Some places come and go, while some places become icons. Mandatory Milwaukee is all about the latter. Join us as we revisit beloved and well-worn local staples with fresh eyes, and explore how they might figure in the city’s future. This week: the Board Game Barrister!
The days of Monopoly are over. Say goodbye to Yahtzee. So long, Sorry. Take your kid’s copy of Chutes And Ladders and bury it in a landfill. We’re in the midst of a full-blown gaming renaissance, and it’s filled with island settlers, dungeon explorers, railroad tycoons, planet terraformers, and the occasional flocks of birds. And Milwaukee’s Board Game Barrister has been there since the beginning, rolling dice and scoring victory points, one gloriously geeky game at a time.
Oh, and don’t forget about puzzles. The Board Game Barrister has tons of puzzles. And puzzles have never been more popular. Or more needed.
How’s this for an origin story: Gordon Lugauer opened the first Board Game Barrister in 2005. According to his biography, the decision to enter the world of gaming retail was made in a “fit of delusion,” as he was simultaneously studying to become a lawyer. (Lawyer = Barrister. Get it?) One of his pursuits paid off, “the other less so.” More than 15 years later, with three BGB locations operating in the Milwaukee area, it’s easy to guess which one is which.
Those three locations currently are: 5530 N. Port Washington Rd. in Glendale (near the store’s former home at Bayshore); inside Mayfair Mall at 2500 N. Mayfair Rd. in Wauwatosa (next to Macy’s); and 1007 Milwaukee Ave. in South Milwaukee.
Like it says on the tin, the Board Game Barrister specializes in, well, board games. You’ll find oodles of modern classics like Catan and Ticket To Ride. You’ll find classic classics like Scattergories and Twister. You’ll find three-hour table-busters like Tapestry and Twilight Imperium. You’ll find lighter games like Boss Monster and Sushi Go! You’ll find multi-session “Living Card Games” based on everything from Cthulhu stuff to Lord Of The Rings. Hey! The woman who designed the wildly popular Wingspan a few years ago has a new game about butterflies! You’ll find that at the Board Game Barrister, too.
But there’s more! The Board Game Barrister has games (and toys) for kids of all ages, ranging from Melissa & Doug creations to deceptively simple games that will put your adorable moppet on the path to hardcore hobby gaming in no time. If Dungeons & Dragons and rolling around in piles of 20-sided dice is more your bag, you’re covered. And yes, there’s a robust selection of thousand-piece puzzles—a.k.a. the hottest items of 2020 and early 2021.
The “Barrister” part of BGB enters the picture with the stores’ employees. They are indeed authorities on the subjects of games and puzzles. Looking for a party game that’s not Cards Against Humanity? The Barristers can help. (The Codenames series is a good place to start.) Need a break from Terraforming Mars but still want a game that features some fun engine-building? The Barristers can help. (We’re on the waiting list for a reprint of Scythe.) Want a game that splits the difference between a board game and a role-playing game, and one that may or may not have a standalone expansion set in the universe of The Stormlight Archive? The Barristers can help. (Call To Adventure is a delight, and the Stormlight books are great.) Want a quick tutorial on how to play these games? Yeah, you can always check out those Dice Tower dudes, but they’re in Florida and not near the Kopp’s on Port Washington Road. Once again, the Barristers can help.
Oh, and if you want to sprinkle your game nights with some current events, BGB totally has a bunch of those Pandemic titles.
Speeeeeaking of global pandemics, the Board Game Barrister has been doing things right in the COVID-19 era. Back in 2020, all locations were initially closed; they’ve since re-opened to in-person shopping, but there are strict capacity and time limits. Sadly, that means all in-store events and in-store library gaming are (temporarily) on hold. So yeah, feel free to browse, but don’t spend too much time wondering if you should spring for that giant Gloomhaven box. (We’re still not sure about this one.)
Want to get all the satisfaction of browsing a board game store and chatting with a knowledgeable employee, all from the safety of your own home? Leave it to BGB to go above and beyond the normal online shopping experience (which you can still totally do). Behold, the Virtual Barrister! It’s an incredibly nifty service in which you dial in to a video call and have an in-store employee do your shopping for you. It’s brilliant, it’s personable, and it’s kind of a hoot:
(BTW: Everything you always wanted to know about Gordon’s face shield but were afraid to ask can be found HERE.)
“We created the Board Game Barrister from our love of social fun with others, and our desire to share it with as many people as we could,” reads the BGB website. “Whether that means games, toys, puzzles, or any of the other great entertainment we provide, our goal has always been to build a community where everyone can find something that promises a fun experience.”
Those sentences come from pre-pandemic times, of course. “Social fun” and “community” are kind of tricky right now, even if the beginning of the end of all…this seems to finally be in sight. And yet the Board Game Barrister has adapted to our troubling times. Puzzles. Virtual visits. The promise of escape to worlds beyond our own, if only for a few rounds. It’s all here.
And when things do get back to normal, and social fun and community become possible again, you’ll know where to find them.
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