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Earlier today, [livejournal.com profile] major_clanger brought the sad news that the excellent Playin' Games opposite the British Museum has closed down. I was passing that way a few weeks ago, and had planned to drop in, but I was too early for them (they opened at 1100). This got me to thinking about the number of games shops that I've known (and loved) that have closed. Off the top of my head:

  • Barad-Dur, Coptfold Road, Brentwood
  • Virgin Games Centre, Oxford Street
  • Gamers in Exile, Pentonville Road
  • Gaggle of Games, Basildon
  • Alternate Earths, Eastgate Centre, Basildon
  • Phoenix Games, Eastgate Centre, Basildon
  • Games and Puzzles, Green Street, Cambridge
  • Games World, King Street, Hammersmith
  • Warlord Games, Leigh-on-Sea
  • Beatties! (everywhere)

Several of these were doomed from the outset; while it helps to know something about games if you want to run a good games shop, it also helps to know something about running a shop (Barad-Dur, Alternate Earths and Phoenix were the most obvious examples of this). The games shops that have survived (Orc's Nest, Leisure Games, and the like) have done so because they're run by people who know how to run a business.

On the subject of Orc's Nest, Dr [livejournal.com profile] gnommi mentioned that she felt uncomfortable going in there as a single female. Well, *I* felt uncomfortable (as a post-pubescent male) in Orc's Nest the last time I was there (about two years ago). Far too GW for me, but then it was that way when I first went there in the mid 80s. However, it isn't the most uncomfortable games shop experience I've had - that honour belongs to Caliver Books in Leigh-on-Sea.

Way back in the 80s, when I first started gaming, there were two choices for gamers in South Essex: travel into London (Virgin Games Centre, Leisure Games, Orcs Nest, etc) or travel out towards Southend to Leigh-on-Sea and go to Warlord Games. They were old-school board- and wargamers who had got into RPGs, and had a pretty comprehensive selection.

Move forward to the summer of 2006, and [livejournal.com profile] ias and I were doing our tour of Essex before the [livejournal.com profile] garklet arrived. We were driving out towards Southend (I think that we'd already been to Hadleigh Castle) and as we passed through Leigh, I told her about Warlord. "Is that it there?", she said. Well, Caliver was in the right place (816-818, as ane White Dwarf-reading fule kno), but it didn't look quite right.

Went inside for a closer look, and realised that Caliver *was* Warlord, just with an extra twenty years of kipple - random crap piled hip-deep throughout. At this point, my gamer-nerd instincts kicked in, and I started burrowing while [livejournal.com profile] ias browsed through the history books.

There's this recurring dream that I had as a teenager (when I was in the most serious throes of my Traveller completist fetish), where I'd happen upon a games shop that I'd never seen before, and they'd have a Traveller book that I'd never heard of before (I could never remember the titles when I woke, alas), but the shop was so disorganised that I couldn't be sure that I hadn't missed any other books. Caliver was that shop.

Tried asking one of the *three* (long-haired, metal-tshirt-wearing) assistants in the otherwise deserted shop for help, and got a bit of a brush-off (I was trying to see what they had in new-ish wargames rules, and they just suggested with a sneer that I look at WH40k). I only got somewhere when I started to (metaphorically) wave my willy about, and demonstrate that I knew something about gaming by listing my precise requirements (micro-scale or 15mm at a pinch, SF, combined arms, not insane like Command Decision, published since 1990). Compared to this, the chap that runs Orc's Nest is a paragon of helpfulness.

To cut a long story short, I ended up with a few odds and ends. [livejournal.com profile] ias was quite chuffed too - she'd found an interesting book on costume history, and had noticed that the shop's inventory management was so bad that they had three copies of the book in three different places at three different prices. We contemplated pointing this out to them, but felt that they'd probably take such a suggestion poorly.

There's probably an important lesson in here somewhere, but I'm not sure if the lesson is "you can't cross the same river twice" or "the one who dies with the most books, wins".

Date: 2010-06-05 01:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lionsphil.livejournal.com
There's something about Warhammer 40K that brings out the worst kind of socially defective geeks, sadly. It is the Linux® of the tabletop gaming world.

Perhaps the fact the fluff runs on thirteen-year-old-boy--designed GRIMDARK AWESOME. Which is kind of entertaining as a self-parody, but is occasionally taken far too seriously (i.e. at all).

