New Independent East Side Tabletop Gaming Store Seeks To Invigorate Wisconsin’s Hobby Community, Announces Plans For Grand Opening In May

Across the street from UWM’s Mitchell Hall, Old Guard Games plans to establish a new community space with something for everyone. Whether you’re meeting old friends for D&D, making new friends at Friday Night Magic, buying an obscure board game to play at home or looking for an opponent to play pick-up chess, Old Guard is the place to go. To find out more visit our Facebook or website.

MILWAUKEE – With over 4,000 square feet of space dedicated to selling an eclectic mix of tabletop games and another 3,000 square feet devoted to playing them, Old Guard Games is excited to open on Milwaukee’s east side over Memorial Day weekend with a mission of invigorating the local gaming scene and beating back the decline of in-person community spaces.

Located at 3132 North Downer Avenue in the meticulously renovated former Panther/Follet’s bookstore, Old Guard is modeled after classic game stores. But visitors will immediately understand it as a new kind of game store. Stocked with games, miniatures, paints, hobby supplies and more, Old Guard will have the look and feel of a Victorian library from an old Sherlock Holmes movie. Visitors will find aisle after aisle of shelves stocked with enough games to please all ages and interests inside a uniquely decorated space featuring several full suits of armor, many unique battle shields, and dozens of paintings depicting famous historical battles, science fiction stories and fantasy scenes.

“It will be a traditional gaming store on steroids,” said Ben Checota, a Midwest gaming veteran and owner of Old Guard Games. “The vibe and layout of the store will be as important as the contents with the intent of creating a real community space for gamers.”

Old Guard will feature over 12 permanent tables ranging from massive to more massive with space for a dozen more. So, Milwaukee-area tabletop gamers can look forward to winter days hunkering down for a campaign indoors amidst a lively and diverse environment of fellow hobbyists. And on days when the sun shines, patrons will be able to enjoy rentable games like backgammon, chess, checkers and more on the patio.

Shoppers will be able to find board games ranging from the popular to the obscure including: A massive selection of miniatures for games of all types including Warhammer, Star Wars and a host of historical wargames; Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplay games; various card games such as Magic The Gathering and Pokémon; a wide assortment of wargames paints and modeling supplies; dice, books, and much more.

The independent store’s opening comes amid a bustling time for the gaming community at home and beyond. In Milwaukee, over 23,000 visitors recently flocked to the Midwest Gaming Classic and thousands more are expected in town next year when Adepticon, a popular Warhammer 40K-focused convention, relocates to Wisconsin. The hobby has been on the up with many discovering board games during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Meanwhile, popular culture is creating new fans by tapping into the gaming scene with media like Netflix’s Stranger Things, Amazon’s Fallout live-action, Paramount’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, and Amazon’s plans for a Warhammer Movie featuring Henry Cavill (Superman, The Witcher).

For Checota, a key goal of the space is to create a community that is welcoming to all.

“Throughout the buildup of gaming through the ‘80s and ‘90s, the local game store was the center of the gaming universe and often a haven for those who felt disconnected, disaffected or marginalized to find a sense of community and a place where they fit in and were accepted,” Checota said.

But as online gaming and the internet rose to prominence, gaming stores seemed to be forgotten. The decline came amid a wider 21st-century trend that has left many Americans feeling they have lost community spaces outside the home and work. Many have dubbed the trend the loss of “third places.” Checota still recalls when one such community space, Napoleon’s in Shorewood, closed in 2005.

“Napoleon’s closing signaled a significant loss to the sense of community and belonging that had been gaming in greater Milwaukee,” Checota said. “The internet cannot convey the tangible feeling of being able to see and touch products in a store. The internet or even a nice basement game room cannot recreate the feeling of playing games in an active and bustling game store game room surrounded by others playing a wide range of games one might never have seen or known existed.”

Old Guard plans to celebrate its grand opening over Memorial Day weekend with three days chock-full of events. To start off the festivities, Friday, May 24 will see a large evening Magic the Gathering card game event. Saturday, May 25, will feature two 24+ all-day tournaments for Warhammer 40K (Science Fiction Wargame) and Bolt Action (historical WWII wargame). Sunday, May 26, will see a tournament for Warhammer: Age of Sigmar (Lord of the Rings style fantasy) and a large youth chess tournament from several local schools. The grand opening will also feature various demonstration and participation games that all can join, whether novice or advanced.

Saturday and Sunday will also be interspersed with demonstrations and other events including charitable raffles, painting demonstrations, live-action roleplay (LARP) demonstrations and more.

The grand opening is just the beginning. Moving forward, Old Guard Games will have daily and weekly recurring events supporting all facets of the gaming community to bring face-to-face gaming back to Milwaukee.

“We live in a post-Covid era where social interaction has lessened and troubling trends have accelerated,” Checota said. “Kids sit directly next to each other playing video games for hours but never speaking to each other. Many people feel anxiety about where exactly they fit in now. I believe that tabletop games, wargames and roleplay games are a fantastic answer to all of these issues and Old Guard Games hopes to be intimately involved in creating that community!”

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