Long before Wil Wheaton became the sweetheart of the gaming industry, before he invaded our computers with his fancy Geek Chic table and his celebrity friends, geeks were rolling D20′s in their basements and slaying trolls. The popularity of table top gaming in the states increases every day, the attendance of conventions such as Gencon and Origins grows yearly.
The internet has changed our hobby, creating an accessible format for anyone even remotely interested in gaming, if you’re curious about the gaming industry, it’s just a Google search away. There was a time when it wasn’t as accessible, when you had to track down a game, when you had to enter one of those rare store fronts that were usually hidden in a strip mall and buy a game based on a store recommendation or just because the art on the box was something that peaked your interest. As I’ve said though, we’ve come a long way from those days.
There are unsung heroes in the gaming industry, the people that take the risk in putting their savings into opening a local gaming store. There’s a huge risk involved in opening a gaming store, especially when the internet age has dropped prices and made the retail world harder to gain traction in.
Often we talk about the artistry in gaming, the work that has to go into the development, the art and the mechanics but we rarely talk about the work that gets put into the conventions, the tournaments and our favorite stores. To open a store is difficult, to open a store that goes above and beyond normal gaming conventions has to be even that much harder. Which is why I’m writing this review, because those in the Midwest have an opportunity to experience more than just a gaming store.
The Wandering Dragon is located in downtown Plainfield, Il, if you weren’t paying attention you might even miss it. Though if you’re interested in gaming, it’s something you don’t want to miss. From the outside, it looks like your average brick building, which just happens to have dragons painted on the window and hanging over the front door.
I’m sure the question is ‘What makes the Dragon different from other local game stores?” It’s not something that’s easily answered, we have plenty of game stores in the area, especially if your willing to drive a bit to get to them, some of them have even been open for 20 years or more. There’s no way to define what the Dragon means to many of us…
The Wandering Dragon opened at a smaller location not to far from their current location and had a successful run at business. The Dragon’s story starts before their opening though. It started when they first threw up their coming soon sign, I did some research and emailed the owner about their new shop, without knowing anything about me, I received an invitation to visit the shop before they opened.
This little shop on the second floor of a building, consisting of only three rooms, helped to create a culture of gaming. They started with shelves full of games and a large room of tables. There was an open invitation to game, bring your friends, grab a game off of their shelf and dig into the rules. Through this small local game store, I was able to grow my gaming collection, I was able to give games a shot before I spent any money on them. It was a great opportunity to be able to preview demo copies and learn more about gaming.
Unfortunately, or as it turned out, fortunately the Wandering Dragon was forced to actually wander a bit. It relocated itself, roughly a block away in a larger location. It was at this location where the Wandering Dragon really started to flourish and become so important to the gaming community. Though some of the decisions have been met with mumblings and whispered voices of dissent, but don’t worry I’ll get to that coming up.
The new location completely changed what I expected in a gaming store. There were the usual shelves full of games, RPG’s, dice and whatever else you could need to get your geek on but there was something else. Something that wasn’t easy to put your finger on. The new location not only housed a large room full of games, it also had another separate room full of options but that’s just the beginning. What it also had was numerous rooms set up for private gaming. I’m not talking about your typical 4 walled room with a plastic folding table, there’s the large event room.
It’s these rooms that have caused some of the complaints to come forth about the Dragon. As the Dragon expanded into a large location and went out to really build an environment based on their clients, they also took on the added responsibility of raising their rent and over all costs. So they did what any smart business person would do, offered to rent out these private rooms to their guests. If you prefer not to pay for one of the private rooms, there’s always the event room in back where you can pull up a chair and break out a game, but if you want the comfort of a closed room for you and your friends, now you have an opportunity to do so. What’s the outlandish, extravagant fee that the Dragon is charging you for this room? $5.00 Insanity right? I mean for $5.00 now a days, you can almost buy two gallons of gas, wait…no you can’t do that. Uh, you can buy a couple cans of monster at at gas station for 5 bucks though. For $5.00 a person, you and your friends can have a private room, for basically as long as you would like. How dare they? I’m sure you’re asking yourself why would I possibly pay for a room to game with my friends when I can game at home for free? Well, maybe I’m in a different place, but as I get older, and all of my friends get older, it gets harder and harder for all of us get together. So this provides us (gamers) an opportunity to get a few different gamers together and give us a place to roll dice and get to know each other. It’s not always easy finding people that you’re willing to game with, not to mention it’s even weirder bringing random people into your home. So what’s the cost of being able to sit down with new people and start to build a relationship and gaming community… $5.00, I can’t believe their audacity.
The Wandering Dragon did more than just build a gaming community though, they’ve built friendships. It’s few and far between that I’ve heard anyone say a negative word about Kevin and Laura, Elias their son may get a few more grumbles but that’s just because he’s a strong gamer who isn’t afraid to light the room on fire and possibly burn your favorite D&D character with d20 points of damage. Kevin and Laura amaze me with the knowledge of their customers and how they keep everyone’s names straight. They know your gaming habits and what type of games your enjoy. Again, there’s been some talk about how they’re money driven because of that evil, evil $5.00 charge for a private room, but I’d like to address this. There was a time when Kevin and I were talking for weeks about a game I was excited to come out, and when it finally hit the game store, I was actually at home on the couch severely ill. I made a joke about the shop delivering the game to me on my death bed, and I received an email message from Kevin asking for my address because he was going to drive the game over to my house, it wasn’t a joke, he wasn’t having fun with it. He sincerely reached out to find out how he could get the game to me, now you may feel differently, but to me that isn’t the greedy hand of capitalism at work, it was the genuine outreaching of an owner to a loyal client.
The Wandering Dragon sells games at MSRP. Gasp… yes, they ask the actual MSRP for their games. They don’t sell their games above MSRP, though some may say they do. They don’t overprice or gouge their customers, what they do is provide an awesome gaming experience and a genuine interest in gaming for their customers, who should really be referred to as their friends. To offset the MSRP they have a loyalty program which provides you with Dragons Gold for every purchase you make. That Dragon’s gold is then collected and allows you to get discounts on future purchases when you’ve collected enough points.
The Wandering Dragon is more than just a game store for many people. It’s a place to go to meet mutual gamers, it’s a place where you can go to fight dragons or try to feed your family (I’m shaking my angry old man fist at you Agricola), to shoot down Tie-Fighters and to battle Ancient Terrible Things. It’s run by two very honest and genuine people who care about the gaming community and their customers. If you’re looking for a game store that goes above and beyond what you’ve ever expected from a retail location, join the caravan and wander over to the Dragon. It’s an experience you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
(I’d like to note that this review and article was written 100% unsolicited.)