“The store is a little bit like Cheers. I know practically everyone by name. I even know some of their dogs’ names,” said Steve Boatwright, owner of First Turn Games in Cedar Rapids. Many of Steve’s customers might not recognize his name, as he is better known around the store by his gamertag, “Moose”.
Moose opened the store in 2014 out of his love for all things gaming. Board games are the the main product sold at the store, but it’s as much a place for people to gather to play board games as it is a store that sells them. “You don’t have to spend money to come here,” Moose said.
I DO THIS BECAUSE I LOVE IT
Many competing board game sellers don’t maintain a store at all. “A lot of people sell board games literally out of their basement with no overhead costs.” Although he says those vendors make a bigger profit, they don’t offer a space for game enthusiasts to interact. “I wanted to see if I could do this on my own,” Moose said about owning his own store. When asked about the profitability of board games stores, Moose said simply, “I do this because I love it.”
As many as 100 people gather at the store every Friday night to play “Magic: the Gathering”, a collectible card game where players get to build their own decks. There’s a $6.00 fee to get in, but most of the proceeds go toward funding game supplies that are given to the players. Each card carries its own “ability” and players pit their decks against each other in a tournament-style game. Unless you are immersed in the world of gaming, you might find that description confusing. The complexity is part of the appeal, as is the social element of the game play. Moose says that most people who play board games also play video games and vice versa, but one of the main differences between the two is the amount of social interaction involved in playing. “Board games help people build social skills,” Moose said.
A “NO DOUCHE-BAG” POLICY
With visitors of every age and gender playing a wide variety of games at the store, Moose has a very simple way to maintain a peaceful environment. “We have a no douche-bag policy.”
He says he rarely needs to enforce the policy because the regulars that come to the store are “self-policing” and help keep the vibe friendly and fun for all. “My goal is to create a good environment. I know people sometimes come here as an escape when things are tough at home. It’s a safe place.” Moose even works with the local non-profit organization Four Oaks to let kids come in about once a week to play games and relax. He also donates games for kids to Four Oaks during the holidays.
I’VE BEEN A NERD MY WHOLE LIFE
Moose’s favorite game to play at any given moment is cyclical, but he says, “I’ve been a nerd my whole life.” He’s been playing games since he can remember, and he’s happy to see a surge in popularity in board games in recent years. He says the surge is thanks in part to “nerd celebrities” like Wil Wheaton, a former actor on Star Trek: The Next Generation, who now hosts a web series called TableTop where he explains how to play card, board, and dice games. Some of Moose’s favorite games are “War Machine” and “Hordes,” which are both highly technical and have very strict and clear rules. “I’m a competitive person,” he admitted. One of his favorite games to play in a group, however, is “Sheriff of Nottingham” which is a light-hearted bluffing game where you have to convince the other players that you are telling the truth (even though you might be lying) to score points.
Moose has a unique talent that compliments his board gaming hobby well – he is an award-winning painter of miniature figurines, often referred to simply as “miniatures”. “I used to wake up three hours before school to paint,” Moose said. “It’s relaxing, I can just zone out while I paint.” He says he can choose to paint in a technical manner according to instructions, or just free-form paint. Today, there are tons of online videos and instructions for anyone interested in learning this skill. When he started painting at age twelve, he said he had very little to go off of. “I had to figure it out on my own.”
He has won many awards, including “Best in Category – Single Model” from the P3 Grandmaster painting competition, “Golden Demon 1st Place – Warhammer Fantasy Large Model”, and “Warmachine Weekend – 1st Place Large Model”. When asked if he has other artistic abilities like painting on a canvas, he said, “I’ve never tried! I probably should.” He estimates that he’s painted at least 7,000 miniatures, which take anywhere from four to thirty hours to paint. While he was conjuring up an approximate number, a regular customer in the store, who was standing behind him, pointed at the ceiling to indicate that the actual number is probably much higher. Some of the miniatures are used to play games, whereas others (the ones that take closer to thirty hours) are reserved for competitions. “It’s my passion. I get so excited when someone appreciates my work.”
First Turn Games visitors frequently request painting lessons, which Moose enjoys giving. He says that several of the regulars are becoming esteemed painters in their own right. “Some are getting good really quickly,” Moose said with excitement and a touch of trepidation. Moose is happy to inspire others in Cedar Rapids to share his passion for painting or gaming. “Even if the game you’re playing is mediocre, board gaming is about who you play the game with.”
Story by Jessica Carney. Photos by Olivia Harding