Features

Sooo Rusty (mini opening this weekend! Yay!?!)

Oh my god are we rusty at this!

So we are trying to do a dress rehearsal reopening for a prerelase of the new Magic set (the first blend of Magic and D&D).  Not only will this be the first time we are open beyond the length of a phone booth on end,  (Ha, figure that one out, ya rascally youngsters.) but it will be the first live/face to face events we’ve done since the shut down, sometime in the early ’50s.  Turns out that we have a new system that doesn’t work as well at the events as we thought, and the guys from Wizards had that new tournament system that came out after we closed that we have NEVER had a chance/need to use before.  We are working on getting the events for the weekend up and ready to go, but the first attempt did not work so well.

Opening Slooooowly (Practice open on the 16th…real open later in the month) :

We’ve been extremely slow to open, because what we do is perfectly designed to be bad for a pandemic. The soul of the store is getting people to play face to face, not face to screen.  But sitting down across from someone else 2-3 feet away, is kind of the very last thing that should reopen.  We closed early and never tried to push the limits because I knew that if someone came and said “you could keep your mom alive if you close your store for a couple of months” that I’d do that in a heartbeat. And if that was true, how could we not do the same for others.  I was very zen about it in the beginning, but became decently cranky when the time got extended because people where being willfully stupid. (I stay fairly neutral in my politics, but if anyone has been anti-mask, anti-vax, I’m more than slightly grumpy about that.*)

Yeah..right…I guess we didn’t say which year…

The other thing that slowed down our reopening was ironically the same loan that pretty much saved us.

We survived..(thanks to life rings tossed)

I won’t lie…it was a very close thing.  You guys kept me alive for the first 4 months or so with some awesome support via the loot bags.  Our landlord helped big time by cutting us a big break in the beginning  and then taking a hit by reducing our rent for most of the rest of the year. (Pain spread out between all of us made it possible for us to survive).

Keeping safe with curbside…

Right after Xmas was the closest moment.  I remember thinking that I didn’t know if we had enough money left to declare bankruptcy.  (That is something they never talk about…saving the money you need to declare you are out of money…sheesh.) We got two grants, one from the county that I didn’t even remember applying for, and another from the state, that meant we were probably going to be able to make it to the beginning of summer.  I’ll be honest…my zen started fading big time.  I started feeling depressingly depressed, to the point where I went for help. (Pretty hard to find a therapist.  For some reason they were in high demand at that time. )  I was diagnosed with “Adjustment Disorder, which basically means things are so spectacularly sucky that it finally really gets to you.  It was particularly good to go to the weekly meeting with the other small business owners in Alameda, if nothing else to know that all of us were feeling this way.  We were seeing something that we really loved and spent years building get chopped up like a Lego tower under the crashing butt of a falling baby brother.

Can I pay you Tuesday, for a remodeled store today?  (adventures in loan land.)

At the beginning of the year, the big lifeline came, in the form of a pretty good loan from the SBA.  It is sort of exactly the opposite of a retirement account, but I knew that right before the pandemic hit, we were starting to have our best year ever, and I might actually be able to turn the business into something that didn’t just need love, but something great that might actually be able to give me some of that love back.   We put together some plans to do upgrades for the store.  And then the worst best (best/worst?) thing happened.  In the new relief bill, there was a provision that would let us take 4x the original amount of the loan.  That changed everything, so we threw away the smaller plans and started working on the big upgrade.  I carefully responded within an hour of getting the letter saying I could apply for the added amount.  I found out a few weeks later that the email they sent had a bad mail to link that added a period and keep the response from getting to the right place.  It made me grumpy because it could be almost a month before they got to it instead of a few weeks.

The “nope…keep waiting” sign every day. ;-(

That was April 6th.  (For those counting at home, that is over 3 months ago.)  Turns out that those folks who got their applications in on those first couple of days, got their loans approved within a couple of weeks, but anyone who’s request came later got in line with what turned out to be 35 million plus overdue refunds, and a massively understaffed IRS who couldn’t actually do so much at home as everyone thought.  I call every week and try to be nice to the SBA folks just in case something actually gets sent.  What it has meant was that the big remodel that I was(am) planning to do is on hold, waiting…waiting…waiting…. (sigh…see, zen returned..sort of).

What’s next?

So this weekend we are going to (try and) run the events for the new Magic set.  And we are gonna have a few changes while we wait for the big upgrade to happen.

  • More events with less people in each.  (No more maxing out how many people we can have sit on the shelves with the elves.)
  •  Specific times for us to buy cards so we make sure we have enough people around to do it.
  • More specific events, including regular after school events. (Looking to add chess tournaments etc, more D&D, etc.)
  • We know we need to charge more appropriate prices (combo of costs going up and making sure this place is making enough $$ to survive and thrive.) I’ve been struggling with this, because I know for some people the last year is hard, and I don’t want to make something that gives them joy too expensive. They thing I think I’m going to try out is this.  If, for example, we raise the price of FNM to $20, if someone just can’t afford it, they can just say so and pay the old price.  If you can afford it, we need the the income, particularly since we are going to be making sure the events are smaller/more comfortable. We will try this for the next 3 months and see what happens
  • Keeping the place/world safe.  There may be (probably will be) folks who disagree with this, but I’m using my prerogative as a store owner to say no shoes, no shirt, no vax or mask, no serviceFor events, for the foreseeable future, anyone over 12 will need to bring vax card to participate in any event. (We will have special events for those under 12) Having unvaccinated people interacting in public, creates a lovely little breeding ground for more dangerous variants. Anyone is welcome to disagree, and we will happily bring things to the front door.  But I just almost lost my business, and a whole lot of people died in pretty horrible ways, or are left functionally disabled with long hauler symptoms, because of what I can only account as willful ignorance.  As I said, if you disagree, we can do so respectfully, but not in my premises.
    We agree with this Bar…

More to come…gonna go back and dig into the event listing hell….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diary of a Mad Businessman 9: To be or to Close

 

Diary of a Mad Businessman 9: To be or to Close-eep

By Ben Calica

People thought the big danger point for small shops like mine was that first couple of months closed. But the real cliff is coming now. Many of us have been clawing to keep alive long enough to be able to survive to the other side of this, but after X-mas there will be a lot of signs in windows of beloved favorite shops that none of us wanna see. What we need isn’t the flurry of go fund me kindness or even a burst of business now. What we need is to know that every month for the next year, we will get enough business to make it. So how to do that?

(Note…this was first written over 4 months ago and put into a drawer to hopefully never pull out again. I really hoped I was wrong, that the initial burst of kindness and charity would see us through to the other side. But to many mistakes were made and the other side is probably a year away. So I’m facing a choice in the next month or so to try and keep fighting to get us across the abyss or make the heartbreaking choice to close the shop . )

 

About 3 years ago,my little local game shop, D20 Games, came to big old fork in the road. An painful dispute with a new landlord forced us to scramble for new digs, and for a while, it wasn’t looking too good. I had negotiated a lease buyout to help pay for the increase in rent we were about to take on, and I realized that one option would be to not open and just take that money to help while I went on to do something else. Basically the move would be same as making the decision to start the business again. And that gave me pause. The truth is that a (non-electronic) game store ain’t the way to the big bucks. Its a somewhat insane act of love.

