I was visiting London, ON (Canada) for a family vacation this weekend. While on vacation, if I have time, I try to visit the local game stores. I am sharing my experiences, which will hopefully be of use or interest to others.
Each trip makes me realize how lucky I am, living in Toronto. Many of the games stores are great, and because some of the game stores are also online games stores, it seems that the other stores compete on pricing with them, meaning inexpensive games for me.
The goal of my visits to the stores was simply to see what game stores are like elsewhere. Also, I wanted a game to play after the kids went to bed, and I know my wanted to play Splendor, so I was looking for that or for Lost Cities (card game).
I will talk about various aspects of the store that I find important. I did not see the bathrooms at any of the stores, so I have no idea if they are clean or not.
The first stop was a comic book store in Oakville, while I was waiting for my wife. They had Splendor, but it was pretty expensive coming from Toronto (I am not sure what MRSP is in Canada, but it seemed higher than what I would expect). Since this visit was not originally on my list I wanted to wait to buy the game from a store in London so it would be more of a souvenir from my trip. The store was clean and very big. Since they are a comic book store the game selection was not massive, but they had all of the big named games. In the back it seemed like they had a very large room to play. I guess they probably have Magic tournaments there. The person behind the counter was busy with another customer when I entered, and for the 15 minutes I was in the store was still talking with them, so I did not have any interaction with the employees.
In London, the first stop I wanted to make was The Game Chamber. I had visited their website a few weeks ago when I was looking into miniatures gaming. I have no experience with miniatures games (well I play X-Wing, but I think that is a different beast) and wanted to find out about different games and about beginning painting. The website had advertised a “garage sale” in the store on the Saturday I was in town. Anyone could pay the store a small amount and get a table spot in the game room to sell used games, miniatures, and whatever else. I thought is might be a good place to find some great inexpensive used games. What I saw when I entered the store was a wall of board games on one side, and the other side had a couple of aisles of miniatures stuff. They also had Magic at the counter. The store looked fairly clean, but some of the product looked dusty. There seemed to be a lot of natural light in the main room and the back room was well lit. Walking to the back game room I passed a wall where it appeared they stored their terrain for miniature gaming. That was cool to see. In the back room there were the tables with people selling stuff. There was a lot of old RPG games and old used board games (a collector might have liked it, but it was not for me). One guy seemed to have home made cribbage boards, Crokinole boards, and some other wooden games. I am not sure if this is the same person who made the similar looking wooden games that the store stocked. The crokinole boards the main store was selling looked beautiful. I would like to get into the game and had not seen a store selling a board before. The only thing that would prevent me from getting a board there is it was one of the hexagonal boards (round centre but hexagonal edge) and I would prefer one with a round edge so that the distance from the board and my hand was always constant. Their miniatures game stock seemed to predominantly be Games Workshop and Flames of War. They had the new Age of Sigmar starter set in stock. Their board game stock seemed fairly cleaned out when I was there. They didn’t have either of the games I was looking for, and the person behind the counter was working with another customer, so again I did not have interactions with the store employees. I liked that they had the garage sale, even though there was nothing I wanted. It speaks to the community the store wants to foster.
My second stop in London was Imperial Hobbies. This store was very clean (no dust on the product) and well lit. When I entered there were three people playing the new Age of Sigmar game. They were playing on a table that seemed a little small for miniatures gaming, but it was a very hilly surface, which looked absolutely amazing. That is one thing that makes me nervous about getting into minis, I don’t know how I could make a cool table and paint all my minis and still have money to survive. One of these people was and employee, and there was another employee behind the counter. I think there was a third employee in the store as well. They were well stocked on miniatures and had a sale on Privateer Press minis. They were out of stock of Age of Sigmar. In the back they had more games than at the Game Chamber. They had tags on the shelves highlighting the games that were featured on TableTop (with Whil Wheaton). I thought this was a nice touch. I asked the employees about getting into miniatures. They had a lot of good suggestions and were very knowledgeable. This definitely seemed like a Friendly LGS. They had a couple of shelves for consignment. I looked at some, I was interested in a getting second starter set for X-wing, and thought about getting the one in the consignment shelf, but it looked to have been their a while and was starting to fade. It seems there X-Wing miniatures that I looked at were at MRSP, but for the community at the store and their full game schedule it would be work buying. Next time I visit London I will get some from them, unless by then I know what miniatures game I want and which factions, and then I would get them at this store. If they Splendor or Lost Cities had been in stock I would have got it there, because they were definitely a nicely run store. I felt bad not having the budget for making a spur of the moment purchase because it would have been worth supporting this store. I hope to return there.
The third stop was LA Comics. This comic shop had a really good selection of games, and the shelves were well laid out in the store, but I could not always tell how the games were organized. This store was definitely the cleanest store so far. It looked very nice. I did not interact with employees since there was a guy there selling some Magic cards, but the employee and that guy seemed to be friendly with each other. This store had Splendor, but it was at MRSP (or maybe a $1 below since it was $1 cheaper than the comic store I stopped at in Oakville). I didn’t see any gaming space, so it seems like it is just a place to buy games. The X-Wing miniatures were slightly below MRSP, but not as cheap as the stores in Toronto, so if you want to play at home and not at a store you could get them here. Since they were busy with another customer so I couldn’t chat with the employees and didn’t have Lost Cities I went on to the final store, with the intention of coming back for Splendor if the last place did not have it.
The last stop was Uber Cool Stuff. This was a shop with two entrances. The entrance on the main drag actually entered into a clothing store that seemed to target a sort of hippie or alternative fashion. Go through the store and you get to Uber Cool Stuff and you can see the entrance from the next street. The employee I spoke with was amazing. He had a lot of great ideas about games for kids, and they carried at kids game company I had not seen before (I believe it was called Djeco). He suggested some great game for my kids, and if I am near there at Christmas time I will stop and get some because they had a really good selection of kids games and were very knowledgeable about which games were appropriate for which stages of development. They had a bunch of other geeks stuff in stock, like Star Trek laptop bags. Another cool thing they had in stock that I had not seen before was a Catan board where your hexes fit into this plastic frame so that you don’t have problems with the board staying together nicely. It was on Kickstarter a while back, and I had not seen it in any stores other than here. Finally, they had Splendor. Their regular prices was a couple of dollars below the other stores I had seen recently, but it also had a sale sticker, and it ended up being cheaper than the game stores in Toronto, which means it was a really great deal. We got the game, and in the past two nights we have played it 7 times now.
Overall, I would feel good about supporting all of the stores in London. Uber Cool Stuff and Imperial Hobbies both had extremely friendly and helpful staff and I look forward to the next time I visit London so I can return. If I was living near the downtown area of London (which could possibly happen in the not too distant future) I would feel good making Imperial Games by game night hang out, and I would enjoy getting into miniatures gaming at that store. They had everything I think a game store should have. They could have had a bigger stock, but in the space they had they were able to have a lot of product and keep it well organized (not every game store has as much space as 401 games). If I lived further out of downtown, I could see myself trying to join the community at The Game Chamber. Imperial Hobbies would be my top choice, but the Game Chamber also seems to be trying to do things right. A big thumbs up for the gaming community in London ON. I wish I did not have a budget because it would have been nice to support all of these stores.