Fantasy card games score big downtown


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Gamers play Warhammer at Tabletop Arena. Photo by Tory Germann.

At 103 Market Street, a battle is about to begin.


In this alternate universe, factions squabble. Enemies are amassed. And powerful wizards known as Planeswalkers arm themselves with creatures and spells to obliterate their opponents.


In the “real world” these wizards, sorcerers and orcs are really high school students and dads. Software gurus, IT experts and the guy (or girl) next door.


Welcome to Tabletop Arena, a new retail store bringing people of all ages and backgrounds together to play fantasy card games like Magic: The Gathering, Warhammer, Dungeons and Dragons and more.


Sound like Geek City?


Don’t get judgy. Because business at this social game spot is booming, so you just might run into someone you know here.

“It’s fun to be a geek,” says Chris Melville, who opened Tabletop Arena downtown in Sept. 2011. 

His rapidly growing customer-base prompted a move to the larger Market Street location in late July. 


Fantasy card games have gone in a new direction since the 70s and 80s, when Dungeons and Dragons fans “wouldn’t announce in public” that they were players.


“The stigma behind these kinds of games has changed,” Melville says. “People don’t feel they have to keep it a secret anymore. Over the years, things have shifted and it has become cool to admit you play. I’d say popular culture has helped change that but I think more people realize these aren’t just kid games. They’re challenging and involve a lot of thinking and skill to win.”


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It’s Game Night every night at Tabletop Arena, where fantasy card games rule. Photo by Tory Germann

Major blockbusters like Harry Potter, Lord of The Rings and even Twilight have helped encourage new generations of fantasy card game fans to celebrate their alternative universes.


High-profile celebrities gushing about their love for the nerdy pastime hasn’t hurt either. 


Actors Jon Favreau (Swingers) and David Duchovney (The X-Files), actress Daryl Hannah, comedians Stephen Colbert, Jack Black and Conan O’Brien, horror writer  Stephen King, South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, N.B.A. Star Tim Duncan, singer/songwriter Rivers Cuomo from Weezer — the list of notable fantasy game geeks goes on and on.  


Spread out among folding card tables, players at Tabletop Arena create characters who embark on imaginary journeys where they battle monsters, gather treasure and earn points to become increasingly powerful.


Between moves, you’ll overhear snippets of conversation like the great Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate.


Star Trek was designed to be scientifically consistent, even though it isn’t real,” says Dennis Kearney, who pretty much “lives” at the store. “With Star Wars, there’s no real explanation why things exist. The force is just there and controls everything — basically the debate comes down to people who care about consistency and people who don’t”


Then there’s the eternal question: Why is Superman invincible?


“Superman is invincible because he can turn back time,” says Alex McNease, a manager at the store.


“I thought he was invincible because he makes DC (Comics) too much money,” Kearney adds.


Ultimately, Melville says Tabletop Arena is a place to come for a fun social experience. 


Fans know orcs, elves and wizards don’t really exist.


That isn’t the point.


“There’s nothing like the social part of it,” Melville says, confirming that he has a girlfriend who supports his inner geek. “Video games have limits because a programmer codes them. Here, players control the flow of the games by growing their characters. Anything can happen. It’s a face-to-face experience that you just can’t duplicate anywhere else.”



WHAT: Tabletop Arena

WHERE: 103 Market Street

INFO: Open seven days a week from noon to 10 p.m. or “when people leave.”



A guide to embracing your inner geek:

DM: Dungeon Master, the player who controls the setting of the game and enforces rules according to the official Dungeons and Dragons playbook.

Orc: a primitive race of barbaric humanoid, largely based upon the orcs appearing in the works of J.R.R. Tolkein.

Gnoll: a race of anthropomorphic hyenas

Planeswalkers: powerful wizards with the ability to walk between worlds.

Mana: magical energy drawn to cast spells

The Warp: a realm without conventional laws of nature that evolves in response to psychic activity in real space and is inhabited by the four gods of chaos.

Psykers: humans capable of mentally interacting with The Warp. 

Con: Slang for convention, as in “Dude, I’m going to the gamers’ con in Boston.”

RTFM: “Read the (bleepin’) Manual,” a command usually shouted to a fellow player who doesn’t remember the rules of the game. At Tabletop Arena the “F” in RTFM is frowned upon at all times and players who utter the “F” must pay a fine. RTM or RTC (Read The Card) are the acceptable terms. 

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