 

In my case, I didn’t end up with the shop because owning a game store was the plan, or even on the list, if I’m honest. I do like games, but the real reason I bought it was to create a safe/supportive place for my own kids. What I didn’t see coming was how much the store became that for a whole community. What I discovered that I truly loved about games was their use as connective tissue to bring people together. It became a safe and welcoming place for people to get face to face, not face to screen. You know that adult you met as a kid who took you seriously, who treated you like a person and not a child. I was able to be that for an entire community of kids. And it turned out that creating a place where the smack talk/shaming wasn’t ok, where the fun came from playing with respect and kindness. And as an added bonus, I discovered that there was an opportunity, among all that trading of Pokemon and Magic cards, to find that moment when kids had to face being taken advantage of and deciding if they wanted to do that to someone else or never make anyone else feel that way. It was this hidden building block of honestly, a moment that most of us as parents missed in the flame of tears and anger. It kept me sane when the political world seemed to fill with bullies, to focus on the kids under my umbrella and do everything I could to make sure that they didn’t end up that way. I started to see the difference it meant in the families that managed to make a game night part of their regular pattern of life, and started doing everything I could to encourage and enable that, in a world where parents felt like they were losing their kids into the screens they carried in their pockets. The shop had transformed into something that became much more important to me then I thought.

 

When I told our community about our crossroads 3 years ago, about making the move or calling it quits, I was completely unprepared for the response. The way I felt about the community turned out to to both ways. I felt how important and valuable the place had become to a big range of people. And it was more then just words. When we did find a place, and had two weeks to do a move and build out that should have taken two months, we were filled with volunteers who hauled boxed, picked up paint brushes and anything else that needed getting done. When I think back on , it brings annoyingly cliche tears to my eyes. I’ve never felt as appreciated as I did in that moment. I understood how much impact we had, and what that meant to the community, and that there were things more important than $$. It took us a couple of years to both pay off the move and get the business back to decent footing. In fact in the beginning of 2020, we started what would become the first truly profitable year we’d had since the move. (I found that out when I applied for grants that made me do the year to year comparisons early. I oscillate between being glad to know we had gotten it dialed in, and not wanting to know just how hard the pandemic whacked us.)

 

When we had to close because of the pandemic, it was a surreal blow, but I was ok with it. I knew that if someone came to me and said “if you close for the next couple of months, it will save your mother or father’s life” that I would have done so in a heartbeat. How could I do any less for someone else, particularly if that someone was the loved one of someone in our community. The day that we heard was a Monday, a day we were usually closed, and I quickly came up with the idea of selling game loot bags, to give people something to do when they were locked down and to try and get some sales before the cash registers stopped ringing. And then something that felt very much like the end scene in It’s a Wonderful Life happened. People showed up and bought those bags in droves, and I figured out pretty quickly that it was their way of trying to keep us alive. It felt wonderful.

 

And I wasn’t the only one. Small business all around me and the country started finding their loyal customers were just that. Willing to do whatever they could to help. There was a huge trend in selling gift certificates to keep them alive, and suddenly, in the midst of all that kindness, a terrible reality came to me. See the gift certificates were a perfect window into what was going to happen. The problem with them is that they gave income now, but meant that later, when they were back and able to function, their most loyal customers would be coming back to do business with slips of paper for money that had been spent in rent to make up for the months without. At the time when the shop would need as much business as they can to just get back to where they were, it would be like they were having to pay back a loan in full. It was like all those rent deferrals, that would come back later to people who might be working again, but sure as hell weren’t earning enough to pay a rent and a half or really any big increase to pay back for time where they didn’t have the income. And this wasn’t gonna be a couple of months we’d have to tread water to make it though, it was going to be at least a year and a half, probably two. Basically, we were one of those business that had been about lots of people close enough to be across the table from each other.

 

The soul of our business is using games as a connector to get people face to face, and to let kids get a chance to learn how to win with grace, lose with style and play for joy (our tagline..it’s on the back of our shirts/sweatshirts). Our way of competing against Amazon was by doing events that got people face to face, and hand picking good stuff and really listening and tuning suggestions of games to each person. And ironically enough, in the three months before the pandemic, we had recovered from the hit that all shops take when they make a move and were on the way to have an actually decently profitable year. But the truth is that it’s gonna be a long time till that is ok. And I’ve been goofy and paid attention to the original reopening guidance that says that you need a drop in cases for two weeks before you can start doing that. (I know that the death rates are dropping, even as more and more folks are being infected, but I’ve gotten to know some “long haulers” and there is whole uncovered set of people, something like 10% of those who get Covid that go through this combo of epstein-barr and migraines that leave them functionally debilitated for months if not permanently in some cases. And I’ll admit directly, that I’m scared. Having over a hundred people a week come into the store kind of paints a pretty big bullseye on my chest.)

 

So now I’m looking down the barrel of a shotgun. The truth is that I’ve been taking half the unemployment and using it as the government support that never really showed up to keep the place open, which I’m probably really regret when if I can’t make it through this and need to pay my own rent. (The landlords for the store have been good at giving us a rent reduction so everyone is suffering but we can all have a chance a making it through this.)

 

I don’t want charity, there are more important things for that then us. And honestly, although I would love as much business as we can get for the holidays, that is just gonna add a few more feet to the plank. What I need now is some way to know that enough business is coming in each month for the next year that we can make it through this. I love my community dearly, but if I have to go through another 12 months of living in anxiety and fear that we are gonna be able to pay rent/bills, I’ll be a torn apart wreck at the end of that time. And I’d like to do it in a way that lets us keep doing what the soul of the store is, having the games be something good in keeping us connected, not only through this, but as a joyful part of our lives.

 

What we are going to do, beyond asking for as much of the holiday business as we can get, is to make a small collection of regular (monthly) D20 Club memberships. These will include regular amounts for monthly purchases for magic/pokemon players that will get extra bonus thrown in when those purchases are made, to D&D memberships that will include Zoom style D&D until it is truly safe to do so in the store again. And my absolute favorite, a monthly family/friends game night kit that consists of carefully curated games that we all get to play together for that month, with nights where we do online sessions to help teach/be there to answer questions, special one page quick reference sheets to make the games easier to get into and other goodies. The most important part would be that in exchange for helping us out, we will help give an excuse to bring forward in to the new shape of live that we create for ourselves, a regular night to connect and have fun with each other, with the phone in the baskets. Maybe we get to create a whole community in Alameda that are all doing something joyful together.

 

I’ve talked a number of times in the past of how this is a time when the very blowing up of our lives has the hidden value. When our assumptions about what can and can’t be done get thrown up in the air, that when it falls, if we are careful, we might get to put it back together in ways we like better. Maybe learning how to work from home gives a chance to pollute less and spend that commute time with our families instead. Maybe we realise that distance isn’t as much of a barrier to staying in real connection to people we love. And maybe the impossible moments when we actually got to sit down with each other and play games instead of everyone surrounded by cones of silence powered by the glowing screens in their hands. Maybe we keep the best of what we had to make of this mess, including all the value of regular family/friend game nights.

 

And I’ve talked both about my deep concern about the hovering shade of digital nicotine (I know other parents nod their head in understanding about looking at the phone’s in our kids hands and seeing the distance and danger that lives in within that ecosystem), and the transformational value of setting up regular game nights at home, where the phones go in a bucket and people are just with each other in real time. For a lot of families, getting to do things like that with the kids and each other has been one of the great silver linings in all this, and trying to have that be one of the changes that we keep from this instead of a brief moment is of irreplaceable value.

