Australian vs. US / American tabletop game stores – A Comparison

Recently our editor-in-chief took a trip to California. Whilst there she went to as many tabletop game stores as she could fit in, in the various cities she was visiting. We were chatting about it over the weekend and thought it might make for an interesting article. Australians who haven’t had a chance to get to the United States, might have the view that perhaps the board gaming streets are paved with gold. Is that true in relation to the Gold Coast / Brisbane area stores, versus the Los Angeles / Santa Barbara / Pasadena area stores? Let’s take a look.

First up for the sake of clarity the main stores visited here in Australia consist of Mind Games, Good Games, Presents of Mind, Game Traders and Zing (at a push). Presents of Mind in Brisbane aside they’re all chain stores (even though some are franchised). This is interesting to note because in California all the stores visited were not big company stores, but rather independently owned stores. The only big company stores selling games (found on the trip) in the USA seemed to be Barnes and Noble (the book stores, similar to Dimmocks) and Target. One game was purchased in Barnes & Noble, that game was Boxed Adventure Time Love Letter for those wondering and it was purchased as it was $10USD – $14AUD. It’s $20 – $22RRP here. All other games purchased were purchased in the indi stores (which she feels is always the better thing to do).

If you follow us on Instagram you’ll have seen some of these stores before, but not really in-depth thoughts as Instagram isn’t the place for that.

Let’s start with Game Empire in Pasadena
Allegedly Wil Wheaton’s favorite game store (because he apparently lives in Pasadena), Game Empire was the first stop on the trip because it’s a really cool store (been there a few times before). Their gaming area is up a few stairs – separate to the shop floor – which means you can shop without getting in the way of sessions, or worse, gamers getting in your way when you are trying to give a store your money.

As far as game selection went, this is a great store and importantly everything is CLEAN and neat. Did they have a lot of the must have games on the list taken, no, did they have more games than the local stores here? Yes, a better selection with more newer games when compared to all the stores here. A bigger / better selection of older games, surprisingly no, perhaps similar in number as a good sized Mind Games store.

Game Empire Pasadena Gameapalooza Australian board game news and reviewsGame Empire in Pasadena is ‘allegedly’ Wil Wheatons favorite tabletop game store.

Next up Metro Entertainment in Santa Barbara
This is a small game / comic store in beautiful Santa Barbara. Because it’s small and because bricks and mortar game stores know they need a gaming area, this was not an ideal board game store. For whatever reason the gaming tables ran along the board game shelves section, meaning you couldn’t get in to look, nor see whatever was on the bottom few shelves (backs of chairs literally right up against them). On asking a staff member when the guys would be finished playing, so it was possible to get in for a look, he replied “Tell them to move”. Not a great selection once we actually managed to get in, definitely comic heavy and man, they needed to rejig that setup. Between this one and pretty much any game store here in Australia (Zing aside), we win hands down.

Metro Entertainment Comics Games Toys in Santa BarbaraLovely sign, nice little store, definitely not paved with gold by comparison to here.

Next up Metro Entertainment in Santa Barbara
Ventura California yielded a lovely little store in the form of Hypno Comics and Games. This store had a whole lot squashed in, but it was neat and it was CLEAN. Everything looked like it had just arrived, not a dust particle to be found. Great selection, including a few of the new releases (and some we missed as they’d sold out). As well as board games, Hypno Comics sell – unsurprisingly – comics, but also toys / collectibles. By comparison to stores here, sort of a Game Traders, if Game Traders had comics instead of video games and also hot new board games.

Hypno Comics Ventura California - Game store comparison Gameapalooza AustraliaHypno Comics in Ventura California – A great little store with friendly staff.

Meltdown Comics (aka Nerdist store) Los Angeles
Oh dear. You would think a store sporting the Nerdist logo would know geek culture. Sure if you love comics, this is a cool store, but if it’s board games you’re after, meh, one small shelf. Our stores here walk all over this one.

Also let’s share a little incident to highlight a serious problem still permeating geek culture in 2015. One of the people visiting this store with us is a HUGE comic book fan and has a collection and knowledge of the hobby many would be jealous of. SHE was looking around when one of the staff members approached and said – we sh_t you not – “you’re a good girlfriend supporting your boyfriend in his comic love”. Now though this was about comics, similar things happen in board gaming too. We won’t name and shame the store, but in one Queensland board game store our editor was asked whether she was purchasing a gift for her son. As a female fan of the hobby, this is irritating, as a fan of the hobby, this is problematic. If you work in or run a game store, keep this is mind. If you’re a board gamer yourself, also keep this in mind. These things do not help our hobby in any way, but we can work to make things better and more inclusive.

Meltdown comics in los angeles home of Nerdist industriesMeltdown… luckily a member of our party never had a bloody meltdown given the blatant sexism.

Last one Aero Hobbies & Games Los Angeles
Aero Hobbies & Games is the epitome of an 80’s / 90’s game store, back when they were dingy, dark and generally hadn’t seen a dust cloth for years. Thing is, this was one of the best stores we found during the trip for actual stock, so much choice, from really old games, to brand news games, but what a mess. We actually had to clean our hands after we left because they were filthy. Along with the grime, everything was everywhere and man, some of that stuff looked like it had been there literally for years, untouched, in a heap, on the floor, on a table, on the counter.

Aero Hobbies and games santa monica boulevard los angeles gameapalooza australiaAero Hobbies and Toys a cropped version for Instagram

If this store was cleaned, top to bottom and all those games sorted and on show neatly, in one row (rather than doubled with things behind) this would be the BEST game store we’d been in for years. The guy running it seemed REALLY cool, amiable and helpful, but he clearly had become accustomed to the disaster area around him, which is such a shame. By comparison to stores here in Australia the stock in this place was like a large Games Workshop / Warhammer store smashed together with a large game store, then just… left, after every game session and delivery for a decade.

To end the comparison we’ll leave you with some pictures from Aero Hobbies & Games, sadly we didn’t take pictures the center tabled area or the opposite wall / counter, all of which make these images seem tidy. Now we’re not bagging out this store, as stated, we loved the owner (cool guy) and we LOVED the shop (didn’t want to leave – did want to clean lol). We honestly thought it was so awesome you guys would like to see it, that’s why we took photos, not any other reason. Enjoy the wonder of Aero Hobbies & Games (we left the images large, so you can click on them to see them larger):

Aero hobbies and games los angeles board game store - gameapalooza favorite australiaBehold the mystical wonder of Aero Hobbies & Games in LA.

Aero Hobbies and Games Los Angeles Board Game Store front window from inside - coverage Gameapalooza AustraliaThe front window from inside… imagine that light actually flowing in lol.

Aero Hobbies and Games in Los Angeles so much choice - Gameapalooza AustraliaSo much choice, but don’t you want to just IKEA the sh-t out of it floor to ceiling?

Aero Hobbies and Games Los Angeles Board Game Store - Gameapalooza Australian board game news and reviewsCheck out that floor on the right…. Well you gotta love the willpower of the owner.

So by comparison between Australian board game stores and American board game stores we’d say the stores in California had newer stock, but not always more stock. Also certain publishers who are hard to find here in Australia were easily found on some of the US game store shelves.

Basically though, US stores aren’t the be all and end all. Sure it’s nice to see brand new games on shelves, games US based viewers are all hyped for, but that will happen here, we just need to keep knocking on the door, getting those games for coverage, plugging those games, asking local stores to try and stock them. Close that gap, because on all other points, stores here really aren’t that bad.