Monday, March 19, 2012

It's the Magic: Standard Tour of San Antonio - Dragon's Lair

Just moved up to San Antonio from Louisiana a few weeks ago. The place I lived didn't have any game stores, so having not just one, but three game stores within driving distance of my house is a whole new experience.

While the internet is full of ways to find game stores in your area, it does very little to tell you about the real character of those stores: their atmosphere, their product, their staff, or anything else a curious gamer might want to know. To help others out, I've started a week-by-week survey of the stores in my area, playing a Friday Night Magic at each one as a way of familiarizing myself with it.

At 7959 Fredericksburg Road, you can find the Dragon's Lair. It's a great place for both comics and gaming. Better yet, it's in the same shopping center as an Einstein Bros Bagels. 

I know; it sounds perfect.

To be honest, I was disappointed at how great it was on the inside too. Nerds love to hate things. I'm sure chest-high shelves made specifically for comics is something that most regulars probably take for granted, but for me, having the newest comics laid out neatly in their own dedicated space is a mind-blowing experience. Behind those, are three shelves of packed--packed--trade paperbacks, neatly arranged by company, then name.

On my first visit, it was here that I was asked by a staff member if I needed help. I wanted to test the waters, trying to think of an independent trade that I've wanted for a while, something on the border of obscure, but that I could still chit-chat about. I was mildly surprised when he mentioned that they hadn't had it in a few months, and probably wouldn't be carrying it regularly, due its size, cost, and sales numbers. None the less, he checked the shelves for it just in case and, after a familiar conversation about it, offered to look into it further for me. I declined and he offered to help me with any other issues I had. He was awesome and while I didn't ask for help from every employee, they all had a similar, positive spirit.

At the end of the trade paperbacks section is the manga. It's a natural progression, mirroring the wall of anime on the opposite side of the room. I'm not knowledgeable enough about anime or manga to judge their selection, but if I were to count it by series and individual books[1], it would have easily been the largest manga collection I've ever seen. Each row of shelving had its own end cap with themes like "employee picks" and "women in manga," two subjects I'm always happy to see featured.

Wrapping around the back of the store are the board games. In addition to classics like Zombies! and Settlers of Cataan, there were dozens of other games I'd never heard of. A lot of them were standard medieval, zombie, and space combat games, but there were also games from genres I'd never conceived of: pirate board games, fruits spelling things board games, celebrity gossip card-based games, play monsters fighting over Tokyo board games. There weren't more than one or two copies for each game, but the selection was incredibly diverse. While families playing board games casually wouldn't find many Parker Brothers staples, they'd have their choice of alternatives.

On a run from the end of the board games back to the front door are the role playing games, customizable card game accessories, and wargames. Despite occupying a wall and three shelves, the spread there matched the rest of the store. While they weren't carrying a dozen Vampire support books, they were carrying a number of intriguing core books for inspiring roleplaying games that--if I were a few years younger--I would have snatched up and devoured[2]. I managed to pick up sleeves for my Magic deck there and had plenty of options to choose from.

The counters is in the center of the store, giving it a very un-storelike feeling. It keeps employees walking the floor instead of darting directly from a counter and into a back room. It's also where they keep their CCGs, loose dice, and the half-dozen or so fliers that every game store seems to collect. On my first visit, this is where the woman behind the counter engaged me in some germane small talk about Kevin Smith's "Comic Book Men," mentioning the stereotypes it portrays. She incidentally brought up how different their store was from that stereotype and I couldn't help agreeing with her.

Dragon's Lair felt like the smallest gaming store I'd been in thus far. That doesn't feel fair to say though, because it has six smaller gaming rooms branching off of the main floor where I always see players moving about, emitting a constant string of excited lingo I only recognize when it comes from Warhammer[3]. In addition, there were no less than eight tables out for the Friday Night Magic and only one or two spots were tight fits. Maybe I'm not thinking "small," maybe I'm really thinking "big, but intimate."

Sadly, I'm out of room for today. I'll pick up next week with how the Friday Night Magic went and whether or not it compared well to the rest of my experience.

[1] As opposed to most bookstores, which are usually have Naruto and Bleach taking up a third of their manga space.
[2] And never played.
[3] Rooms can be reserved at the Dragon's Lair website.

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