 

So here is the deal, from my heart to my customers. I want to try and keep making this work. I’m gonna put these offerings out for the holidays before thanksgiving. They will range from $50-$150 (or more if people are able/want to help more)per month. For us to be able to make our monthly base costs and survive, we need about $10k in sales. So we will need between 50–100 people to sign up to make this work. If I get there, we’ll make it. If I get half that, I’ll take the scary chance and keep doing it anyway. If we can’t, then I think I’m gonna need to close the shop. I know it’s a bit of a buy this magazine or we shoot this dog proposition, but it is unfortunately the truth of it.

 

If you are interested in seeing what we are gonna offer, Email me with your name, email and cell number. If you include a picture of you, and your family if you live with one, in masks, I’ll send you a little thank you gift/bribe back in the form of a one time use code for a free Pokemon or Magic goodie to pick up at the store. (Good till January 2021 or longer if I decide to.)

 

Regardless of what happens here, I deeply love this community and I hope I’ve made it better. I know it has made me better.

More Diary of a Mad Businessmen Stories

Family Game Night-making a habit worth keeping.

Ok…we all know it is a painful  time, going stir crazy trapped in our homes with our kids/parents, desperately hunting for things to do to make the time move a little faster without getting on each other’s nerves. So lots of us have been pulling out projects, puzzles and board games. But in a time with all the old habits thrown up in the air, can we take one of the good things, family game night, and turn it into something everyone wants to keep around?

The thing of it is that this moment we are all going through has done something interesting and important that is worth thinking about. We’ve all had to basically blow up what we thought was the way life had to operate, and when this is done, we’re gonna need to put it back together differently then it was before. So maybe, we can use this to sneak back in somethings that were just too much of a change to get everyone to buy into before.

Old picture of a family playing games together

See I own a game store, so I get to see a lot of families come in, and I know from the tips of my toes to the top of my massively in need of a haircut head (remember when we used to be able to get haircuts, in the “before times”? Ah, the exotic luxury of it.), that the families that had regular family game night were bonded in ways that were just different from everyone else. I won’t go through the details on the case for board game nights again since I did that once upon a time in my store blog, but it’s an idea that almost every parent intuitively knows about as well as they know how exquisitely impossible it is to get going once screens and phones lodge into our kids brains. Getting this “quaint” idea going, with people who are able to fill every bored moment, is almost impossible. I will also not go into the details of why I’m deeply worried about the serious issues around the “Digital Nicotine” aspects of many of the things passing through smartphones/tablets, (So I’m Addicted to Cell Phones Too, Ben Calica). However, I will say that I’m much, much more worried about the danger of the literally physical addiction aspects of smartphone/screen problems right now, to the point where they could be much more difficult to deal with. Let me be clear, I’m not Luddite guy looking to throw all the glowing Satan boxes into the river (though there have been times when I wanted to take my own kids phones and lovingly put them under the tire of my car and just drive slowly back and forth for a little bit. I will put huge money that there is not a single parent of a kid with a phone reading this that isn’t nodding right now.) For learning, for communicating with loved ones, for opening the whole world of knowledge to us, these are amazing tools. But there are thousands of really smart people out there that have been paid a great deal of money to tickle those parts of our brains that keep us coming back to give them our eyeballs, and they know where the endorphins are kept locked up in the cupboard.

So now that things have got blowed up nice and good and we are face to face to face, at least with the family that got down in the tornado cellar before the big virus twister hit, how can we turn our shelter experience into a regular family habit that becomes a regular part of our lives?

The Elements of Successful Family Game Night:

Pick Carefully: The first and most important part of a successful family game night is what game are you gonna play. When I have couples come into the store to find a game, the first thing I ask them is how do they do playing against each other or with each other. There are some people who love the joy of getting to stretch their minds and skills against each other, and others who feel picked on or condescended to or just feel under pressure to “play right” and therefore don’t feel like they like games at all. If you have a family, what are the age differences in the kids? Will the youngest feel over-matched or left out? Is it a game of speed that leaves the Grandparents feeling left out? Is the game too complicated for people to be patient to understand the rules, or too simple and feeling random for more sophisticated players.

Generally speaking, the best thing to do is to start with simpler and more successful games and then let the games get richer from there. For those who don’t like feeling left out of behind or the pressure of understanding all the nuances to be successful, look at some of the really great cooperative games. The best ones aren’t Pollyanna crunch fests, but have the game as the “bad guy” opponent and source of challenge/tension. Other things to watch for is games that involve everyone as quickly and immediately as possible. Games where one person takes their turn for 5–10 minutes while everyone else waits around tend to kill a game night but good.

The Game/Rules Master: Once you’ve selected the types of games you want, each family game night, someone should be preselected to be the Game/Rules Master. One of the things that kills games nights but good is a lot of time where everyone is trying to battle over the one rule book to figure out how the stupid game works. Most games are pretty straight forward to play after you’ve muscled through the first game, but figuring out the basic setup, object and how the game works turn to turn isn’t always obvious the first time through. The game master is the one who gets the game the day before and who goes ahead of time to set the game up and to run through a practice round or two on their own to figure out how to play the darn thing. They are gonna be the ones who explain the game play to everyone else. You can also have them be the one who picks the game for the night. But if you do so, they need to have the goal of picking a game that they think everyone would like. (If you wanna be really cool about it, have them pick a game that they think one other person in the family would most love…kid picks game that they think mom would love, mom picks game that dad would love, brother picks game for younger sister, etc. If you do that, then they feel great when they see someone else in the family love the experience. It shifts the focus outside themselves. )

Big, big hint for the Game/Rules Master when they are teaching the game!!! Have the least amount of time possible between the time you start talking about the game and everyone is starting to play. The natural tendency is to go through the whole game, but people are getting bored off their rocker listening instead of getting to it. Better to be a little more basic in your description and let people ask you if they don’t understand something, then to take a lot of time describing stuff that people probably get already. And if there are complicated variants to how something happens in a particular circumstance, just say that there are some rare exceptions and move on. Once people get into the flow, you can get to that. What you need to explain to get started is:

  1. Objective-i.e. how do you win the game. (Collect the most X, get to the end of the board, be the last mushroom standing..). If it is complicated, give a basic view first and point to the part of the manual that has it for people to look at. If it is super complicated and the game doesn’t come with reference cards for everybody, consider making a copy of those pages for everyone playing.
  2. Set up– Ideally have this already done or have the place in the rules about this underlined and ready to describe. (“everyone gets 7 cards and 3 caterpillar tokens”)
  3. Basic steps to a turn: What does each player do in a turn. Again, top view and let people ask you questions if they don’t get it.
  4. Practice round!: This is really important if you can possibly do it. Run through how the game works by having people do it, but let them know the first round doesn’t count. That way people won’t feel under pressure or get grumpy cause they “never would have done that if they understood”.

Rules of the Table
What do they say, “good fences make good neighbors.” This is more then true of the table rules for game nights. Some of these work well printed out on the table to make sure that it is fun and not hurt feelings that rule the night, and others are examples to set.

