The demise of a very friendly, local, hybrid game store: An interview with Paul Paterson as fungamescafe.com announces its closure
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Once upon a time, a friend who was familiar with my board gaming hobby asked me if I'd heard of fungamescafe.com. When I looked them up, I was amazed to discover that not only did they allow in-person game pick-ups for locals who wished to avoid shipping costs, but they were located just a few blocks away from where I was living in the city of Mississauga at the time! Now, nearly 10 years later, I count the husband and wife team who run the business, Paul and Abby Paterson, amongst my very best of friends, and I'm certain that I'm not the only member of the local gaming community who would say that. I have spent my share of money "supporting" their business over the years, and have helped them run their booth at various conventions around southern Ontario.

So it was with mixed emotions that I learned that fungamescafe would be closing its doors once and for all. Before he ended that chapter of his life, I wanted to ask Paul all about his experiences as the owner and operator of a hybrid* game shop that he ran on the side in addition to working full-time at his "regular" career, being a father of 2 young children, being a husband and a friend and all the other hats he wears on a daily basis. Abby very kindly contributed some answers to my questions as well.


*The Patersons allotted a portion of their house to displaying their available product for locals who would drop in all hours of the day, as well as running fungamescafe.com for online game sales.



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1. Board Game: Age of Discovery [Average Rating:6.37 Overall Rank:2656]
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When did you discover the world of modern board games? Do you recall which game or games re-ignited the passion?


Paul: I grew up playing all kinds of board, card, and video games. Both my parents and all my siblings are gamers, as well as much of my dad's side of the family (including my grandmother, who loved to play card games with us when she visited from Scotland). I played American games and traditional games: Monopoly, Risk, Chess (took as an elective in elementary school), The Game of Life, Pay Day, The Mad Magazine Game... so many others... Euchre, 500, Whist, Cribbage, etc. Abby didn't grow up playing games with her family.

My re-introduction to board games would have been in around 2002 when Abby and I really started to get into board games thanks to my friend Derrick J. (who I've known since we were 4 years old). I lurked on BGG for a couple of years and then finally registered on January 2nd, 2004.

One of the first card games that we tried was Chez Geek, which was good for a laugh once or twice. I was already deep into Magic: The Gathering at the time and had played Warhammer 40,000 for years (including painting my own figures), so I was familiar with the local hobby shops. I purchased my first Euro game, Through the Desert, at Bayshore Hobbies in Hamilton (which closed down in 2013 after 33 years in business). That game, Catan, and later, Power Grid and Puerto Rico, got me hooked.




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2. Board Game: Birth of a Legend [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:8251]
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When did fungamescafe come into being? What was your motivation for starting the business?


Paul: We started running a monthly games day in 2004 (when our older child was still a baby), and started organizing group game orders (mostly arranging to get games from Games Surplus in the U.S. or RainyDay Games in Manitoba). Eventually, we thought to launch it into a business.

I had been thinking of opening some kind of store for years, like a movie rental place or a comic book store, or something like that. Basically, the choice of fungamescafe came down to my deep interest (obsession!) with games, combined with Abby's passion for food and hospitality. The business name came about based on a combination of what .com addresses were available at the time, as well as our long-term goal of one day opening a cafe.

We started the business in between the birth of our 2 children, so we wanted something that Abby could do from home for a while. The other primary motivation for starting this business was our desire to have a business that would encourage people to spend face-to-face time together and foster community.

The decision to run with it was a rash and quick-moving idea which started to formalize in September, 2005 and was up and running by October. We decided to move quickly so that we could hit the Christmas season.

Abby had some experience with retail and I had next to none. At first we thought we would take orders and fill them as they came in, but soon after we decided to stock games. I did some research on BGG, and decided to order 2 copies of each of the 100 games that I figured would be the top sellers. That was a learning curve, as we wound up with 2 copies of some games that didn't sell at all in the first year.

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3. Board Game: Café Melange [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:4644]
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Whatever happened to the cafe? Years before Snakes & Lattes opened their doors in Toronto in 2010, spurring a new trend within North America, you had the plan to build fungamescafe into a physical cafe location. What prevented you from pursuing this aspect of the business?


