State of Play

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I t’s a Thursday night, and magic is happening at Elm City GamesMagic: The Gathering, that is, a swords-and-sorcery card game that gets a special evening of competition at the downtown New Haven tabletop gaming parlor.

Elsewhere there are Dungeons & Dragons groups clustered around dice and stat sheets, while a science fiction book club is holding court in the library. Stocked with games, not books, the hundreds of glossy, colorful boxes lining its walls include casual, popular options like Taboo and UNO; more intensive choices like Twilight Imperium and The Resistance; and oddities like an Animal House-themed version of Liar’s Dice.

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Now located in The Grove coworking studio, where it rents space, Elm City Games was once the New Haven County Board Games Meetup, hosting gaming sessions at different spots around town. Later, coinciding with the adoption of the Elm City Games moniker, it moved into the Happiness Lab coffee shop. Then, after the Lab shuttered last December, The Grove, located just upstairs, stepped up and offered the club a temporary home. Having worked out better than anyone expected, the move is now permanent, leading to a dedicated retail area along with that game library.

Co-owner Trish Loter runs Elm City full-time, while the other owner, Matt Fantastic, develops original games under his Prettiest Princess label and teaches game design at Quinnipiac University. Formerly married to each other, both are lifelong gamers.

Much like Loter and Fantastic have done in helping build the library, attendees are welcome to bring their own games—and, of course, their own imaginations, which figure heavily into the most popular pursuit at Elm City Games: Dungeons & Dragons, where players adopt Tolkienesque personas—often embodied in “minis,” or small figurines—and dice throws can mean virtual life or death. “It is my childhood,” says Fantastic, who’s played it for more than three decades. “It is whatever you want to make it.”

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For her part, Loter’s favorite game is Magic—though she says she avoided it before opening ECG because of a stigma against female players. Finally learning to play, “I just fell in love with it.” To help newbies of all stripes, Loter hosts a casual Magic session every Wednesday. “We’ll get you started, and then we’ll throw you to the wolves if you want to do that—but only if you want.”

She says Elm City Games tries hard to keep things open and accessible to all. “We’re aggressively intolerant of intolerance,” Fantastic adds. For example, anyone using offensive language, even in the heat of a gaming moment, is asked to leave.

Fantastic and Loter maintain that there’s a game for everyone. “There’s so much out there,” Loter says. Sometimes, people come into Elm City Games and are stunned by the variety at their fingertips. “They say, ‘So you mean like Trouble, Scrabble, Battleship?’ Yes, but so much more.”

Consider the story of a local college student made to come on a family outing to Elm City Games. When he told Loter that the only game he liked was beer pong, Loter was ready. “You know what? I have games you’re gonna like,” she told the surly student, setting him up with Bounce-Off, where you bounce ping pong balls into targets—like in beer pong.

As Fantastic says, “The big thing for us is that you’re sitting around a table having fun and doing cool stuff.”

Elm City Games
760 Chapel St 2nd Fl, New Haven (map)
Wed-Thurs 5-10pm, Fri 5pm-midnight, Sat-Sun noon-8pm
(203) 689-3532
Pricing: day pass $5, monthly pass $20
www.newhavenboardgames.com

Written by Anne Ewbank. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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A California native and world traveler, Anne came to New Haven for graduate school and discovered that New England is as cold as everyone said it was. She loves reading books, playing guitar, exploring new towns and taking road trips but only as long as she gets to pick the music.

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