  1. Phone Basket: Family game night is a sacred, phone free time. Make a big deal of putting your phones in a basket and even letting other people know that this time every week is time you don’t respond unless it is an emergency. Model the hell out of this. It is like sabbath, an electronics free zone.
  2. Family rules: You guys own the games. If you come to a rule that you guys don’t like as a family or you prefer a different way, agree and then change it. The big stack of cash under free parking in Monopoly wasn’t in the rules originally, but we always thought the game was way better with it. )
  3. Smack Talk/Shaming: This is a tricky one. The shaming is obvious, but extends to telling someone that they made a stupid move…just shut that stuff down, and I’d print this rule up. The smack talk is a different issue. It can be lighthearted and part of a family/friend dynamic. (I sure did it with my best friends in high school..the epic battle on who was better, Richie Rich or Scrooge McDuck took on an epic level of smack talk that makes me smile to this day.) But we have a rule against smack talk in the store because, well, the whole idea of smack talk is to try and get just a little under someone’s skin. The problem is that with teens and tweens in particular, their job is to not show when they get feeling hurt, so someone could be really hurting someone without realizing it. So just to play it safe, we just don’t allow it in the store. This is a call you gotta make for your own family, and I don’t know em enough to know if they have a good handle on that line, but I’ll include it in the list later and you can blame me if you need “aw Ma/Dad” cover.
  4. Food at the Game Table: Ok..I know I just got done with this whole thing about you knowing your family best and making your own choices but, YES…food at the gaming table. Let me make this simple: Hungry=low-blood sugar=crankiness/short tempers. Keep out that bowl o’snacks. Sure, make it grapes and pretzels and not Cheetos, BBQ and powdered donuts if you care about keeping the game clean, but snack ’em up. There are reasons that the image of D&D players in their basements included boxes of pizza. 😉
  5. No Know-it Alls (Table Captains), or Rules Lawyers: Table Captains is usually the older sibling who understands how the game is played and starts ordering people around like they are extensions of themselves. This is most often in cooperative games. It takes away the fun of playing from the other players, even though all they think they are trying to do is help. A little talk about being their to support the other players and asking the question “would you like a suggestion” and actually waiting for the answer goes a long way.
    I need a private moment with the game playing dads…(I’m gonna say something a little hard to hear. It is super likely that you are doing this too and don’t realize it. It is the single thing that makes their spouses not want to play with them. They may not get the pattern as fast cause that isn’t what they’ve done a lot, but they are pretty damn smart and it is way better to give them space to ask questions, then to over explain. It comes across as condescending and you are pushing off the person you most wanna join in.
    The second type of playing to be careful of is what is called Rules Lawyer-ing. This is playing gotcha with the rules, calling someone on a mistake they made because they didn’t understand or missed a nuance of the rules. Don’t, just don’t. If someone can take a move back because they didn’t get something, let them. It is way better to play a great game and lose it, then to make someone feel like they can’t try and learn a new game because they are afraid to be made to feel stupid because they misunderstood something.
  6. It’s Just a #%$ing Game: The slogan for the store that grace the back of our tee shirts and hoodies is a graphic representation of “Win with Grace, Lose with Style, and Play for Fun”. This is about the most important part of a good family game night. One thing to do is to make a winners trophy that rotates from player to player that is so epically stupid that it makes it clear the nature of winning and loosing in this house. (Right now, I’d probably take a roll of toilet paper and stick it on an old trophy to indicate the value of family triumph. Although that may be a little too valuable at the moment.) One word about modeling winning and loosing to small children that is a little counter intuitive. This works particularly well with coop games when the game wins. We tend to thing that acting serene and accepting a loss is what we need to model for little kids. The problem is that just make us alien beings to them, ones who just don’t have the same emotions they do. It is actually better to show starting to get frustrated and then taking a moment to breath or in some other way calm down and get to that “ah well” state. That way we are modeling something for them that is much more accessible, how to have those feelings and then manage them. Even with the older kids, if you get frustrated in a game, say so, and then talk it out. As adults, we often get frustrated with games, particularly if the rules are complex and we feel like we have more important things to be doing, and if this isn’t fun, then why are we bothering. Believe me, the kids will pick up on that frustration and walking away. But what we are walking away from is working out a problem that they were part of rather then expressing our feelings and trying to work it out. Much better to stick it out and work it though on this much safer ground, so when it is much bigger issues, you’ve had some successful practice rounds. I think this may be the very heart of why those families who got family game night into their regular pattern of life have this different feeling about them.

That seems like as good a note as any to end this on. This seems like play time, but it is some of the best parenting time that you can invest in. It isn’t easy, and is kind of like teaching a teenage dog to do new tricks (they already know all the tricks, and why should they listen to you anyway, dumb dad/mom dogs), but it is worth it. And this is an absolutely unique time to take the shattered pieces of the old life and maybe build something a little better from the pieces.

The Family Game Night rules

  1. Electronics Free Zone:
    No phones at the table, (unless the game requires it.)
  2. No Commenting on someone else’s dumb (or more clever then you realized) moves.
  3. No Insulting/Shaming other players, or teaming up on anybody besides Dad. (Ok..he deserves it.)
  4. No Rules Lawyer-ing…if someone makes a dumb mistake, let ’em take it back already.
  5. Don’t Cheat: Losing with grace is pretty cool and you learn and get better. Cheating just robs you of having people believe you when you win later.
  6. Oh yeah, remember the three magic words:
    It’s A Game.

Win with Grace, Lose with Style, and Play for Fun

Thanksgiving Sales: Relax…go play…we’ll be here- ;-)

Enough…Thanksgiving is for being with people, not shopping….

(This is a mostly a repost…but hey…we’ve been doing the same thing every year)

New this year….We not be offering any savings for our sales this year…we’re doing Givings instead.  Instead of trying to out cheap Amazon, we’re opting for going for being good people.  There has been way too much of the opposite in the world these days.  And the best way I know to deal with selfishness and bullying is with fierce kindness.    So from now till the end of the holiday season, I’m gonna ask that you save a little chunk of your gift $$ to spend with us, and in exchange,  when you buy gifts from us, together we will give more gifts for those who are a little short of random kindness.  Spend $50 or more, put a $10 gift into the big box, $100 and put up to a $20 gift, etc.   We have a bunch of great games and goodies that we’ve hand picked for the holidays, including good games for getting everyone off of screens for both thanksgiving and the rest of the holidays.

We are Closed for Thanksgiving…Open at 1pm  on Friday the 29th. (maybe earlier depending on when I can get back…but that will be bonus.)

Black Friday =Family Friday
Every year. I do my traditional Thanksgiving thing, and stand up against the marketing Tsunami  and become a foolish business guy. 

I’m not going to be part of the industry that has done such an amazing job of implanting in our minds that it is SHOPPING time, that we have forgotten that this is a day where our family/friends have often traveled a big distance, are together and don’t have to go to work.   Don’t go shopping on Friday (or Thursday night, etc).  Not in the stores, not on line, none of it.

Go play!!!  Sure, I’m the board game guy, so that’s my auto suggestion, but go for a walk, hike, de-dust the football (and stretch first..those of us who’s memories of being 12 are a few times older then being 12.)  But go goof with each other, and have some (gasp) fun!  Relax, go back to the leftovers a bunch of times when no one is looking. Or just chill out.

I’m not saying we don’t want and need yer business.  We absolutely do.  Competing with the near cost prices of Amazon means that every sale from customers who appreciate that we are creating a home for community more then anything else is absolutely key for us.  (So save some of your gift money to spend with us).  But it does mean that I’m not going to make my sales last 45 minutes so you have no choice but to leave the house in order to get them.  We’ll be doing sales all week , but we’ll base them on how many we need to sell at that price so, you can come in this weekend, or next week, etc.