Paul: We never cultivated the amount of revenue that would have been necessary for the high cost of renting commercial real estate in our area, and we discovered that our kids weren't wired for this sort of pursuit. And then there's the deadly combination of two of the most risky business ventures around: restaurant and niche hobby!
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4. Board Game: Ever Green [Average Rating:5.53 Overall Rank:11969]
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Do you have a rough idea of how many games in total you've sold since the business started up? What have been a few of your best-selling games over the years? And what have been the most popular titles over the past couple of years?


Paul: I have no clue as to the total number of games - I'd be curious to know that as well! We are currently at invoice #17399, so we've had that many orders over the years (though some would have been the cash sales for an entire convention).

We refer to the best sellers in the industry as "evergreen products". Those include Catan, Carcassonne, Pandemic, Dominion, and Ticket to Ride, to name a few. Other relatively recent titles that have been hugely popular are Love Letter, Hanabi, Coup, Boss Monster: The Dungeon Building Card Game, Star Realms, and The Resistance. Had we been able to carry Cards Against Humanity (Snakes & Lattes has an exclusive distribution deal for the game), it would have likely been our top seller, based on the number of people who call to inquire about it.


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5. Board Game: Popularity Lottery [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Do any games stand out to you as being much more popular than you had anticipated? On the flip side, which games did you stock fairly heavily, anticipating robust sales, only to have them collect dust on your shelves?


Paul: There have been so many games over the years that were more popular than we had anticipated. Some that come to mind are Agricola, Terra Mystica, and Sushi Go!.

I tend to be conservative when stocking multiple copies of games so as not to end up with unmoveable stock. However the year that Mr. Jack was released (2006), despite our being a very small company in our first year of business, I acted on a hunch and bought all the remaining copies from the Canadian supplier. We ended up with over 100 copies of the game, but we were the only store in North America, and perhaps the world, to have it in stock until the reprint. We shipped copies all over the place, including Australia.

Regarding items that didn't sell well, we had a booth at local homeschooling shows for a number of years, so we would stock up on educational games figuring they'd sell well, but they rarely did.

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6. Board Game: All Time Favorites [Average Rating:6.75 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.75 Unranked]
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While we're on the topic of specific games, which games would you list as being your personal favourites?


Paul:
From last year:
-Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game
-Castles of Mad King Ludwig
-Sushi Go!
-King of New York
-Lords of Xidit
-Machi Koro

All-time favourites:
-Power Grid
-Railways of the World
-Chaos in the Old World
-7 Wonders
-Saint Petersburg

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7. Board Game: Happy Camper [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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What has been your favourite aspect of running fungamescafe? Do you have a particularly happy memory from your years in the business?


Paul: We ran a few all-day games days and it was great to receive support from so many publishers and to have so many from the local gaming community come out and play.

On a day-to-day basis I most enjoyed the research, figuring out what and how much to order, and coming up with creative ideas on how to get rid of slow stock. It always made me happy and feel appreciated when customers would visit our store for the first time and be all excited that we existed and had the games they were looking for. I also enjoyed filling custom orders for people; I'd have to search around, trying to figure out how to get the items they wanted, and sometimes I would even get them through trades with other gamers.

One particularly special transaction stands out to me. A few years ago, on March 27th, we received an order through our website from a guy named Nathan Fillion. Being a huge fan of the TV show Firefly, I wanted to make sure it was really him before I sent him an email. I did a little searching online and found a couple of clues, including the fact that his birthday is that day, which had me fairly convinced that this was the actor. I emailed him (trying not to be creepy!), said that I was a fan and that I appreciated his order, and suggested that he visit our booth at FanExpo if he was ever to attend. A few months later we found out that he was coming to FanExpo for the first time. I didn't get to meet him, but I like to think that I had something to do with his coming.

And for all of you who are dying to know what Nathan Fillion ordered from us for his birthday: The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – Conflict at the Carrock



Abby: Conventions were always fun, but it's especially fun when you have customers who bring you treats! One of our customers, Daniel, would bring us delicious, home-made, gluten-free cookies and snacks at almost every convention we attended for a couple of years. That was amazing!



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8. Board Game: Turkey Day [Average Rating:6.00 Unranked]
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What part of running the business did you least expect? Do you have a particularly bizarre or hilarious story from your years in business?


Paul: I had no idea how much time it would consume. Running your own business really can eat up endless amounts of time.

On a more positive note, I didn't expect to meet so many great people over the years. I'm a fairly extreme introvert, so I have been forced into many situations that I would have avoided had I had the choice. This resulted in personal growth, in my becoming less shy and in building valuable relationships.

