With International Tabletop Day around the corner, we’re counting down the days to the big celebration by highlighting friendly local gaming stores, their owners, and their awesome stories. Be sure to find an ITTD event near you so you can enjoy the festivities in your community.
“The camaraderie of unusual friendships.” That’s what Mark Cracco believes is the most gratifying thing about being the owner of his store, Fantasy Games. “I watch groups play games that include people from all walks of life, social classes and ages,” he said. “People who wouldn’t give each other the time of day anywhere else, engage and become friends over games. Seeing those unlikely friendships gives me joy.”
Cracco has seen these relationships develop over the two decades he’s owned the establishment that’s served the South Bend, Indiana, community since 1995.
His passion for gaming, though, started before the opening of his store. During the early ‘90s Cracco and his friends hung out at a 24-hour coffee shop after his shift at a national pizza franchise. “Many times we would play chess,” he recalled. “[Then] one of our friends brought in a deck of Magic [The Gathering] cards and said, ‘You guys gotta try this game.’”
Magic was the gateway game for Cracco, who began selling single Magic cards at a local sports card show on weekends while pursuing his hobby. He also discovered other board games, including the one getting all the accolades at the time: Settlers of Catan. “We played that game a lot,” he said.
Those weekend sales eventually evolved into Fantasy Games, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Over the years the industry experienced a multitude of changes, from hobby games being printed in small quantities and sold exclusively at specialty stores to board game cafes opening regularly around the world and millions of dollars being raised on Kickstarter for Eric Lang’s latest creation.
“The biggest change has been the incredible growth across all genres of tabletop games,” Cracco observed. “The Internet was in its infancy back then [when Fantasy Games opened] and certainly has played a huge part in the growth of our industry.”
Even as the digital age began leaving its indelible mark on daily life, Cracco continued to find himself at the tabletop. “[T]here are so many other things pulling at our attention; tabletop gaming brings us back together,” he said. “Nothing beats playing a game and hanging out with people you like spending time with.”
While he keeps a busy schedule at the store (when asked what he does on his days off, he joked, “What’s a day off?”), Cracco still finds time to play plenty of games, from well-worn classics to the hottest games on the shelves.
“My love of games runs deep,” he said. “Beyond the thematic elements, I love the logic/economic/problem-solving aspect of playing most games.”
Two of Cracco’s favorites include Stone Age and Samurai. The worker placement classic Stone Age “never gets old. It combines the strategies of going in turn order, with taking the best option when it’s your turn and just enough luck to make it interesting.” Meanwhile, Samurai “is simple to play and teach. The strategy is deep and never-ending. I would put this game in the group with chess. The replay value is extraordinary.”
The Fantasy Games’ calendar of events reflects his passion for gaming; it’s packed with events on every night of the week. There are Dice Masters tournaments, Pokémon leagues, TANKS organized play, Star Wars Destiny open play, and much more, from Heroclix to Magic The Gathering.
Cracco especially enjoys Board Game Open Play on Thursdays, when customers can bring their own games or play one from the store’s demo library.
“Board games require little lab time outside of the games. No deck building, no army painting, just open the box, play, put the game away, done,” he said. “The game is a reason to sit at the table together and put the cell phones down.”
Have you made any unusual friendships at your FLGS? Tell us in the comments!
Fantasy Games is located at 52025 IN-933 in South Bend, Indiana. To view their latest event calendar, visit the Fantasy Games website.
Image Credits: Fantasy Games
Ruel Gaviola is a writer and educator based in Southern California. He loves board games, books, cooking, traveling, date nights with his wife, and Star Wars. He reviews games and reports news for iSlaytheDragon.com and his name rhymes with Superman’s Kryptonian name. Follow him on Twitter.