James & Kirsten of Cloud Cap Games
James Brady is sitting on a low stool at a counter in Cloud Cap Games. He's surrounded by hundreds of intricate table top games, a bowl of multi-sided die, and packs of collectible trading cards, but he's not sure if he or his wife, Kirsten, will fit my target audience.
“I'm not sure how 'geeky' we are,” he says slowly. “I mean, on a scale of geekiness, we are probably at the low end of the spectrum.”
After all, he adds, he just quit his Dungeons and Dragons group.
“We've rationalized it a lot,” Kirsten says, laughing.
“There are a bunch of people who enjoy playing board games – or who might enjoy them if they tried – but they wouldn't call themselves 'geeks.' Or maybe they think board games are only for 'geeks.' We are trying to entice those people, trick them into coming in here and playing a game,” she says.
People are tricked. From the outside, it's hard to tell exactly what the store sells, though you can see an abominable snowman made from cardboard holding up a fishing poll. When you step inside, you're greeted by a huge tree, its branches sprawling out from the center of the store and illuminated by strings of tiny lights. It's beautiful.
“I had been to the gaming stores around Portland and wasn't really pleased with the environment they had,” says James. “I wanted to create a space where I would want to play games, a place that felt comfortable and inviting.”
“Like a living room,” says Kirsten. “We wanted to bring gaming out of the basement.”
Don't tell anyone, but James and Kirsten are originally from California. But they've been here for 13 years and the tree in the center of the store is proof of their Oregonian-ness: Kirsten pieced it together from the scraps of wood left after installing the shop's cabinets. Aside from the whimsy it creates, the tree also reflects their love for the outdoors.
“I was infected with board games when we moved up to the mountains and would get snowed in,” says Kirsten. “We'd spend the day outside and then come home with a group of friends, make dinner, and play board games all night.”
Cloud Cap Games does feel like Sellwood's living room. There's a cozy set of tables in the side room where a couple and a family with two young kids are playing some of the open games. There's a patio in the back where you can play as well, weather permitting. Kirsten acts the part of the mom, taking a break from the interview to go and gift wrap a customer's purchase, complete with curled ribbon. She reassures James that the specks in his gummy bears are supposed to be there, and then wonders out-loud if she should go talk to the couple in the game room.
“When I see people come in on their own, I like to encourage them to play a game with some other people,” she says.
Tonight is Wednesday, one of the store's board game nights. They've been hosting them since the store opened in fall of 2009. They became so popular that the small store would literally be filled to capacity. Recently, they've started a punch-card system, where patrons pay $10 for 10 punches and use one punch per person per game night to play. It controls the crowds and helps them make a bit of money (“to pay for the lights and such,” Kirsten says).
Basically shutting down their entire store to host a party twice a week for a measly $1 per person might not be the best business practice, but it is worth it to the couple. They love board games because they offer a unique opportunity to spend time with other people.
“The people and families who come into our store have a desire to sit around a table and interact with people, real people, doing something together,” says James.
“Maybe it's a backlash against social media,” says Kirsten. “Sure, we have games on our phones and computers we can play, but board games are real, you can touch the pieces, and the people you are playing with are actually there in front of you.”
Somehow, James and Kirsten seem to know the names of almost everyone who is coming in while the couple sets up chairs and extra tables. A man walks in holding a glass of beer and gives them a nod, directing his two kids to a nearby table where they start setting up an intricate space game. Some people have brought their favorite games from home, and groups are arguing over what games to play. One of the food carts is serving sushi. A woman I speak with says Cloud Cap Games has the most balanced male-to-female ratios of any board game event she's been to. Two older men start asking me historical trivia questions and I'm not sure why.
It's like a family party. A dysfunctional, slightly alcoholic family party. It's amazing.
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