Our big thing is to make sure that we listen and can point you to things that will actually be fun to play and make people happy.  (And no fake reviews either.  Ok…that was a little shot at Amazon…couldn’t help myself.)

Coming…list to a page of our recommended gifts for this year, as well as any other special stuff.  But for right now, just think about special stuffing.  (Ok…if you come into the store today, you can get some great games to play over the holiday.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(April fools)Wizards adding unusual requirements for Magic Players to attend events

Earlier this year, Wizards introduced so changes for those of us scheduling events that actually made a lot of sense.  They let us start setting age limits for the events. (It used to be that if an event was sanctioned for Magic or D&D, that those events had to be open to all players.) Seems pretty inclusive, but what that meant was that we couldn’t do a kids only event and prevent an adult for attending, or if we wanted to do an after hours, grown-ups only event, stores wouldn’t be able to do that.

However, Wizards has been making some other decisions that have been somewhere between confusing us and, honestly, making us pretty upset. This latest on is clearly in the confusing category, with a little in the latter.  Apparently some internal research they have done has indicated that a better metric for determining appropriate levels of developmental maturity has to do with physical growth over chronological growth.   I guess it has been known for a while that girls are more mature at an early age then boys and that often is connected with early growth spurts.

As a result, we are waiting for a package coming from Wizards that is a 6 foot plus stand-up that includes a measuring tool for us to use to determine who is allowed in the adult/mature events vs. the less developed.  For those who come from groups that tend to shorter stature or who have genetic dispositions in that direction, there is a section on the Wizards site to apply for exempted status.  The cards will apparently take between 2-3 weeks to arrive, but we will be able to look it up on the Wizard website so it shouldn’t cause too much disruption to attending the events.

I want to make a personal comment on this.  It is not what I would choose and I could ignore the requirement I would.  I think it is utterly foolish, first to trust this kind thing, no mater how convincing the research seems, and then to create such an elaborate plan without testing it locally somewhere first.  It’s truly unbelievable.

So why is Yugioh Banned at D20 Games, anyway?

I just got an email from someone looking for a place to have his 12 year old son to come and play Yugioh, and I was about to tell him the tale of why it is banned at the store, and why I recommend steering him away from Yugioh when I realized that it’s been a long time since I told the story and it was probably worth putting it where everybody could see.

Yugioh is one of the big collectible card games, and was a pretty big part of the store when I acquired it back in 2011.  We would get 40-60 people coming in on Sundays, and it represented about 1/3 the business of the store.  But I gave it a partial ban in 2012, followed by a complete ban after we had the big break in that almost killed the store.

The day D20 was broken into

So Why Ban Yugioh?

So with all due modesty, I’m a good guy, and have a firm but gentle touch with people, including tweens and teens. (I used to teach Karate to kids.)  I can pull people aside and talk to them about behaviors that are not ok without shaming them or making them feel angry or resentful. And I spent a lot of time getting to know the community, participating and getting to know the individual players.  But our Yugioh days contained 90% of the trouble we had at the store. It seemed any deck or cards left attended would be stolen the moment someone’s back was turned, we had a huge amount of issues with people taking advantage of others in trades, bad language and people getting really angry, sometimes to the point of fights over games.

After the break in, I went to a big conference of game store owners from around the country and was shocked to find out that the problems we had had were present at stores as far away as Philadelphia, and were only with Yugioh.  I spent a long time trying to figure out why this was…it was just a game, after all.  Finally I came to a theory, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I became convinced it is correct.   There seems to be a fundamental design flaw in the game end’s up not only fostering, but training bad behaviors.  Those have become part of the tone/culture of poor behavior/ethics that riddles the Yugioh community.

Yugioh-Magic “fixed”?:  Yugioh was invented by a guy that was an old Magic player.  He hated the idea of what’s called set rotation. (Basically, only the last couple of years of cards are used in the most common competitive format.)  He wanted all the cards that were created in his game to be used all the time. The problem with that has to do with the nature of collectible card games.  See the cool part of these games is that there are basic rules, but the new cards get to introduce new rules that change the game.  That’s really great, but as you get more and more rules, if you aren’t careful, you get combos of the card that just came out with a card from 5 years ago that becomes powerful enough to break the game.   Games like Magic the Gathering and Pokemon spend a huge amount of time looking out for these kinds of combos, but Yugioh doesn’t do quite as good a job.  Add that by having all the cards available to play with, after a few years the game started to be defined by these game breaking combos.  What it meant was the best decks don’t just win, they utterly crush not so great decks.

Badly training the Young; So here is where things start to go wrong.  Imagine you are a 8 or 9 year-old, taking your first deck to go play with your buddies at school.  You don’t just lose, you get crushed.  You go home to your parents, tears in your eyes from the humiliation.  If your parents have means, they come to a store like we used to be and buy better cards so they don’t have to see that look again.  If not, the kid has several choices.

  • “This game is stupid, I’m not playing it anymore”.  Probably a good choice, but kids aren’t usually wired that way.
  • Trade for better cards.  This seems good on the surface, but the cards they need are worth many, many times what the cards they have are worth.  So they end up learning, at a pretty early age, to take advantage of less knowledgeable players.  This is something we deal with directly in all of the collectible card games, and when a kid gets taken advantage of, they can either decide to talk advantage of the next person or to never make anyone else feel as bad as they do now.  It is one of the fundamental building blocks to becoming an honest person or not.
  • Stealing: See the deck that beat them in the kids backpack….

This isn’t the majority of kids that end up down a bad path, but it is enough that starts to seriously influence the ethics of the community.   There are a couple of additional things about the game that complete the story.

  • Lotto Packs.  All collectible card games have the “oh, what’s in this one” aspect that has been part of collectible cards since baseball cards.  It’s true of Magic, Pokemon, etc. But Yugioh is an extreme with this.  It was well known that of a box of 24 packs had about 8 that were were worth anything at all.  It was totally common to watch people open packs, look for the ultra rare and throw the rest of the pack out if it wasn’t there.  With this level of gambling mentality, it affects how people view the ethics of trading.
  • Turn one win fury:  With all the combos that could win the game running around, it becomes almost a coin flip to see who finds their combo first.  If you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on your deck and your opponent gets his combo out first and locks you down, people tend to get, shall we say, cranky.  This is why we had so many near fights during tournaments.
  • “Dealing” trading cards:  Because the cards that make these auto win combos are so critical in playing, they become fairly valuable.  Add this to the culture of it being ok to take advantage of other people during trades, and you get people that are acting almost like the not so great version of dealers with the valuable cards.
  • Unclear Rules=different kind of players. The unspoken truth of the kids who really learn to play Pokemon and the Magic players is that it tends to attract fairly intelligent people.  Trying to figure out how to make different rules work together is a super interesting and challenging thing to do.  The rules on the Yugioh cards can be so difficult to understand and obscure that instead of people figuring out their own cool things, they hear from someone else how that new cool deck work.  That means that you get a fairly large percentage of the community that plays just for the chance to beat each other, or to try and make money off their wheeling and dealing for cards.   There is often a more aggressive group of players that joins then what you would imagine would be attracted to playing a non gambling card game.