Date: 2010-06-05 07:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] makyo.livejournal.com
In the grim future of Hello Kitty, there is only war.

Date: 2010-06-05 07:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] clarehooper.livejournal.com
Hah! Awesome.

Date: 2010-06-05 06:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] makyo.livejournal.com
Also, the excellent Bishop Games, in Coventry, closed last year. Business-wise, they were coping with the recession, but the two other businesses to whom they were subletting the upper floor of the shop folded and they couldn't afford the rent on their own, so had to close. I believe they have plans to reopen in some form when the galaxy is rich enough economic situation recovers.

Oh, and there's Games Workshop, who used to be brilliant, but went downhill sometime in the late 1980s.

Date: 2010-06-05 07:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] major-clanger.livejournal.com
Yes - when they realised that they had come up with a product that (as [livejournal.com profile] lionsphil notes) was basically catnip/crack for pimple-faced teenage boys, and that they could turn this into their cash cow and dump all their other product lines.

Date: 2010-06-05 07:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] makyo.livejournal.com
I remember one particular issue of White Dwarf sometime in 1987 or 1988 where the editorial explained that from henceforth they would only be printing articles about Games Workshop games, and not covering anything published by anyone else.

The editorial explained that when you go to see a band perform, it's ok if (especially early on in their career) they play a few covers of other people's songs, but ultimately you want to hear them play their own stuff.

Which is all very well, but I felt they singularly missed the point that (despite a god-awful thrash-metal single they gave away free with one issue) White Dwarf wasn't a band, but a games magazine.

Date: 2010-06-05 08:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nmg.livejournal.com
a god-awful thrash-metal single

That would be Blood for the Blood God, by Sabbat. Somewhere I have a scratchy mp3 of it. It's quite as bad as you remember.

Date: 2010-06-06 07:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jorune.livejournal.com
A sad day.

Date: 2010-06-05 08:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nmg.livejournal.com
Late 1980s? When I started gaming in around 1985, GW was just starting to sell off all of its non-GW stock. If you went to some of the older shops (the Hammersmith branch, for example), you could snap up some great bargains.

By the late 1980s, they'd *gone* downhill.

Somewhere, I have a copy of the last issue of White Dwarf to feature an article about a game published by someone other than GW.

Date: 2010-06-05 09:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] makyo.livejournal.com
Yes, I've just checked and the last issue I actually bought (which was certainly one of, if not the, last one which acknowledged the existence of non-GW products) is number 94, from October 1987. In retrospect, things had passed the point of no return sometime during the previous couple of years.

That would be Blood for the Blood God, by Sabbat. Somewhere I have a scratchy mp3 of it. It's quite as bad as you remember.

Good lord, yes - that was the one. I think it actually came out shortly after I stopped buying WD, and didn't induce me to restart.

Date: 2010-06-06 07:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jorune.livejournal.com
WD had been improving in production quality and articles through issues 80 to 90 and it seemed to have a bright future until, as you say, it went in a different direction.

Date: 2010-06-05 07:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] major-clanger.livejournal.com
It was sad to behold the decline of Games and Puzzles; sitting in Cambridge, it ought to have had a nice captive market, but the succession of shop staff never quite seemed to be able to work out what they were trying to do or who they were meant to be aiming their products at, and the stock got progressively thinner. Even when their staff were keen they were inept; a friend who tried to order stuff through them was earnestly told "that's not available" until he gave up trying to support his local games store and just bought it online from the manufacturer.

Date: 2010-06-05 09:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] valkyriekaren.livejournal.com
I can tell you the real story of what happened to G&P if you like, but it's probably best not done in a public forum, as it includes potentially libellous statements.

Date: 2010-06-05 07:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] demoneyes.livejournal.com
Games and Puzzles, Virgin Games, Warlord, Eastgate centre ... I'm not sure if you've been stalking me or vice versa but it feels like it! Warlord was very much my local wargame/RPG shop in my younger years!

There was a board games shop in Brewer Street near Picadilly too - I think it may have been the one that became Playin' Games.

Shame about PG but the sad dilemma for the games buyer is that real shops - especially those with central London rents - simply can't get near the online shops (Gameslore, Shire, IGUK etc) on price.

