In Berkeley, anyone can decide to embark on a new quest to fight orcs and dragons or rule over an empire, all because of a store on Durant Avenue: Games of Berkeley.
Founded in June 1980, Games of Berkeley celebrated its 37th anniversary this year. Started by UC Berkeley alumnus Don Reents with money he won playing backgammon, Games of Berkeley has catered to the growing community of role-playing games since its founding. The store hosts a multitude of tournaments and events, and it possibly provides the largest game selection on the West Coast.
In the late 1980s, Reents sold the business to a corporation called Toyworld, which operated Games of Berkeley along with seven other retail stores around the Bay Area until 2002. As Toyworld was getting ready to close Games of Berkeley and other stores, the parents of current managing owner Erik Bigglestone bought the store. Four years ago, when his parents retired, Bigglestone took over as “Evil Overlord” — according to his business card — of the store.
“I really liked the community of people we serve and figured that, sure, I could take over the store. I really mean for it to be something where people can come in from all walks of life and enjoy each other’s company,” Bigglestone said.
Last May, Games of Berkeley announced plans to move from its corner location on Shattuck Avenue and Center Street to its current location at 2510 Durant Ave., so that there would be more space and a location with more customer diversity. Now, it has over 11,000 square feet — an upgrade from its initial 8,900 square feet.
“We moved here in January from what had been our home of 20 years in Downtown (Berkeley) so that we could have a larger space. As far as physical growth, we have maxed out what we can find here in Berkeley,” Bigglestone said. “Sometimes, we’ll also do events that tie into an event that is taking place in the Telegraph neighborhood. Hopefully, we can get some cross-saturation of the patrons and participants.”
In addition to this physical expansion, Bigglestone says that there is still room for Games of Berkeley’s financial growth, which he hopes to find in the UC Berkeley community.
“We still haven’t figured out how to tap into the student body, not just as a source of revenue, but also as a community — as people we can serve, people we can engage with and give another option for entertainment,” said Bigglestone.
The store offers games ranging from the traditional, such as chess and Monopoly, to newer ones, such as Total Rickall, which Bigglestone suggests for avid “Rick and Morty” fans.
In addition to the wide selection of board games and crafts, Games of Berkeley offers a full roster of events, ranging from International Tabletop Day to “Magic: The Gathering” tournaments. With four game rooms and play space on the sales floor, Games of Berkeley has numerous events every day of the week.
“Traditionally, for the casual games, it’s always been a big group of kids and a couple of adults, but it’s becoming much more mixed now. It’s not a strongly competitive community,” Bigglestone said. “It’s much more like ‘Hey, let’s get together and play this game that we all enjoy.’ ”
In addition to its roster of already-released games, Games of Berkeley also encourages the entrepreneurship of local game designers. On Tabletop Thursdays, local game designers may allow people from the public to enter the store and sample play some of their products, such as Oar Else!, a card game developed in the Bay Area.
Although the store has been in business nearly four decades, it still faces some challenges as it strives to continue appealing to the gaming community and reducing expenses.
“You have to keep costs low and sell at a reasonable price. That’s a bit of a challenge these days because there’s pressure from online sellers,” Bigglestone said. “The cost of doing business in the Bay Area is higher than in other locations. Wages are higher, rent is higher, so you have to cut costs where you can … and save as much as you can.”
In preparation for the upcoming dead week, Bigglestone suggests that the best destressing board games should include “some kind of physicality.”
“It would require you not to just sit at the table and toss some cards back and forth. It would be something that got you up off your feet,” said Bigglestone. “ ‘Tokaido’ (is) a really good one and other games where everybody acts kind of crazy, like ‘King of Tokyo’ or ‘King of New York.’ ”
Ultimately, however, board games are not simply recreational activities, but also a valuable tool for social bonding experiences. According to Bigglestone, in the age of technology, people suffer from “gadget fatigue” and crave more face-to-face interaction.
“Board games are a shared experience. It’s about the journey that you take as you play the game, the journey you take together and the story you tell as you play,” said Bigglestone.