Tabletop gaming on the rise in the SCV

Gamers start a Dungeons and Dragons campaign at Geek Girls Forever in Newhall Tuesday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

For those looking for an alternative to their routine of movies, video games and streaming shows, a growing number of Santa Clarita Valley residents are having fun with a more interactive way to bring adventure into their lives: tabletop gaming.

Spurred in part by shows like “Stranger Things,” pop culture is bringing tabletop games — any games usually played on a flat surface like a table — back into the mainstream discussion. This includes everything from chess to the “Magic: The Gathering” card game and, of course, the timeless classic “Dungeons & Dragons.”

And the Santa Clarita Valley has a bevy of venues for any would-be gamers.

Brave New World Comics

Much like his approach to comic books, Brave New World Comics owner Andy Liegl aims to make gaming an all-ages family experience.

Liegl opens up his store to tabletop gaming like “HeroClix” and the “Pokemon” card game on Saturdays, and role-playing games like “Dungeons & Dragons” or “Star Wars” on Sundays. Though many opt to drop their kids off to play, he encourages parents to join in on the fun.

“We have a lot of parents that play with their kids, and it’s cool to see them teach their kids strategy and critical thinking,” Liegl said. “There a game out there for everybody and I love that Santa Clarita families are so into tabletop gaming as an alternative to video games.”

Brave New World offers both casual play and competitive play, including tournaments with prizes. So long as someone knows the rules, and is willing to facilitate, Liegl said he is willing to host sessions, as well as conduct tournaments.

Originally from Utah, Danny Meecham has been a tabletop gamer since 2004, but has only been a part of Santa Clarita’s gaming community for eight months. What sets Brave New World apart from other gaming options for him is the community.

“The players are very knowledgeable, and the staff is extremely friendly and could answer all my questions about different products and it’s not always the case for store to know their games and their clientele,” Meecham said.

Geek Girls Forever

Joining any new activity can be intimidating, especially something so nuanced and detail oriented as gaming. However, Geek Girls Forever offers help to interested newcomers learning the ropes.

Formed in 2015, Geek Girls hosts different activity nights for members to do crafts, go on trips and celebrate geek culture including games. Though as the name suggests, Geek Girls primary caters to women, men are welcome to the events, and Moore often sees a 60/40 split between players.

“Gaming is inherently part of geek culture, so we’ve always had gaming and, sometimes it’s players choice board game nights, sometimes it’s games I bring in, and we’ve even hosted some local game developers to show off their products,” said Kate Moore, owner of Geek Girls Forever. “Our D&D campaigns started after ‘Stranger Things’ came out, and our members wanted to play, but didn’t know how.

“They wanted to learn but didn’t want to screw up someone else’s game, so I found a dungeon master, and we started our own campaign — which grew so popular that I have had to add three more campaigns. There’s so much imagination involved, and I don’t think adults get to use their imagination too often, so it’s nice to forget about having to pay bills or go to work for a couple of hours.”

Geek Girls game nights are specifically geared towards beginners to provide a comfortable space for people who want to learn a new game without fear of judgment. Since the group is self-led, Moore tailors the events to what interests the group. Her main goal is to teach new games and foster connections, and some members who have become friends have explored different game stores in Los Angeles on their own.

First-time D&D player Dana Silverman said while she has trouble finding social activities geared towards people in their 20s and 30s in Santa Clarita, Geek Girls provides a casual environment where people of all fandoms can gather.

“I’ve tried playing with friends before but the dungeon master in those games was more concerned with their story than with people being involved and having fun,” Silverman said. “Here, not only did we have the freedom to talk and explore, but we were able to just connect.”

Micaela More, a pastor from Sun Valley, has been gaming since the 1980s, and she comes to Santa Clarita to play because there’s nothing like that near where she lives, she said.