There were some funny moments, and one in particular that pops into mind. We were hosting a game day, and one guy brought along an entire turkey and asked Abby to carve it and serve it for him!
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9. Board Game: Negative Feedback [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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What has been your least favourite part of running fungamescafe? Do you have a particularly negative memory from your years in the business?


Paul: My least favourite aspects have been the bookkeeping, packing orders, adding new games to the website, and dealing with bad customers.

One local guy stole over $1,000 using some PayPal loophole. It was the most frustrating thing to deal with, but in hindsight it was also the last straw in deciding to close the business after having wrestled with the idea for quite a while.



Abby: I have to say, I won't miss lugging huge boxes through rain, snow, sleet, ice pellets, etc. all over southern Ontario. The mileage I've put on our vehicles picking up stock, delivering orders, traveling to conventions, and so on, is astounding as well.
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10. Board Game: LOCAL HERO ! [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Roughly how much of your business has been repeat customers verses one-offs? What about locals making in-person pick-ups at your home verses orders that needed to be shipped?


Paul: The ratio of local pick-ups to shipping has shifted over the years from 80% pick-ups to closer to 50%. I'm not sure as to the percentage of repeat customers, but I would say that repeat business was very high. Even customers that were from other countries would order from us regularly. One particular customer is a famous musician from India who loves games and makes a point of picking up from us during his travels.

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11. Board Game: Round the World in Place Value [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Do you recall what the total value of the single most expensive order you've ever received from a customer was?


Paul: We had a regular customer who moved from BC to Australia. He did one last order after he moved overseas for over $1,200 in games. This was not only the highest value order we've received, but it was likely the highest shipping cost too.
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12. Board Game: Philanthropist: A Window on the World of Painting [Average Rating:4.78 Unranked]
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I can vouch for the fact that fungamescafe has not been all about the bass bottom line, and that you have taken every opportunity to donate products and resources to various charitable organizations and fundraising events. Which game companies were the most generous with helping you provide free product for these events? Tell me about some of the organizations that remain very important to you.


Paul:
Generous game companies:
-GMT Games has been amazing to deal with (I just wish their games were more popular!) - http://www.gmtgames.com/
-Z-Man (now F2Z Entertainment) has also been amazing to deal with; they've been very generous, we have an amazing rep (Tommy), and most of their games are excellent - http://zmangames.com/home.php

Other game companies that have provided great support over the years:
-Northstar Games - http://www.northstargames.com/
-Alderac Entertainment Group - http://www.alderac.com/
-Mayfair Games - http://www.mayfairgames.com/

Organizations that are important to us:
-The Dam - http://www.thedam.org/
-CastleCon (the best board gaming convention I've attended in Ontario) - http://www.castlecon.net/
-Niagara Boardgaming Weekend (great local convention) - http://niagaraboardgaming.com/
-TABSCon (great quarterly convention) - http://www.tabsonline.net/
-HammerCon (great gaming convention with a little bit of every kind of gaming) - http://www.hammercon.ca/
-FallCon (I've never attended, but it looks amazing) - http://www.fallcon.com/
-BGG.Con (attended in 2009 and donated games to the library in the early days) - https://boardgamegeek.com/wiki/page/BGG.Con

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13. Board Game: Funny Friends [Average Rating:6.47 Overall Rank:1650]
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Besides my fine self, do you currently have any close friends in your life who you originally met through your business?


Paul: Yes indeed - most of the people I hang out with are people I've met through board gaming. I can't remember what life was like without board gaming as a main focus!
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14. Board Game: Family Business [Average Rating:6.10 Overall Rank:2423]
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How have you and Abby, as a husband and wife partnership, found the experience of running a small business together to be? Has it been a challenge to juggle your family life at the same time as a business?


Paul: Juggling the work/life balance, finding childcare when running events, etc., have all provided us with plenty of difficulties to overcome over the years. But it's taught our kids great lessons about running a small business, such as customer service and how to treat people.


