in its complexity. The tables are set up with laser-cut models of a game setting, either futuristic or fantasy themed, such as abandoned buildings, hills, trees, and more. Gamers bring their own “armies”: models of people, tanks, airplanes, etc. to compete against other players on the sets. “People will come in to play rolling a big crate with all their models in it,” said Brandon. “It’s a big deal.” These models are handmade by the gamer from a kit, and hand painted to their imagination. Kits and the necessary paints are sold at The Game Store. Brandon said, it takes a lot of commitment to build your models and play this game.”
What ages are welcome at The Game Stop? It’s really for all ages, said Brendan, but there are some recommendations for game selection. Most of the card games are appropriate for younger players as young as six or eight, who sometimes beat seasoned adults at Pokemon or Magic. But the tabletop war games are recommended for older players, starting at about age 15 or 16. The games are realistic enough to be violent, and frankly, some of the models are scary-looking. Also, the sets are quite fragile and delicate, and are therefore not suitable for younger players.
You’re likely to meet both casual and very serious players. Some work very hard to improve their skills so that they can compete in local and even national tournaments. For instance, The Game Store holds Invitational Qualifier tournaments for Warhammer, which are open to those invited to play. These tournaments will result in winners who would be qualified to play in even bigger venues nationally. For an Invitational Qualifier, Brandon would expect about 130 people — the building’s capacity — and for it to last up to 12 hours. Those going forward to play in national tournaments have the opportunity to win up to $35,000, and some tournaments award much more. The tournaments welcome all ages; a recent qualifier was an eight-year-old girl.
Sometimes, between tournaments and games, The Game Store can have up to five events in a weekend, meaning they are almost open round the clock. Tournaments in the past have stretched up to two days, with players leaving briefly to go get some sleep, and coming back early the next morning. Less formal Magic Tournaments are held on Fridays beginning at 7 p.m., where players will include entire families, children, and both young and older adults.
The Game Stop is also available for special occasion celebrations. If you’re into gaming, this is the place to go. Bring a pizza, and take advantage of The Game Stop’s relationship with Coldstone, which makes arranging a cake easy. Patrons are welcome to bring outside food and drinks, only alcohol is not permitted. Are the parties just for kids? No, said Brandon, most of the parties are actually adults. Gaming is for fun, but it’s also some serious stuff to some grown-ups.
The Game Store also sells a wide variety of the games, and the equipment necessary to play them, and also has an online store. But it’s the close-knit community that is being built in the brick-and-mortar store that is most fulfilling. Brandon explained, “The store sells hobbies for lifelong enjoyment and an opportunity to build friendships. It’s become a real community. [Folks] come for the experience of learning and competing with like-minded gamers.” They stay because it’s fun!
The Game Store
251 West Lee Highway, Suite 655, Warrenton
Weekdays 3-9 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m.-11 p.m., and Sundays 11 a.m.-7 p.m.