“Gaming is something that is creatively energetic in a more wholesome environment than at a bar with total strangers,” More said. “It’s a positive outlet for the better parts of our nature, and in games like D&D, people through their characters will go out of their way to help someone else. Gaming teaches unity, inclusion and an appreciation for diversity, which I feel our country is currently lacking.”

Gamers play a card game called “Secrets” at game night at Green Tower Games in Newhall Thursday night. Cory Rubin/The SIgnal

Green Tower Games

Every night after 5:30 p.m., game enthusiasts come to Garrett Morgan’s Green Tower Games to have some good, social fun.

“The gaming community in Santa Clarita is a little smaller than in L.A. or Pasadena, but it’s still very strong and enough to support our store,” Morgan said. “Hundreds of new games come out each month, and unless you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the internet, we’re here to help introduce people to games you might not find out about.”

Miller maintains a schedule and calendar of which games and groups play each week as well as special events his store hosts on the weekends.

Ryan Miller has been playing board games for four years and said that Green Tower is unique because the store caters more to a community of board game players.

“I started by playing ‘Settlers of Catan’ and … that made me realize board games were more than just roll and move games like ‘Monopoly’ or ‘Clue,’” Miller said. “Board games allow me to have a kind of social interaction that I can’t get from video games. You can really get to know someone by the games they own and how they play.Green Tower is cool because it’s a place where everyone brings their collection and you can experience games you don’t have with a rotating door of new people each week.”

Paper Hero’s Comics

Paper Hero’s Comics sought to fill in a niche and a vacuum. Nicholas Yeager, co-owner of Paper Hero’s Comics, said that when the store opened in 2009, there wasn’t anywhere in Santa Clarita that really focused on gaming.

“Another game store, A Perfect Game, closed six months prior to us opening and they were the big gaming store so there was a vacuum,” Yeager said. “One day, we went out looking for ‘HeroClix’ and there was nothing, so my dad decided we should start a business. We started with a small amount of product of everything and it just expanded out over time.”

Tough the store sells many different games, the primary games patrons play and hold tournaments are “Yu-Gi-Oh!,” “Magic: The Gathering” and “Dragon Ball Super,” all collectible trading card games. Due to space constraints and the more niche interests of its customers, Paper Hero’s likes to keep the tournaments on the more casual side.

“‘Magic’ is the biggest card game in the world and ‘Dragon Ball’ just came out of nowhere and caught us by surprise with how popular it is … ” Yeager said, adding ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ is another one he sees as a popular choice.

Yaeger said he thinks that gaming benefits people due to its intellectual stimulation.

“I love games that are strategic and favorite game to play is chess because you can outthink your opponent at every turn,” he said. “What most people don’t realize about gaming is that there are so many people in their 30s and 40s that it appeals to because you don’t outgrow it; it ages with us.”

Santa Clarita libraries

Books & Battles is the library’s tabletop gaming program for teens that teaches participants how to play games like “Dungeons & Dragons,” as well as runs campaigns. Originally developed at the Canyon Country branch, the program has spread to all branches due to public interest; however, during the summer months, the Old Town Newhall Library is the only branch that plays.

The Newhall library began its Books and Battles in July by playing through the new official “Stranger Things”-themed campaign to coincide with the release of the show’s third season. The players responded so positively that the library decided to make Books & Battles a permanent program.

“We have a member of our library staff running the campaign as the dungeon master and the teens who come will get to create characters and role play as them,” said Marissa Thompson, teen librarian for the Newhall library. “While it may seem intimidating at first, the more you play the easier it is going to be and all our sessions are friendly for players of all levels. Shows like ‘Stranger Things’ and podcasts have brought D&D back into the limelight, and you can see a lot of kids playing the game now.”

Outside of just running the game, Thompson said that she has other activities planned for participants like creating drawstring bags for their dice and felt dice trays.

“We really love to give teens the opportunity to craft and be creative,” Thompson said, “to use their hands and imagination to make things they never learned how to make before or might not be able to do at home.”

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