To absent friends

Earlier today, brought the sad news that the excellent Playin’ Games opposite the British Museum has closed down. I was passing that way a few weeks ago, and had planned to drop in, but I was too early for them (they opened at 1100). This got me to thinking about the number of games shops that I’ve known (and loved) that have closed. Off the top of my head:

  • Barad-Dur, Coptfold Road, Brentwood
  • Virgin Games Centre, Oxford Street
  • Gamers in Exile, Pentonville Road
  • Gaggle of Games, Basildon
  • Alternate Earths, Eastgate Centre, Basildon
  • Phoenix Games, Eastgate Centre, Basildon
  • Games and Puzzles, Green Street, Cambridge
  • Games World, King Street, Hammersmith
  • Warlord Games, Leigh-on-Sea
  • Beatties! (everywhere)

Several of these were doomed from the outset; while it helps to know something about games if you want to run a good games shop, it also helps to know something about running a shop (Barad-Dur, Alternate Earths and Phoenix were the most obvious examples of this). The games shops that have survived (Orc’s Nest, Leisure Games, and the like) have done so because they’re run by people who know how to run a business.

On the subject of Orc’s Nest, Dr mentioned that she felt uncomfortable going in there as a single female. Well, *I* felt uncomfortable (as a post-pubescent male) in Orc’s Nest the last time I was there (about two years ago). Far too GW for me, but then it was that way when I first went there in the mid 80s. However, it isn’t the most uncomfortable games shop experience I’ve had – that honour belongs to Caliver Books in Leigh-on-Sea.

Way back in the 80s, when I first started gaming, there were two choices for gamers in South Essex: travel into London (Virgin Games Centre, Leisure Games, Orcs Nest, etc) or travel out towards Southend to Leigh-on-Sea and go to Warlord Games. They were old-school board- and wargamers who had got into RPGs, and had a pretty comprehensive selection.

Move forward to the summer of 2006, and and I were doing our tour of Essex before the arrived. We were driving out towards Southend (I think that we’d already been to Hadleigh Castle) and as we passed through Leigh, I told her about Warlord. “Is that it there?”, she said. Well, Caliver was in the right place (816-818, as ane White Dwarf-reading fule kno), but it didn’t look quite right.

Went inside for a closer look, and realised that Caliver *was* Warlord, just with an extra twenty years of kipple – random crap piled hip-deep throughout. At this point, my gamer-nerd instincts kicked in, and I started burrowing while browsed through the history books.

There’s this recurring dream that I had as a teenager (when I was in the most serious throes of my Traveller completist fetish), where I’d happen upon a games shop that I’d never seen before, and they’d have a Traveller book that I’d never heard of before (I could never remember the titles when I woke, alas), but the shop was so disorganised that I couldn’t be sure that I hadn’t missed any other books. Caliver was that shop.

Tried asking one of the *three* (long-haired, metal-tshirt-wearing) assistants in the otherwise deserted shop for help, and got a bit of a brush-off (I was trying to see what they had in new-ish wargames rules, and they just suggested with a sneer that I look at WH40k). I only got somewhere when I started to (metaphorically) wave my willy about, and demonstrate that I knew something about gaming by listing my precise requirements (micro-scale or 15mm at a pinch, SF, combined arms, not insane like Command Decision, published since 1990). Compared to this, the chap that runs Orc’s Nest is a paragon of helpfulness.

To cut a long story short, I ended up with a few odds and ends. was quite chuffed too – she’d found an interesting book on costume history, and had noticed that the shop’s inventory management was so bad that they had three copies of the book in three different places at three different prices. We contemplated pointing this out to them, but felt that they’d probably take such a suggestion poorly.

There’s probably an important lesson in here somewhere, but I’m not sure if the lesson is “you can’t cross the same river twice” or “the one who dies with the most books, wins”.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *