SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The COVID-19 pandemic has had many Utahns starved of face-to-face contact outside of work and family, with an increased number turning to video games and similar solo-hobbies. Utah’s rich community of “friendly local game stores” might help some Utahns find a new community to enjoy their hobbies with in-person. 

Generally, a local game store (or LGS) is a retail space that specializes in board games, card games, tabletop games, and other similar geekdom. These stores do more than just sell games, however. They offer networks, in-person space, and overall community to Utahns of the nerdier variety. 

Whether you like Dungeons and Dragons, Magic the Gathering, Pokémon, or run-of-the-mill board games, Utah’s local game stores can help connect you with other fans and hobbyists. Jordan Bird of Game Grid Lehi (toting the motto of “Good games, good people, good fun”) says that there’s “always people playing whatever game you want to play.”  

Bird says that the assumption that nerdy hobbyists are cliquey, antisocial “AV club types” is a big misconception. Over the last five years at Game Grid he has seen the Utah gaming scene welcome new members ranging from tech workers at the silicon slopes to rural Utah farmers to construction workers. Bird even says that parents playing board or card games with their children is not an uncommon sight at Game Grid. 

“A lot of people would be surprised by how easy it is to fit in to this community,” continues Bird, saying that the hobbies hosted at Game Grid and their associated communities are open to anyone. Game Grid is beloved for its huge indoor size, with tons of tables for anyone’s game of choice. Bird reports that Game Grid has “the largest assortment of board games in one place in the state.” 

Shawn Guy is one owner of another LGS chain named Game Haven. Guy says he and his co-owners were inspired to start their store in 2010 after being somewhat disappointed by their reception as new hobbyists tuned into older, more closed off game stores. Because of that, Game Haven is designed to be far from an “unappealing, dark dungeon.” Game Haven specializes in making hobbyists of all types feel welcome and safe in their store. 

“We have patrons ranging from hardcore gamers to entire families spending time here” says Guy. “People can find hobbies here they never thought they would like, and our staff is here to help with that.” Guy emphasizes how in a time where face-to-face interactions are becoming less and less frequent, in-person hobbies and gaming can provide much needed social interaction for people who share similar interests. 

Game Haven recently renovated all their locations during the COVID-19 pandemic and is open again to in-person gaming. 

According to both stores, their most popular game is Magic the Gathering (MTG), a trading card and strategy game originally released in 1993, with continued updates and new content up to the present. Both stores held an event on the weekend of April 29th for the release of a new MTG card “set” that allows players to update their gameplay with new strategies and cards. According to Bird, last weekend’s event was the in the top 5 overall events they’ve held, with the store filled to capacity, indicating that the in-person MTG community in Utah is far from dissolved because of the pandemic. 

ABC4 spoke with Geoff Dearing, a member of the leadership for Utah’s biggest social media community for MTG. Dearing describes the game as like “chess with playing cards,” with most games taking place between two opponents but with limitless possibilities game to game. “It’s the most diverse strategy game I’ve ever encountered,” says Dearing, referencing how he has played since he started in 1996.  

“MTG caters to a broad audience, from friends and family playing on a kitchen table all the way up to competitive play for prize pools of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says Dearing. Dearing has seen players in Utah of all ages and backgrounds. 

Dearing has played so long in part because he has “met some really good friends” that he continues to connect with. He admits that when he was first exposed to MTG, “it seemed kind of odd,” but once his own brother got him to try it he was hooked.  

Dearing speculates that MTG and LGS’s are so popular in Utah because it is “one of the nerdiest states” in the country. He thinks that Utahns are pretty “open” about their nerdiness, and aren’t afraid to share nerdy hobbies with each other.  

Dearing is planning on opening his own LGS store named Galaxy of Games, with a temporary location in West Jordan and an eventual permanent location in Harriman, UT.  

Whether or not MTG and other tabletop hobbies are your cup of tea or not, Dearing, Guy, and Bird all think you should give the local gaming community a try. You might make new friends and discover a new passion along the way.