Horsham Gaming Club at BattleQuest
Published 2nd April 2015
"The modern day concept of the geek is not what it used to be. Now, it can be quite cool to be geeky."
Probably not in the same way that James Dean, Marlon Brando, Che Guevara or Jim Morrison were cool, but there is a degree of truth in the comment by Andy Wakefield, owner of BattleQuest Games in Horsham.
Despite the unceasing rise of the internet, there has been a surge in popularity in board gaming across the world.
You may not have them in the cupboard under the stairs, but games such as War of the Ring, Mage Wars, Terra Mystica, The Castles of Burgundy, Twilight Struggle and Eclipse are enjoyed by an ever-expanding army of gamers the world over.
At BattleQuest in the Carfax, about 25 people in The Horsham Gaming Group meet on a Wednesday evening to play and talk about board games. They play long into the night, with many forming good friendships because of the social setting.
Andy created BattleQuest initially as a home -based internet business, trading through Amazon and eBay for three years before opening a shop in Queen's Street in 2010.
He said: "Internet trading was good, but really I was just packing boxes and sending out products to gamers, rather than playing the games myself. So I flipped the business on its head, stopped doing the Internet and went into retail. We opened in Queen's Street and after three years moved to Carfax.
"Fundamentally, this is a shop and I need to sell products to sustain the business, but a big part of what we do is through the social side of gaming. We bring people together to play games, and encourage people to leave their computers and enjoy a more social, shared experience.
"At the back of the shop, we have a gaming area where people can just come in, take a game from our demo shelf and play.
"Locally, we have a very active Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh fanbase and we find that people will come in during lunch time to play cards and see their friends. It's more of a community centre than a shop. I did hope this is what would happen when I moved away from the internet side of the business. You don't have that shared experience online, but here we have people from all walks of life with one thing in common, which is a love of playing games."
BattleQuest sell everything from Orchard toys, which makes simple shape and colour recognition games for children, through to the regular family games including Cluedo, Articulate and TV licensed games, right up to the strategy-based games by the likes of Warhammer and Star Wars X-Wing.
Andy reads gaming websites such as Board Game Geek, to find out about new games. Depending on the reviews from the trusted worldwide gaming community, he might then stock those games in his shop. But he also has the opinions of the gaming fans that congregate on his shop on a Wednesday night clutching a fascinating array of games you've probably never heard of, let alone played!
We spoke to a few of them, whilst trying not to embarrass ourselves as we played a great card game called Splendor...
"I'm not particularly into war games by the likes of Warhammer and tended to prefer role play games, but I became too busy to play them. They require a lot of time to play them, so I started to focus more on board games.
I remember some of the specialist games that triggered my interest. There was Blood Bowl, a fantasy
football game with orcs and goblins, and RoboRally, a sci-fi game of robots trying to destroy each other as they race. I'm a very eclectic game player and I play just about anything.
The board games night at BattleQuest is run three times a month at the shop and I try to attend every one if I can. I also attend a gaming club in Tilgate run every Wednesday except the last Wednesday of each month.
I had heard about BattleQuest and its gaming club, and one day I was walking through Horsham and popped into the store. Tonight I have played Splendor, and now we are playing Guillotine.
The great thing about games like these is you can sit down with a group of people, have a bit of fun, and wrap it up in a compact period of time. A lot of the early board games, such as Monopoly, have poor mechanics in that in theory you can play forever. Eventually you just fold the game up and say 'you win.'
A lot of the newer games have better mechanics in that they have a definitive ending. They are simpler, yet more complicated, like in chess where everything is basic but the strategy is complicated. There is a lot more interaction with the other players too.
We are now finally seeing some of the High Street retailers stocking some of these newer strategy games, which can only be a good thing."
"I live in Horsham and have been coming to these board game nights for about a year. Tonight we are playing a game called Terra Mystica.
All of the players are settlers trying to take sections of the land and create their own landscapes, in competition with everyone else. It is one of those games which on the surface appears to be very friendly because you can't directly interact with each other. But you are competing by taking resources from each other, so you have to be aware of what your opponent is doing.
What makes the game so compelling is that there are no random elements - it is purely down to strategy. There are no cards, no dice, so there's very little luck involved and it rewards strategic planning.
I would say this is one of our favourite games here at BattleQuest. It is a game designed for gaming fans. If you want all of the kit that is currently on the table at the moment, it would probably cost over £100, as we have an expansion kit too.
There is a whole industry just for gaming fans and there are more of us than you think. Exploding Kittens was funded by the internet site Kickstarter, and I believe has raised $8 million through public crowd funding. That is for a game that isn't even out yet! So it is a global industry."
"I first came to one of these events about three years ago when the shop was on Queen's Street. It's really only been the last four years that I've been into board games, although in retrospect I've always been interested to some degree. It was coming into BattleQuest Games that really opened my eyes as to the types of games out there.
I was buying the more traditional games that we all know, and something made me want to at least try these more complex strategy games I could see on the shelves. Once I had taken that first step, I started to realise the range of games out there, from fast five minute games to strategic games that take up a whole weekend!
On these nights, a lot of us bring in games that they want to play, as we all like to introduce a game that we like and share it with others. You might bring three games along, and you'll be lucky if one gets played.
We have had occasions when we've wondered what to play next and just spotted something new in the shop and given that a go. It's a great way of discovering new things and if you like a game you can buy it of course."
"Organising these events has given people the chance to play games and try them before they buy. It builds up a
community spirit too.
Board gaming is going through a resurgence. The actor Will Wheaton, who was in Star Trek: The Next Generation and is occasionally on The Big Bang Theory, hosts a series called Table Top on YouTube in which they review board games. They choose a selection of games every season to play and review, and a lot of my
customers watch this and they talk about it.
This has helped to open up the whole board game market, so the Internet has actually boosted high street retailing of board games.
At our Wednesday night gaming sessions, we attract about 25 people. These nights have grown gradually, to the extent that every three months we meet at the Baptist Church on Brighton Road and have a special board gaming day. There were 60 people at the last one, which is phenomenal.
The International Table Top Day will be held on 11 April, and we'll be hosting all kinds of games on the day at BattleQuest. Because of the success of these nights, I now have game designers who are phoning me, asking if they can come to our events so they can demo their products. They need test groups to play and give feedback before their game goes into production, and that all stems from board game nights in the shop.
We now have a really strong board gaming community in Horsham, and the players here form their own gaming groups and meet up during the week too. Without the shop, all of these people wouldn't know each other, so it's a good thing. It does make business sense for me too as the people at the gaming club become our regulars and support the shop."