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15. Board Game: The Demise of Dr. Frankenstein [Average Rating:6.48 Unranked]
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I know that you've reached a point where the amount of time you put into the business verses the rather pitiful net revenue you receive means that you're doing a lot of work for very little money. Some factors I can think of that would undermine the success of a game shop include the opening of other similar shops within Ontario, the poor recent performance of the Canadian dollar in comparison to the American dollar (with the Canadian board game market being tiny in comparison to that of the U.S.), a sluggish economy in general leading people to spend less on luxury items, the increasing presence of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites as a means for consumers to purchase directly from the publishers and cut out the distributors and retailers (yet still, in many cases, pay higher prices in spite of cutting out these "middlemen"!), and board game cafes that also sell and distribute games becoming commonplace across southern Ontario. Were there other factors that contributed to the demise of fungamescafe, and of those listed here, which do you think were the most significant?


Paul: Those were certainly all factors. Kickstarter removes most of the sales from retailers unless the game is a smash hit. Many publishers sell direct (some even at a discount) online and at conventions.

In the board game industry, the retailers really have a tough go. Distributors and publishers often have a tendency to treat online stores as a low-class business. I considered our business to be a hybrid as we had a store set up in our home and were available for pick-ups most of the time, in addition to the online sales through the website. However, many publishers and distributors didn't get this hybrid idea and we had to fight over the years to set up accounts with some of our suppliers.

Personal fatigue was also a factor: tired of people complaining about prices and price matching; the customer who stole over $1,000 worth of product; tired of people calling to ask us if we're a cafe; realizing that we would never fulfill our dream of opening the cafe.



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16. Board Game: Tally-Ho [Average Rating:6.23 Overall Rank:11139]
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How do you feel about your business coming to a close? Looking back, with hindsight being 20/20 and all that jazz, do you have any regrets, or are you happy that you put all those years of work into fungamescafe?


Paul:
I went through a wide range of emotions, much like the stages of Loss and Grief:

Denial and Isolation - I've been through plenty of denial and isolation; telling myself that we could make the business continue to work even as it was becoming clear that things were not heading in the right direction, trying to convince myself that we wouldn't have to shut down since I had put so much time and effort into trying to keep it going. Being a small business owner can certainly be very isolating, particularly as a highly introverted individual. Other than Abby, I didn't really have anyone to talk with about the business who could relate on the same level.

Anger - Feelings of anger flared up as the business began to fail despite my best efforts.

Bargaining - Over the past few months I've been struggling to determine if this was the right move, mostly through conversations with Abby and close friends, and constantly second-guessing myself along the way.

Depression - Once the decision was made, the finality of it left me feeling depressed as I mourned the loss of something that was such a big part of my life, something that we had created ourselves from scratch.

Acceptance - I think that I've mostly reached this point, though I'm still floating between all these stages at various times, with depression continuing to linger in the background.

To summarize, I'm mourning the loss/failure of the business, but I'm feeling relieved, as well, to start a new chapter in our lives. Hope is blooming with the knowledge that I'll be able to refocus on playing more games, spend more time with my family, seek a change in my career, and after some time to take a break, open myself to new opportunities and adventures.

And I try to live my life without regret. I've met so many wonderful people over the years and it is such a great hobby. I've personally grown so much through these experiences; I wouldn't be the person I am today if I were to go back and change anything.



Abby: I am sad that we were never able to have an actual cafe since that was always my goal. But the number of amazing people we have met over the past 10 years is incredible! Most of our best friends are both gamers and customers, and we wouldn't have it any other way!



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17. Board Game: Proverbial Wisdom [Average Rating:4.62 Unranked]
Hey, I've created a video channel! Hover over my avatar to get more info! :) - Josh -
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What key bits of advice would you give to anyone who is foolish enough to be considering starting their own online board game shop in this increasingly saturated market?


Paul: DON'T DO IT!! I seriously don't think that it can be truly successful, especially in Canada. In the U.S. it might be possible as the market is 10 times larger, but even there it is extremely difficult. Look at ThoughtHammer, Boards & Bits, Boulder Games, and whatever other unsuccessful online retailers I'm forgetting. They tried for so many years and ended up folding.

Between Amazon and Kickstarter, the industry has changed so much since we started almost 10 years ago. There is a "race for the bottom" mentality in retail as it mostly boils down to whoever can sell for the lowest price.

I think it could work in Canada as a hybrid store with the right mix of product, store front, location, liquor licence, coffee, etc. The focus would have to be on items with a good mark-up (ie. NOT board games!) and items that encourage customers to come back to the store on a weekly basis (board games don't have this draw for most people).