Not all Yugioh Players are bad, but enough: I’m not saying that this affects everyone, or even the majority of players. But it does change the tone of the community, the ethics and how they treat each other.  I believe this enough that even though Yugioh was a full third of my business, I made the decision, as both a store owner and a father to ban the game utterly from the store.  This was not something I did lightly or without a great deal of thought and consideration. Not only no sales, but no Yugioh cards are allowed at the store, and I actively do my best to encourage kids away from playing the game. I’m sorry for the good folks who like the game, but after 5 years, I have never regretted it, and to answer a frequently asked question, will never bring it back to the store.  (I could use my access to sell it online and make a decent profit, but once I believed it was a bad influence, as a dad, I couldn’t do even that.)

But my kid wants to play Yugioh: For parents who’s kids (frequently Pokemon players who are looking to move on) are getting interested in Pokemon, I would strongly suggest gentle urging towards Magic instead. (You can bring them in and I’ll provide parental support.  I may be the Peanuts “wah, wah” parents to my own kids, but for other kids, I’m the guy behind the counter at D20.  I can use that bully pulpit to help with this so they don’t just end up seeing it as forbidden fruit.)   Magic was the first of the games, and has the good stuff of the collectible card games, (social interaction, really using your brain, etc.) without that level of negative side effects. Probably the best feature is they can do what is called limited play. (Basically show up and do events where they play with the cards from the packs they get as part of the event.  Everyone starts even, and it is a chance for them to play with the packs they collect.  There are even team events that can be played with a buddy or even parent.)  You still want to make sure they trade fair, and are get interested in the playing, not just opening packs, but it’s a good choice I have no problem recommending.  Tell you the truth, I hesitated talking publicly about my observations about Yugioh, because I didn’t want that to get generalized unfairly to the rest of the collectible card games.

Found Dad (& Grandpa) hiding at a garage sale…the power of old games-a Father’s day story

I didn’t expect it when I opened the box.  The intense rush of feelings that flooded over me as I not just looked at, but felt the feeling in the cards.  I’ve opened a ton of these, old games acquired in garage sales, previous loved goodies waiting to find new homes. One of the main reasons I love the store is getting a chance to find ways to get families to spend more time with each other, using the games an excuse to connect. I know this, I do it all the time.  But knowing it in your head is one thing….feeling it in your heart is something else.  I found two games yesterday, one of which turned out to have my Dad inside, the other had my grandfather.

I had a hint at how important games could be last Halloween, that I wrote about once before.  It was this tall dad (looked like a professional sports player guy) and his probably 9 year old daughter.  They came in to trick or treat, but both of them lit up like fireflies when they saw what kind of store they had walked into.  She moved from game to game with a look that, when matched with her dad’s, immediately revealed the image of days spent, sprawled out on a floor together, playing games.  For them, they looked at the games, and what they saw wasn’t fun, it was love.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I still think about them once in a while and it’s hard not to feel my heart fill too. .

The games I picked up yesterday were Mille Borne and Chinese Checkers.   This particular copy of Mille Borne was from 1971.  It could have been the copy I played a thousand times with my Dad when I was a kid, and as I felt the worn softness of the cards, it was not a memory as much as an emotional evocation that hit me so hard.    Sounds or smells can have the same effect, but I didn’t expect it from the game. My dad was a big game player, but hadn’t picked up so well that it’s not only ok for parents to lose to their kids, but that it is actually an kind of an art. But Milles Borne had this great blend of strategy and chance that evened things out. Somehow there were a ton of life lessons in that game.  Do you speed like crazy for the finish line, getting less points but going for the quick win, Putting down your super protections in advance, or holding on, waiting for the whoo  hoo moment of a Coup-fourré.  I think that’s the moment I remember most….it was satisfying as heck to beat my dad, both cause it felt good and because even then I knew that it made him proud when I could beat him.    But it reminded me in a very visceral way why playing games with your kids isn’t a extra thing to do if you have time…but something that will live with them forever. 

 Chinese Checkers is my grandfather…or at least brings him back to life for me whenever I see a set, particularly an old set.   The family legend is that he brought Chinese Checkers into the country.  I did a bunch of research and their may be some truth to it.  He was an entrepreneurial guy. An immigrant who got a job as a buyer at the May Company (think early Macy’s) based on completely made up experience.  The story of how he brought Chinese Checkers to Leo Pressman, founder of Pressman Toys (and the lawsuit for a whopping $5000 that let him open a furniture store in Denver), I’ll save for another day.

 

 

So I’m addicted to phones too–An(other) open letter to D20 Kids & Parents

(Kids, don’t read this*.  It talks about some things being done in the mobile industry that are designed to manipulate people into doing things for the sake of advertising and in app purchases that are actually leading to medical level changes in the way our brains work, leading to some pretty bad stuff.)

There is an elephant in the room, and it is hard to get his attention because he has his trunk stuck in his smartphone.  There are a whole bunch of really smart people working really hard to use every psychological trick they can to get me to spend as much time as possible on our cell phones.

And they are winning.

Fun that makes me feel bad. I didn’t like it before when it just made me feel bad. And I now like it way less that I’ve come to understand it is affecting my sleep patterns,  how well I think, and acting like a drug, trading little moments of feeling good but leaving me sense of feeling depressed and out of control.  So I guess I fit into the classic definition of being addicted, knowing that something isn’t good for you, not wanting to do it, and doing it anyway.

Ain’t just me. The much bigger problem is that I talk to kids and parents everyday, so I know I’m not alone in this.  In fact it’s so universal that most of us have just thrown up our hands as the new way the world works.  But there is something about it that has felt more serious for a while, so I’ve started to look at it more carefully and what I found was a much bigger deal then I thought.  In a world where it seems like there is a crisis a day, it seems almost foolish to raise up a hand and try and point to a place where you think you see the damn starting to crack.  But I don’t raise my hand like this often, and I’m raising it here…raising the hand, waving the red flag, pulling the fire alarm.  I don’t even want to list the level of damage/danger here, because I don’t want to get written off as hysterical or overreacting…so I’m just going to ask that you trust me enough to read all the way through this over-sized tome, and if you end up feeling like I do, come and help me figure out what to do about it.

I’m a dad, and I spend a huge amount of time trying to get my kids to spend less time on their cell phones, and we get into a ton of fights about it.    “You don’t understand.  Your generation doesn’t get it.  I am being social, just with my friends on the phone and not with you.” etc, etc, The very process of trying to get my kids off the phone so we can have better time together generates fights that leave everyone mad in their corners, not being social at all.  (Does this sound familiar to any of you?)  As parents, its pretty obvious to see the difference in how our kids feel and behave when they are not on the phones so much, but trying to do something about it is way harder then it should be.  Besides, everybody is going through it so maybe it’s not really a thing, just us having to adjust to a different way of being in the world.  Or maybe there is something very serious going on and we in the middle of it so much that it’s hard to see what’s going on.

Hi, I’m Ben and I’m… I’m going to make two statements, one about me and one that is so outrageous that I’m either an utter fool, or it’s a very big and very real deal.

