I went to my Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS) at the weekend. 

Now, if I had written that 18 months ago, you would have thought “so…..?”. 

You would have been waiting with bated breath (or perhaps not – I am probably way overselling my storytelling skills!) for the great reveal. The unbelievable occurrence or event which took place whilst I was there. You would have been disappointed when you learnt that was it. 

But the world is a very different place today than it was in 2019. 

Simply going to my FLGS, or should I say, going inside my FLGS, has become an unequivocal cause for celebration. And that single action of walking through the door on Sunday made me giddy. It was the day the cork popped on a year’s worth of bottled anticipation, and, like a frat-boy at a hazing, I drunk it down with wild abandon. 

Hard knocks 

The fact there was even a door to go through is a testament to the grit and determination of the brave owners. 

They were faced with the unbelievable challenge of keeping a retail business going which, as a direct result of the nature of our hobby, centres on tactile experiences, social interactions, and fun. But they balled their fists and set to work. They closed the café, packed away the game library, pulled down the shutters, and walked away. 

Away from the premises, but not their commitment to their customers or our community. 

Many in their shoes didn’t, or couldn’t continue. But my FLGS owners dug in. They adapted. Online suddenly became critical rather than complimentary. A website acting as a window to the past (as well as a hopeful nod to the future), and a Facebook page to keep connected, keep selling, keep surviving. 

And, against the odds, they did. Their shop is still there. Their shop is open once again. Their story brings hope. 

I have no doubt that it has been one of their hardest times as retailers, but loyalty and community counts for a lot in our hobby. 

Customers aren’t just statistics or walking cash machines. They become friends, allies. There to celebrate together in successes and offer support when times get tough. And boy, did they get tough. 

Size Matters, Doesn’t It?

Without a doubt, almost all high street FLGS will struggle to compete with large, virtual retailers who double down on the advantages of having zero need for rates-crippling physical stores, and considerable economies of scale in purchasing power. 

Paying a little extra for the same game which could  be delivered to your home for less is therefore worth far more to our FLGS than the limited additional pressure on our pockets.

Putting this into perspective, I bought a new game when I was there (obviously – you don’t put a kid in a sweet shop unsupervised and not expect them to gorge themselves into a sugar coma) which was £3 more expensive than the online, delivered price. 10% more in fact. 

Now, if that had been a car, a holiday, hell, even a sandwich, I would have walked away, safe in the knowledge that I would acquire it cheaper, and just as easily with some basic price comparison detective work. 

But I didn’t pause for thought. I didn’t deliberate or cogitate. In fact, I was happy to pay more. Being able to stand at the counter and hand over my bank card was a privilege that, a year ago, I honestly wasn’t sure I would be able to do ever again.

And for somebody like me, who not only turns the simplest purchasing decision into an anxiety fuelled, buyer’s-remorse-before-it-has-even-been-bought mental minefield, but has also adapted to additional financial burdens recently, that shift towards spendthrift is no common occurrence. 

In my head, things usually taste better with a coupon, feel nicer with a sales tag, and are more deserving with a discount. But, then, I guess buying board games is my now budget busting kryptonite. Compared to the credit card shredding alternatives, however, I’ll pick cardboard every time. 

Second-Hand Souls 

Having checked out my latest shrink-wrapped acquisition at the counter, I wasn’t done. I spied something else. 

Weaving around the narrow footprint of the shop, I came across several trestle tables filled with more “loved” looking specimens. Yes, amidst the cellophane, masks, alcohol gel, and Coronavirus check-in QR codes, was my FLGS’ first board game bring and buy sale since Lockdown 1.0. 

Ignoring, just for a moment, the fact that spending more money is not the way to assuage internal guilt arising from spending any money at all. And disregarding the ongoing (although reduced) risk to health that non-bubbled cardboard second-hand kit can present, this was bordering-on-knicker-twisting-exciting! 

Don’t get me wrong, there were no rare gems (Carcassonne the City, you will be mine one day!), and the games I scooped up were more gamble than guaranteed success. In fact, haing opened it up at home, Mexican Train had no actual trains! 

But more than being a bargain hunter’s dream, and even more than a feeling of a return to “normal” (whatever that now means), this was a generous act by the FLGS owners. And I am a little ashamed to say that the thought didn’t strike me until I returned home with my spoils. 

Because, for a business now seeking to make up serious ground for lost retail sales, from the get-go, my FLGS has been happy to sell other people’s cardboard cast-offs for a next-to-nothing fee. Minimal compared to the marginally bigger profit that they earn on a new title, at any rate. And nobody could really deny the attraction of a slightly bumped, cheaper alternative sitting right there on a neighbouring shelf. 

So, with financial fortitude running close to if not already on empty, why would they do it? Eco-consciousness? 

Possibly. Giving games a second chance rather than consigning them to the recycling bin (or worse still, landfill) sits comfortably up on the list of should-dos for most consumers nowadays. 

But how about good old community mindedness? 

Definitely. With everyone’s pockets squeezed, their own customers no doubt value the opportunity to turn their no-longer-playeds into pocket money, and the chance to come together and get involved again. 

Now I appreciate that naivety and sentimentality is probably clouding my usually more cynical judgment. After all, every foot in the door presents a chance to bolt on another sale. And with gamers, if I am anything to go by, it doesn’t take much to covert a potential into a purchase. Plus, what better way to spend any money made than by ordering something in the very store that enabled your transaction to take place? 

But it honestly didn’t feel calculating or economically driven. Just a gesture to remind people of the way things were, and reassurance about they way they will (hopefully) be once again. 

I do realise that I haven’t divulged who my FLGS is or even where it is. But that is in part because it doesn’t matter. It is where your  FLGS is located and what you can do to support it that counts. 

If you would like to learn more about the inspiration behind this piece, however, you can of course. Indeed, the lovely Beth and John Crozier of Counter Culture Games can be contacted through their websiteFacebook page, and of course by visiting their wonderful shop! Which, if all goes to plan, will be open for not only sales, but also gaming and refreshments soon (subject to the usual social distancing limitations). I myself am counting down the days until I can make my own reservation and dive into their gaming library once again! 

[please note that we are not affiliated to or sponsored by Counter Culture Games, and have not been paid for this feature]