I believe that there's a huge, untapped market consisting of people just getting into games who don't yet know about the hobby. There would have to be a larger focus on that particular demographic rather than the uber hard-core BGG gamer with a spreadsheet of the stores that have the lowest prices on their future acquisitions.

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18. Board Game: Career Explorers [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Do you see yourself getting into any other type of game-related business activity, or are you happy to close this chapter of your life, relegate gaming to the fun hobby that it started out as, and move on to other things?


Paul: I'm open for the right opportunity, if there is one. I'm thinking a break will be good and I'll wait and see what the future brings. I still plan to attend some of the local conventions such as CastleCon, TABSCon, and the Niagara Boardgaming Weekend if I'm able.

I will be looking for a new job soon in the field of Application Support (my other full-time career), working toward a Team Leader/Manager position. If anyone has any job leads, please let me know!



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19. Board Game: Pit Jr: Shout it Out! [Average Rating:6.33 Unranked]
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Is there anything else you'd like to add?


Paul: Just a shout-out to Jam3Media, who made our website way back when they were just starting out and who are now an award-winning web development shop.

Also to Richard Baker, who has done our web dev for the past year or so.

And of course Josh, who took the time to do this and is the best friend anyone could have.

Finally, a big THANK YOU to all the family, friends, and loyal customers over the years who have supported us in so many ways. Without you, this endeavour would not have lasted as long as it did.

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20. Board Game: Happy Retirement [Average Rating:3.50 Unranked]
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Paul and Abby are two of the most kind, warm-hearted, generous people I know, and after all these years of working hard at their business, it makes me happy to know that they will have more time for other pursuits and that gaming will become more of a hobby for them again and less about work! I'm thankful for the great things they have done for the local gaming community, both in terms of opening their home for friends and strangers alike to stop by at all hours of the day to pick up games for our enjoyment, and for hosting frequent open gaming events at their house and church. I wish them all the best in their future endeavours!

Here, have a cake.




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21. Board Game: Peanut Gallery [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
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Paul has kindly agreed to open this up to inquiries from the floor, so if you have anything you'd like to ask him, please feel free to add a GeekList item with your question(s). To keep in the spirit of game purchases, when you choose the representative game for your GeekList item, please pick the game that is your current hotness!





Cheers, and happy gaming to all! meeple

-Josh
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22. Board Game: Polis: Fight for the Hegemony [Average Rating:7.73 Overall Rank:518]
Dennis Ku
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Toronto
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Oh man...I'm sorry to hear this news, Paul and Abby, but I'm also excited for you to have a lot more time on your hands. Despite saying I would, I've never gotten a game in with you at the various conventions where I've seen you.

I've had the privilege of buying games from your store many times, although not as many as would have happened if I had lived closer. I remember I managed to get your last copy of Polis at least a year (maybe two?) before it became widely available with the reprint.

It's a sad day for board game enthusiasts in the GTA!
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23. Board Game: Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery [Average Rating:7.47 Overall Rank:279]
Trevor Allaby
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Stirling
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Great article. Thanks Josh, Paul and Abby.

I met Abby at Games Summit up in Ottawa in 2013 I think. I was amazed that out off all the vendors in the vendors section, she was the only one who actually spoke like a gamer. I was just really starting to hit the hobby hard at that point, and she was able to speak about most of the games you had on display from experience which I thought was very cool. The favorable impression at that convention lead me to start using you guys exclusively for any of my on-line purchases, and I must say I have never been disappointed. Your prices are always great and I have never had any issues.

I was pleased to actually meet and get a game to the table with Paul at Castlecon, and having the table set up to feed my convention aquisition disorder has been great!

Sorry to hear about the negative experiences, you guys seem far to nice to deserve that kind of crap. Good luck in all your future endeavors. Now, lets see if I can get a tax return pushed through before the Clearance Section empties out!!
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24. Board Game: Power Grid [Average Rating:7.91 Overall Rank:29]
Martin B
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Wishing you, Abby and the kids all the best in your future activities. Hopefully, you can take some time to unwind and recharge before moving on to the next chapter.
I loved browsing in your store even though we only stopped by rarely. Now, with your mind off the store, maybe you'll actually win at Power Grid!
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25. Board Game: Star Wars: Imperial Assault [Average Rating:8.14 Overall Rank:25]
Warner Chaves
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Good luck on your future endeavors Paul! I myself got a bunch of stuff from your site that was unable to find on the brick & mortar stores here in Ottawa. Cheers to that!
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