  1. I’ve been having real problems controlling myself with my phone too.  I’ve been trying not to says addiction, but if it looks like a duck and clicks like a duck…its probably an addicted duck. 
  2. In 10-20 years people will look back on this time as an actual health crisis, the way that we look back on the cigarette industry.
Digital Nicotine. So I’ll say that second part again, and try and explain what I mean.  When we look back in 10-20 years at this time, people are going to be looking back on this time the same way that we look back on the health crisis caused by smoking.  It’s almost impossible now to imagine there was a time when people didn’t recognize either the addictive power of cigarettes, or realize how much suffering/ death it was causing. And to imagine that there were people in that industry, who once they understood both the addictive nature of what they were doing and what it was doing to people, spend huge amounts of money, hiring the best people they could, to discredit the scientists, to increase the addictive properties of what they were selling and to focus the most sophisticated techniques possible to not only get people to smoke more, but to get to teens and pre-teens and get them to try smoking, knowing that once they did, they would likely have customers for their (admittedly shorter) lives.  (Smoker’s average lifespan is 10 years shorter then then those who never smoked.

We should have known better hall of fame: There have been a number of times in the past where we did mindbogglingly stupid stuff without realizing the effects.  It’s almost unimaginable that back in the 50’s people had no idea that smoking was actually bad for you.  There were dancing cigarette packs in the commercials of TV shows, and ads talking about the health benefits of one brand over another. Not to mention the X-ray shoe store boxes:  You know how when you get an x-ray, they drape your body with lead covering and step out of the room while they flash the x-ray for the shortest imaginable time, because they know that long exposure to x-rays has a high likelihood of caucusing cancer.
There was a period where you could go into a shoe store and put your foot in a machine.  To put that in context, the a dental x-ray would expose you to 0.005 mSv of radiation, 20 seconds in the foot box would expose you to ~48 mSv.  Oh, and did I mention the day my high school physic teacher brought in a nice blob of Mercury in a film canister for us to pass around and play with to show us metal that was in a liquid state at room temperature.  But hey, we didn’t know better and with the exception of the cigarette, when we figured out it was bad for us, we stopped.  
The cigarettes were a different story, for two reasons.  
  1. They were chemically addictive.
  2. There was enough money to be made that there was a whole industry dependent on, well people being dependent.   

I’m not addicted…what is addicted anyway? There are a lot of definitions for addictive, but the best one that I know if is something that you do, that you know is bad for you, can see the bad results, part of you is aware of it and knows you shouldn’t do it, and you do it anyway.  You can feel two voices warring inside of you, one that knows better, and the other that will use any tool at its disposal to have you not think about any negative consequences, and will rebel against anyone who might get in the way of doing it.  There’s a whole brain chemistry thing with the parts of the brain that are set up to reward us for doing things that are good for us, getting hijacked by things that provide the same sensations but without the benefits.

So how does this have anything to do with cellphones, or more specifically smartphones?  I’m going to do more writings about this in the year to come, but it turns out that when you hire a lot of the smartest people in the world to try and get people to spend as much time as possible with your apps, to basically figure out how their brains work and try and stimulate the parts of the brain that will get them to do something over and over again, that you are creating addictions.  That’s not quite digital nicotine yet, because what’s the harm being done?  It’s just people spending some of their free time on their phones…what the big deal?

Image result for addicted to cell phone

Getting Mad. Here’s where I start to go from nice guy, kindly store owner Ben, to quietly furious and determined to do everything I can to do something about this Ben. 
Here are a number of the affects that the wrong kind of/too much time on the smart phones has been having. ( Everything on this list makes sense from observation and has credible studies behind them.) One note before reading this list.  I think it’s really important for each of us to be able to be honest in our own observations in how we are being affected.  Really smart people have been working very hard to get us addicted to these devices, and it’s going to take a huge amount of effort and willpower to break that.  I don’t know what all the steps are, but the first is being strong enough to really look at what is going on with ourselves.   I will be adding more links/references to this list as time goes on.   
All the list contributes to and pales in comparison to the last item.
  1. Health5 Serious Side Effects of Using Smartphones Discover the dangerous consequences of your cell phone habitImage result for effects of cell phone addiction
    1. Sleep disruption
    2. Back and neck problems
    3. Hand/Finger problems
  2. Safety
    1. Distraction while driving is massively increasing…killing about 1/3 as many people as drunk driving.
  3. BI Graphics_Bluelight effectsCognition-changing the way our brain functions
    1. Significant reduction in ability to maintain attention and focus.
    2. Memory drops-Brain shifts to not store things that the phone has stored/access to
    3. Notifications cause shockingly high drops in productivity
    4. Neurological changes based on different stimulus creates same neurochemical addiction as most drugs. 
  4.  Homework/productivity
    1. Even just having the phone next to you—with the notifications off, reduces capacity to think/focus.
    2. Notifications lead to significant drop in focus/productivity
    3. “multi-tasking” consuming other media while working reduces how effectively you think.
  5. SocialImage result for effects of cell phone addiction
    1. Smart phone use is decreasing face to face time and skills, connected to depression and sense of isolation
    2. People withhold connection/trust from other people who are engaged with phones, even if they are just on the table
    3. Issues around smart phone use are causing stress and barriers between parents and children
  6. Depression and Suicide
  7. Smartphones becoming common among teens is the only significant/attributable change leading to a 25-30% increase in teen unhappiness, depression and Suicide that has been growing side by side with smart phone use from 2010 till the present.

 

And the last one is what has pushed me over the edge.  I can’t step back and do nothing anymore.  But I also know that there have been thousands of people who are extremely smart, who have gone through great efforts to make this problem much harder 

then just triumph of the will.  So I’m going to do my best trick in terms of solving hard problems…gonna get as many other brains (and hearts) as I can working on this.  And that includes the kids too… So look for more, comment, share and show up.  It’s too important not to.

*Of course I wanted you to read this.  See, I’m smart and a little manipulative too. (When you get addicted to something, one of the effects is a splitting of the voices inside you.  There is the voice that can see what is going on and wants control back.  And there is the voice that feels it needs that endorphin rush that comes from the behaviors, that will do everything your smart mind can think of to deflect anything that might give the first voice a chance to take control back. )

 

D20 Games-Intro to D&D for Parents (and others)

By Ben Calica

This guide is designed as a simple, English translation for parents, significant others, and just those who felt curious as to what the heck D&D is all about.  We run D&D Encounters at D20 Games these days, and I’m old enough to have played the game with the first white books back in the mid 70s.  I’m also a dad of tween twin boys and a daughter who’s three years younger, so I can do the kid to parent translation pretty well. 😉

What is D&D?  Dungeons & Dragons is the game the popularized role playing.  Created in the mid-70’s,D&D was unique in casting one of the players in the role of the Dungeon Master.  A person who both kept the secrets of the world that the other players were trying to discover, and acted as a living interpreter of the rules, allowing players to try all sorts of creative solutions to problems they encounter, and not be limited by only what the original game creators set down on paper.  This was quite literally a game-changer, in that it really allowed people to use their imaginations to inhabit characters that they created and moved through the world.  It works best when the players access the freedom of their 8-12 year old selves and create characters that are ones they would have chosen to play on a playground.  (BTW…those of us who were around for the first round of this remember the media frenzy over kids in the sewers doing horrible things.  That was more made up then the game.  The truth was it was a bunch of us utterly harmless little nerd boys and girls being imaginative in the basement of our parents houses.)

