Buying Blind (with help from FLGSs)

When it comes to tabletop game shopping, Edward and I usually test before we invest. We use the cafes and open box games at some of our downtown stores to get a good taste before we go in and buy. This is mostly because it is an expensive hobby… and we want to make sure what ends up on our shelves gets relatively used.

But, with TableTop Day being announced (April 29), we thought it would be a good time to talk about a good connection for any game-interested person: Friendly Local Game Shops.

And our topic for today? I’m going to name some Torontonian FLGSs and some tips on how they can help you shop… especially ‘buying blind.’

In downtown Toronto there are several great game stores. One that’s front and center is 401 Games, on Yonge just south of Wellesley. It’s a pretty big store with a massive library (also selling collectible card games, RPG materials and models and figurines) and a second floor with a bring-your-own-food game ‘rental’ area where you can try out some of the titles. They also have regular tournaments there and usually host TableTop Day events. Their prices are competitive but not the lowest in the area – but the staff also know what they are talking about. They’re friendly and helpful and if the store’s not too crowded will give you a good helping hand.

One of my other personal favourites is currently tucked away in a second floor space a few blocks north of Dundas Square on Yonge street. Hairy Tarantula (or Hairy T as Ed and I affectionately call it) currently has two second floor spaces a block apart, both tricky to find, and is having great moving sales to while they prep their new location.

Hairy T was always fun to visit – games on shelves piled sometimes too high to reach, a great collection of figurines, anime and manga to go along with all the boxes of games, and they used to also have a group of cats living there but they now stay at home with the owner. I always associated this place with aficionados of the gaming world – 401 may know what it’s doing but Hairy T has some great experts. They were all extremely kind and I’ve got some fun memories of going there – and not all are related to the cute cats.

Another great stop is the basement marvel Meeplemart on Spadina just south of Dundas. It’s a vast space, half of it dedicated to miniatures, the other a large maze library of games you could get lost in (and a small section of game collectibles like figurines). Arguably the best selection and prices of all three, although less central to the city. When I’ve been there the staff have been kind and helpful, though compared to Hairy T and 401 I haven’t gotten quite the same service. To be fair on them, they were doing a major renovation when I’d been visiting (since it was going on during the multiple visits) so this may not be always true.

Well, I’ve name some of my FLGSs. So now you may be asking – what’s this concept of buying blind?

Buying blind is going in to your FLGSs and asking them for some help identifying a good game for you that you may not have thought of.

In a world embracing tabletop more than ever, there are tons of ways to hear about great games – watching some news places (check out Snakes and Lattes blog or podcast, Board Game Geek’s website has regular posts, there are also gaming magazines with tabletop sections) or even keeping track of what’s winning the multiple awards out there. You can also keep up with conventions and watch kick-starter sites, or even go to cafes and check out the ‘what’s new’ or ask the game guru (should they have one on duty).

But Friendly Local Game Shops are often populated with staff that live and breathe the merchandise. They will know the cons, the indie start ups, the marketing jargon, the awards. They may own several, have game nights of their own, and chat games with their colleagues. With SO many games out there, you aren’t going to hear about all of them from your own research – so you go to those who are really invested.

My advice for doing this is try to know a bit about your preferences, or what you’re in the market for. If possible, know what you have troubles finding and buying and want some help looking for something to fill the gaps in your library.

Even if you’re information is vague – for example, I often describe our favourite game type as ‘medium to semi-heavy strategy’ which is the vast majority of major titles on the market, it still gives them some clues. Like, for example, it eliminates trivia and luck games (for the most part) when I say that.

Here is my favourite example of buying blind: I went to Hairy Tarantula looking for a gift for Edward a while back. I was asked by the employee working there (who I recognize as a pretty good expert, he’s helped me before) what I was looking for. So I told him I had a bit of a challenge for him.

“We like medium to semi-heavy strategy. We mostly play just my husband and I, but we host game nights and I also have a game group at work that plays every Friday. The game nights can sometimes have larger groups, like up to 8 or sometimes 10. We’ve got a interesting mix of people that like different kinds of games… but right now we’re really into cooperative and are trying to expand our co-op game collection. Do you have anything that can be played by a larger group, but is also good for 2 people and is, if possible, co-op.”

There are a few nice games in this category, but not too many and we owned most of them that could be named. He got thoughtful and looked through the library and pulled a game I had honestly not heard of before – Mysterium. He explained the concept of the game to me, it was 2-7 people and cooperative, and told me it was really good. So I bought it on the spot.

Mysterium is like Dixit and Clue had a baby. One person plays as a mute ghost who can only speak in ‘visions’ – cards that look like creepier versions of Dixit cards – and the others have to work together to translate the visions to solve the murder mystery of what happened to the ghost.

The game was a hit – we loved it, it was loved at game night, my lunch game group loved it. It’s mix of creativity and strategy and the fact that it’s co-op make it an easy-to-learn and fun to play game for a wide variety of people. The only group I have left to test it on is my family… and since my mom loves Clue and we had a blast playing Dixit I think it will go well.

This was the incident that changed me and Edward’s minds on buying blind. It allows us to mix it up and try something we otherwise would on the trusted words of an expert – not just a game expert, but an expert at suggesting games for others.

We’ve bought blind a few more times in a similar but slightly different fashion – where there have been games we have liked the sound of but are unable to test due to their makeup being hard to maintain at game cafes. So we instead ask the staff their opinion of the game.

I’ve never honestly felt that any staff member of a FLGSs has ever tried to up-sell a game or forcefully encourage me to buy something – I usually find them to be pretty honest. They may not knock a game completely, but they’ll say something like “It’s okay, but there are similar games I prefer (and then name a few options)” or “It’s not bad, but from your usual tastes I don’t think it’ll be something you enjoy.” But the thing is, they build up trust – and if they then tell me a game is good, I believe the game is good.

So, there you have it! Mix it up a little – go get to know your FLGSs and get them to recommend a good game for you. Just tell them what you like and what you’re looking for and let them choose out some options you may not have thought of.

Or, if you’re curious about a game, go and ask them! They will give you their honest thoughts about it and if there’s something better out there – they will let you know!

Also, go check out what shops near you are celebrating International TableTop Day. We’ll be coming home from Japan on April 29th, so we can go out – but you should definitely take the chance to do so!

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