STORY WRITTEN BY ERIC FITZSIMMONS
@efitzsimmons08 on Twitter
Comic book shops in Montgomery County are shedding the standoffish image seen in shows like “The Simpsons” and embracing a new role as social centers through gaming and events.
Gaming can refer to anything played on a table from checkers to “Scrabble” but it commonly refers to competitive trading-card games such as “My Little Pony” and “Magic: the Gathering” and role-playing games like “Dungeons & Dragons.” At Uncanny! stores in King of Prussia and Montgomery Township — plus its Plymouth Meeting location, Comics & More — most of the event calendar is dedicated to games, according to gaming and events coordinator Mike Early, and the nights are usually started by a customer request.
“We do events in the store almost every night out of the week, just because there’s that many games out there,” Early said.
Uncanny’s September schedule, for example, listed “Pokemon,” “Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG,” two nights of “Dungeons & Dragons,” “Force of Will” and two “Magic the Gathering” nights, each dedicated to a different play format, played every week during that month.
Dozens of different games with unique rules and evolving formats make gaming an intimidating scene in which to break, which is why stores such as Uncanny and New Wave Comics in Skippack are providing a space both for advanced players and for novices interested in learning how to play.
John Trainor, a player during a Thursday night Dungeon’s & Dragons in Uncanny’s new Montgomery Mall location, said he had played only at friend’s homes before the store opened. Though he had long been interested in computer RPGs he might never have found his way to tabletop games if his wife had not introduced him to “Dungeon’s & Dragons.”
“The only other way to get in is to have a previously established group and then you walk in as an outsider, and first you have to know somebody,” Trainor said. “This way, everybody is in together, it’s a public, open space, I felt welcome from the get-go.”
More and more people have come to gaming in recent years, according to Early, partly due to figures such as Will Wheaton, an actor known for roles in “Star Trek: the Next Generation” and “The Big Bang Theory,” whose web series “TableTop” has helped dissolve some of the mystique around table games.
“He and a couple friends of his get together and they play a board game. They do it in a very fun way and it gets people who normally wouldn’t be into board games, they see this game that was intimidating and say, ‘that’s not so bad,’” Early said.
The other part comes after someone discovers a gaming, through “TableTop” or friends, and is trying to learn the game. Early said these days they will find companies such as Wizards of the Coast, the makers of “Magic” and “Dungeons & Dragons” have been also working to make games more accessible for newcomers.
Jason Radosky owns New Wave Comics with his wife Mikaela. He said computer games from Wizards of the Coast have become an important primer for new players.
“I know a lot of people play online and play on X-Box so the natural progression is for them to come to a store to play against a live opponent,” Radosky said. “They can get the mechanics of the game down and they can come in to try it out here.”
While customers can jump into Dungeons & Dragons game with only a set of dice and a pencil, “Magic” requires putting together a deck, but Early said Wizards of the Coast has helped here as well providing starter decks which contain a rules insert and the essential cards to learn to introduce them to the rules and game play.
Radosky said he has found parents to be especially supportive of comics and gaming since he has opened the shop as they have been looking for ways to get children to spend time away from the television and computer screens and the shop caters to two positive alternatives, reading and socializing.
“Gaming is helpful for those who are socially awkward, those who have been home schooled and need to get outside, need to meet new people,” Early said. “It helps people with math and numbers and reading, the benefits to tabletop gaming are huge.”
Making new players and people of all ages and identities feel welcome has been important, Radosky said. Gaming events at New Wave tend to be laid back, players who make a mistake are usually corrected rather than penalized. He wants the store to be comfortable place for people to enjoy the games and have fun.
For Chris and Amy Dzura, a married couple who recently moved to the area, gaming is a night out, it brings family together and it is a way to meet new people. Chris is the dungeonmaster at Uncanny on Thursday night “Dungeons & Dragons” and Amy a player.
“I said to (Chris), ‘How do we meet the kind of people who we want to hang out with?’” Amy said, “We’re generally nerdy, video-game types so this is how we started.”
Here’s a sampling of venues in the region.
Montgomery Mall, Lower Level near Dick’s Sporting Goods
(Locations also at King of Prussia Mall and Plymouth Meeting Mall)
• New Wave Comics and Collectables
4020 Skippack Pike, Skippack
• Deal Me In Games
127 E. Philadelphia Ave., Boyertown
• Cyborg One
44 E. State St., (rear) Doylestown