D20

D20s-The rolls at the heart of role playing.  The D20 that is the name of our store refers to 20-sided dice, and are the key to most role playing games.  As much control as the Dungeon Master needs to have over the world that he/she is slowly unveiling, if they end up as the autocrat that just tells a story without any possibility of success or failure outside of what is ordained by them, the game becomes either stale or feels unfair.  Instead, based on a characters developing abilities  the Dungeon Master either consults pre-created tables of possibilities for certain types of actions (attacking with a sword, jumping out of the way of a dragon’s fire breath, getting a good nights sleep without being discovered by some roving band of creepy creatures), or makes their best guess for some creative idea a player has, and assigns a number that they must beat for that to succeed.  “I want to use my special agility to do a back-flip over my friends head to the back of the group.”  “Ok…you need to roll an 18 to make that happen.  Since you have extra agility bonus..you get to add 4 to whatever you roll.  Roll a d20!”  It is the mix of imagination and estimated chance that is the heart of what makes role playing games ongoing fun, and a story that even the Dungeon Master doesn’t know how will play out.

D&D as avengers


18 again, the birth of a character.
  The other key part of what makes role playing games fun, is the birth and evolution of your character.  A few different methods can be used, from the genetic randomness of rolling dice to determine the basic DNA of your character.  Are they quick  smart, wise, strong charming, or tough, or some combo of the above.  The first method involved rolling three six sided dice for each attribute, and then figuring out based on what you got what that character would be.

For example right now I’ll roll out one to show you.ac-muppets

Well…obviously this guy is going to be hiding in the back of the group, not swinging anything bigger then a stick.  But…with those Wisdom and Intelligence scores, looks like we might have a wizard or kind of skinny healer.
Using the more popular method of rolling 4 6-sided dice and throwing out the lowest one, we get a little better result.

This guy (or gal), could end up as a thief, or bard, or ranger, whose dexterity will make a bow sing in their hands.  How the characters start out is only the birth, because as they go out in the world and experience interesting things, they gain, well, experience.  and that experience directly leads to them increasing their levels, and with each of those new levels, their skills, toughness and abilities increase, so that the monsters that almost destroyed them in that first week of play, go running from them a few sessions later.  The greater the risks, the greater the rewards in terms of experience points AND goodies that they find along the way.  But those risks are very real (in the world of the game), in that if the hit points of your character (A number created based on your level, constitution, and what profession your character chooses), gets knocked down in battle to 0, then your character, well, dies.  Most often in the early levels, your playing buddies (your group), will drag you back to town, and find a sufficiently powerful healer to bring you back.  But that gets increasingly expensive both in terms of gold you’ve been able to collect, and eventually costing you some of those experience points you’ve been working so hard to gather.  Plus that fact that during the rest of that particular adventure, when the DM asks each character what they want to do next, the answer from you is “lying in the corner…still dead.”

DnD_Character_SheetThe DM–The guy that gets to have fun by not playing the whole time:  The Dungeon Master, or DM, has a very important and sometimes tricky role.  It is their  job to have either created or familiarized themselves with the world and adventure that the players are going to encounter.  They need to keep things moving at a good pace so people keep having fun in the world, and they have to strike a very careful balance between making the world so easy to defeat that there is no sense of real risk or drama, and making it so tough that the players feel like they are spending half their time trudging back to town to get resurrected   They need to make puzzles that are solvable, but hard enough to be challenging, and they need to be open to the players creativity taking the story in a direction they didn’t anticipate. Common mistakes are to become the great and powerful OZ, manipulating the players into doing things they really don’t want to do, or being seen as vindictive and mean..being the enemy of the players, as opposed to their guide to a world they have never encountered.   The best DM’s enjoy the story being told and it’s telling, and are open to knowing that the player’s creativity is a huge part of what makes that story fun for everybody, including them.

Pathfinder_RPG_Core_Rulebook_coverD&D vs. Pathfinder.  Both of these games were born from the original D&D.  While many people were kind of mad about D&D 4.0 (kind of an attempt to turn D&D into World of Warcraft) they redeemed themselves with 5th edition. It honors the best part of role playing games, the, well, role playing. Pathfinder is a game made by a different company that was founded by a number of people who used to work on D&D an has stayed very much in the spirit of the original D&D.  The reality is that both of these are brothers in spirit, and you can’t really go wrong with either.  There are also a host of other genres of role-playing that have been born from the same basic ideas and that speak to the different 8-12 year-olds in each of us.

Special notes from one parent to another:  First off…most any game that gets people face to face instead of screen to screen is a good thing.  Second, the game is jam packed with creative problem solving and social skills building opportunities.  The books are expensive (in the $30-40 range) and they will read them to the point of seeming obsession, but what is happening is that they are using the possibilities in the books to load themselves up with tools to solve problems when they play as well as doing creative thinking in their heads about what they could become.  The games can go from a couple of hours a time, to 2 in the morning when they get older.  It is the, “let’s just see what is behind that next door” that create that.    Obviously, the timing issues are different based on the age of the kid.

It takes a lot to get a group of kids together on a regular basis to play, and once a game is going and gets healthy it is worth encouraging.  Despite whatever “Revenge of the nerds” preconceptions there are about people who play, the reality is that the people who are drawn to the game do tend to be disproportionately bright, mostly because they don’t like the constraints that standard games place on their creativity.  The groups also tend to provide good social support.  The characters they create have different specific  ethical rules, and it is important for the player to stay true to those rules, making for a great chance to explore and understand those. For the kids who are bright but have social skills challenges, the role playing stuff is wonderful, both because it provides some set of written rules for social interactions, and because usually the DM provides a level of moderation for social issues that come up that makes the sessions mini-social skills groups wrapped in a big spoonful of sugar.

The Secret Life of Adults (and other kids)-The “right thing” if someone dies

[This article is part of a series where we reveal stuff that adults or kids don’t usually admit to each other.  Mostly it’s me fessing up to my secret thoughts or stuff I’ve done that maybe I shouldn’t have.]

One of the people at the store just lost their Dad, and my heart is kinda breaking for them as I write this.  I’m (like everyone else around him and his family) trying to figure out what the “right” thing is to say. And I want let him know that there are tons of ways that are normal to react to this, that there is no “right” way for him to feel, that whatever he’s feeling, it really is ok.  The truth is that everybody has a hard time figuring this out.

It feels like you should know the right thing to say or do when you find out about a loss that is just to big too imagine. If is a friend or someone we love, we tend fall back on “I’m so sorry for your loss” and “Is there anything I can do”.  And if it is you, you accept those words in a blur, unable to believe that the rest of the world is still going on as usual when everything has just completely changed.  Trying to figure out the right thing to do or feel makes a really tough time, much tougher.

If you are going through this, and this is intended for our friend, this stuff comes at you as it comes, and it’s all ok. All the cliche stuff has some basis in truth, but the order of what you are going through, and when or if you go through it is different for each person.

  • For some people, it hits them like a hammer to the gut right away.
  • For others, they feel bad that they don’t feel “enough” at the beginning.
  • Some people reach out to their friends and loved ones for support, others don’t want to talk about it.
  • Some take great comfort from the people who reach out, others snap back at them, because how can they understand?
  • Some put on a brave face to show that they are ok, and that no one needs to worry about them.
  • Some focus all their attention of taking care of the others in their family who are hurt.
  • Some just put all the feelings away to deal with later
  • Some just cry until they can’t cry anymore
  • Some write or draw or do anything else they can to either process or distract themselves
  • And a thousand other things…

Scroll to Top