Date: 2010-06-05 07:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nmg.livejournal.com
My nan lived in Basildon, and we visited every week. We'd go shopping most weeks, which was why I'd got to know Gaggle and its successors.

I've been trying to remember the name of the guy who ran AE and Phoenix (and who worked in Gaggle) - young, sandy hair and beard, Jim something. I often wonder whether he managed to make a successful go of a games shop, because he should by all rights hav had enough experience of running one

Date: 2010-06-05 08:07 am (UTC)
ext_44: (games)
From: [identity profile] jiggery-pokery.livejournal.com

I add Games Store, Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough to your list.

Date: 2010-06-05 09:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaveypie.livejournal.com
Is that place in North Finchley (near where I am) still open?

Date: 2010-06-05 05:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nmg.livejournal.com
Leisure Games? Yes, as far as I know. Bloody good shop - for a long time, it was one of the few places you get a carom board (they even had a Saturday carom league).

Date: 2010-06-06 07:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jorune.livejournal.com
Yes and they had a large and bustling presence at UK Games Expo.

Date: 2010-06-05 09:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kludge.livejournal.com
We lost a games shop in Kingston, then one in Reading.

...on the other hand, Eclectic Games opened up to replace the previous shop in Reading, and is still going (through a bit of canny dealing in choice of premise). It's not quite the disorganised-library-style shop of old (a style I quite liked), but on the other hand it's still there and is less daunting for women (indeed, female proprietor - an old schoolfriend of [livejournal.com profile] fides).

Eclectic Games

Date: 2010-06-05 10:14 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Eclectic also has a substantial back room, and a large library of opened boxes (on the left behind the counter), and opens until late in the evening on most nights of the week. They have specific nights for board games (Monday), RPGs and CCGs.

Definitely worth a visit, but they will probably have to move when the area gets redeveloped in a couple of years' time: http://stationhillreading.co.uk. The building they're in isn't part of the plan, but I suspect the rent will go up.


Re: Eclectic Games

Date: 2010-06-05 05:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nmg.livejournal.com
Dammit, Hugo. Are you going to do the OpenID thing so that I can stop having to hand-screen your comments? ;)

Re: OpenID

Date: 2010-06-05 07:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nmg.livejournal.com
Looks good to me. I think that Dr Nick has set up his own OpenID authority for that extra cachet.

Date: 2010-06-05 09:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pinguthegreek.livejournal.com
Do you mean Coptfold Road behind the precinct ? If you do, it's the kind of place you'd have to search out because it's not the kind of place you pass by, is it ?

Date: 2010-06-05 05:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nmg.livejournal.com
Sort of - just parallel to Queens Road, downhill from the school. Barad-Dur was in an upstairs room at the end of the row of shops. Not a brilliant location.

Date: 2010-06-05 12:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mister-jack.livejournal.com
I can't say I see much point in Bricks and Mortar roleplaying games stores anymore. The internet will deliver a greater spread of content and better advice, at a lower cost with higher convenience.

Date: 2010-06-05 02:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] professoryaffle.livejournal.com
But its so much more difficult to browse and randomly find things which are unconnected to your existing interests but are actually quite cool online. We were in Playing Games earlier in the year as my husband wanted to pick something up and I saw Gloom which I had never heard of before but have every intention of buying for some friends for christmas christmas. It would be highly unlikely for me to randomly stumble upon this online but in a shop it might be right there.

Amazon recommends and similar functionality on book websites means it is possible to randomly find books but for many other things its next to impossible unless you have preknowledge at least of the genre of thing if not the actual instance

Date: 2010-06-05 02:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mister-jack.livejournal.com
I quite often pick up on interesting things by participating in forums, and I'm much more likely to buy on the recommendation of people than impulse in a shop.

Date: 2010-06-05 04:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] professoryaffle.livejournal.com
I guess if you browse forums about board/card games that works

Date: 2010-06-05 05:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nmg.livejournal.com

Also, I normally don't buy unless a) I have a very good idea what I'm buying (own/played stuff by the same designer before) or b) I can open the box/book and have a skim.

Date: 2010-06-06 07:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jorune.livejournal.com
I prefer a bricks and mortar store as the community aspect of it is more valuable to me than an internet forum.


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