Game on: Nerd nightlife thrives in the Twin Cities

Tabletop gaming has spawned a lively nerd nightlife in the Twin Cities.

Updated 4/27/2015

Past the shelves of comic books at the Source in Roseville, scores of war-gamers storm the shop’s gaming area every Friday evening. Members of First Minnesota, a war-gaming club, rewrite battles fought decades or centuries ago.

“Some of these games are big, sprawling experiences where you get to muck around in the sandbox of history,” First Minnesota president Jason Albert explained.

Similar tabletop gaming events lurk in strip malls, industrial parks and urban storefronts. Some last until 1 a.m. or whenever the store clerk wants to go home. Every night, in-the-know gamers converge at various hot spots from St. Louis Park to South St. Paul.

Kyle Mattson was oblivious to the Twin Cities’ vast nerd network until a friend invited him to an animé convention. From there, he discovered Fantasy Flight Games and Source Comics & Games — two pillars of the local tabletop gaming scene.

“If 13-year-old me knew about all this, I’d say I hit the holy grail,” said Mattson, now a co-organizer of 2D Con at the Mall of America in May.

Tabletops are a growing umbrella category of board, card, miniatures and role-playing games, such as Warhammer 40,000 and the seminal Dungeons & Dragons. Each subgenre — and sometimes each game — has its own subculture locally.

Sophisticated hobby war-games make Risk look like Candyland. While degrees of difficulty vary, the more complex games involve thousands of pieces and can take four to 12 hours, creating immersive narratives along the way, players say.

After moving to Stillwater from Los Angeles last year, the 45-year-old Doug DeMoss regularly attends First Minnesota meetups. Despite L.A.’s size, De­Moss said its tabletop scene pales in comparison with the Twin Cities’.

“L.A. is dead. This is the happening place, from what I can see,” he said. “There were active clubs for certain games [in L.A.]. But nothing like this where you can come in and see half a dozen games going on at once — the variety like this.”

Local gamers point to a high number of shops hosting nightly events — such as Tower Games, Mead Hall Games and Dreamers Vault Games — with strengthening the community. That and the presence of large independent game publisher Fantasy Flight Games. Across from its Roseville offices, Fantasy Flight runs a cavernous game center with a cafe serving food, beer and wine, where players can demo 500 games.

“The Twin Cities has been at the heart of hobby gaming from the very beginning, which I think is surprising for people,” said Fantasy Flight game center manager Bryan Bornmueller.

The vast majority of players are male. Amanda Durand of Maple Grove estimates that only 10 percent of her Magic-playing peers are women and said she’s felt uncomfortable at certain games.

“A lot of times you’ll get discounted as somebody who doesn’t know how to play or you’ll get seen as ‘Oh, you’re just here with your boyfriend,’ ” she said.

Still, it hasn’t deterred the 35-year-old, who plays games several times a week. Regardless of the game or gender gap, tabletop players say the social connections are a large reason why they game.

“You have no idea what the other person does for a living,” said war-gamer David Dockter. “You’re just going to share the experience and invest in the experience, because together it’s a better experience than you could have individually.”


Gaming spots

Fantasy Flight: 1975 W. County Rd. B2, Roseville, 651-379-3801.

The Source: 2057 N. Snelling Av., Roseville, 651-645-0386.

Tower: 4807 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-823-4477.

Universe: 711 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-825-4066.

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