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INTERVIEW: Crazy Squirrel Game Store

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This coming Saturday, April 7th, the Fresno LGBT Community Center will host our first Game Day at the Center. The event will be directed by the staff of Crazy Squirrel Game Store , and will run from Noon-4PM.  The event will include some classics like Cribbage and Chess, as well as new games like Shadows Over Camelot, Ticket to Ride, Small World, etc. Everyone is welcome at this first Game Day at the Center, regardless of age or gaming experience. There will be something for everyone.

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I visited the Crazy Squirrel Store to see what they have to offer. I sat down with Jennifer Ward, who owns the store with her husband, Scott. Jennifer moved to Fresno in 2003 from Missouri, while Scott is a Fresno native. The store has been open since October of 2009 and is located at 464 E Bullard Avenue here in Fresno. The store houses a large selection of games, including some old school choices like Scrabble and Boggle, as well as Dungeons and Dragons and a wide variety of new games. Connected to the main store is a large, open gaming room, filled with tables and chairs, which hosts various gaming groups six days a week. The long wall of the room is taken up by many connected white boards, detailing weekly events. Some nights are official tournaments, while others are associated with international gaming events. Each day is themed to expand the possibility that gamers can find what they’re looking for.

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Jennifer and her husband made what some may call a radical decision to open the niche store in 2009, when the economy was in a freefall.  She was working at the Fresno Bee and decided she’d like to go back to school to get her Masters and eventually the two would move back to Missouri so she could teach. A week after Jennifer quit her job, however, Scott lost his.

“It was a couple of weeks of sheer panic,” she says, “and then we sat down and talked about what we were going to do.”

They reassessed their goals, did the research, and chose to open the gaming store.  At one point they considered making an offer for the Game Preserve, a Tower District game store which has since closed, but they really wanted a larger space to accommodate a separate gaming room to bring people together.

“More than building a game store, we wanted to build a community center for gamers. We wanted to build a place where we nerds could come together and really have a lot of fun. I like to see people come together.”

The move seems to have paid off. They’ve connected with a large gaming community in Fresno and are considering expansion.

“It’s doing far better than we originally planned for it to do, and that’s kind of what our issue is,” Jennifer explained. “It’s so successful that we’re always kind of playing catch up. When we opened we planned on a slow growth, and we’ve instead had a very quick growth.”

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On Friday nights alone, the store’s gaming room is dedicated to Magic, a card game where you build a deck and play against other people, which has been around for about 20 years and is also an international event. Locally, at the Crazy Squirrel, that event pulls in about 55 people, who fill the large room.

The gaming room helps support the store in a number of ways.

“We do charge for the game room,” Jennifer explains. “Also, when you buy games you earn a free pass for every ten dollars you spend. You can also pay five dollars to come in and play or you can donate five items of non perishable food to the food drive. We donate the food back to the Fresno Community Food Bank or organizations associated with the Food Bank.”

Also, last year, the store held a couple of charitable events and was able to round up about 700 pounds of food and additional cash to donate to the Food Bank.

“We want our gamers to realize that they’re part of a larger community, and we want to give back.”

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I tell Jennifer that not being a gamer myself, I assumed most people were home alone, in front of a computer screen, gaming along. Finding out that such social settings exist where people actually come together physically to participate in group settings is reassuring.

“You know, we sell games, but we also sell that time that you get to sit around and spend with your friends and family.”

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Gaming is actually how Jennifer and Scott met and started dating, and it’s played a role in their lives from early ages.

“I started playing role playing games in junior high and I think Scott started before that and his dad was always playing as well. I learned how to spell playing Scrabble and Boggle.”

Older board games like Monopoly aren’t that popular with current gamers. One reason seems to be that newer games offer more participation, engagement and better odds.

“Monopoly is one of those traditional games that if get into it and start to lose, you pretty much know you’re going to lose, and you spend hours losing. The board games that come today usually run about an hour or two. They’re based off the concept that you’re constantly participating, so you could be losing at the beginning but easily come back halfway through it. Very rarely is there a game that comes out today where if you start to lose, you’re just totally out of it.”

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The most popular game sold in the store has been Zombie Dice, a fairly quick, inexpensive game in which you play as a zombie and roll three dice with images of brains (good), shotgun blasts (bad) and feet (run away). Ticket To Ride is a game recommended for new gamers. It looks like a board game, which appeals to non gamers who are comfortable with a board and game pieces.

“Then there are games that when you pull them out, they scare non gamers,” Jennifer adds, “because there’s no board,  and why are you building it as you go? Those games focus a lot on strategy, and involve a little less luck like in Monopoly, where you’re rolling dice.”

The store encourages those of us who are non gamers to not be afraid to start participating. They’re very welcoming and work very hard to create an open, family friendly environment.

Weekly events include…

Tuesdays is Tactical Minis with games like Warhammer (Fantasy or 40k), Warmachine, Malifaux, or Firestorm Armada. Wednesday night is D&D Encounters, an exciting, weekly campaign that plays out one epic encounter at a time. As you defeat enemies, solve puzzles, finish quests, and perform heroic deeds, you’ll earn Renown Points that you can use to get exclusive rewards. Thursday is Board Game Night, an evening of fun for dedicated gamers and their families. We play many exciting board games, including Ticket to Ride, Dominion, and Puerto Rico. Some weeks will emphasize specific games, so we can all learn together. Friday is Magic night, the card game described above. Saturdays offers a rotating series of events, including role playing, board games and open Saturdays.

This Saturday is the first Gaming Day at the Fresno LGBT Community Center and will be hosted by Jennifer and Scott.

“Saturday at the Community Center we’ll bring a couple dozen games, both traditional games like Chess and newer games including Ticket To Ride, Dominion and Game Of Thrones. If people know how to play the games, that’s great, they’re welcome to play them. If not, my husband and I will be there to teach people games. Some of our regulars will be coming. It’ll be a good time. We want to show people what gaming is all about.”

Visit the Crazy Squirrel Website here… http://www.crazysquirrelgamestore.com/

Like them on Facebook… http://www.facebook.com/crazysquirrelgamestore

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