Social gaming is a blast. I mean it. If you're a computer game player, think about playing your favorite FPS or RTS game over the internet. Then compare that to how much more fun it is to play that same game over a LAN with a group of friends you can yell at and taunt, and go get a beer with afterwards. Board games and role playing games are fun because of this ability to communicate in person. That's what makes them fun.

Most people who play board games or role playing games do so with friends. Odds are, some of these friends were met at a game store. There are many ways to find a group or new player at a gaming store. You can play your game at the local store for a few sessions, allowing watchers to observe and possibly join the game. You can find out about groups needing players, or players needing groups from a dilligent game store owner or employee. You can bump into someone holding a supplement for the game you play, and start a conversation. You can even post a "Looking for players" note with your name and phone number. I've met some of the most fascinating people and some of my best friends through such contacts. And game nights are always a great way to unwind, get creative, and work out tensions on imaginary baddies.

Board games and RPGs are usually not as expensive as computer games, unless you desire to own every supplement for your game. This can become staggeringly expensive. Collecting an army for Warhammer could cost you anywhere from $40 to $300 and up, easily. Collecting all of the books for Vampire: the Masquerade... What, are you kidding me?! Gamers are always looking at what new supplements are coming out for their games. That's part of what makes tabletop gaming so appealing, that your universe of choice usually gets more supplements than you could possibly need. Tired of waiting for the latest Diablo 2 expansion? Try Middle Earth RPG, Palladium RPG, or the ubiquitous Dungeons and Dragons and you'll never run out of monsters, treasures, dungeons, or adventures for your game of choice.

Unfortunately, there's always one more supplement you want, one more game to get. These games are fun and inherently addictive, because of their social nature. And most are fascinating reads, too. But the cost adds up. Rapidly. Many gamers have discovered online stores and mail order catalogs that have the same products available for a relatively inexpensive amount. And gamers, being the social animals that they are, love to share their findings. It's not unusual to find almost as much time spent at the gaming table discussing the recent bargains found online.

This has its down-side, however. Remember the local game stores where we met many of our gaming friends? These aren't charitable meeting places. They depend on the sales of the games you play with people you meet through them. I have to cringe every time I'm in a game store and overhear two gamers leafing through the various supplements for game X, and discussing which online store they're going to buy it from. I've seen gamers playing in a store sponsored Magic: the Gathering tournament exclaiming what a great deal they found on Magic cards at this and that web site, and talking about the box of cards they're going to purchase tonight from said web site, and even worse, convincing others to go in on the purchase with them. All of the while, the store owner, who's running the tournament and offering prizes, out of his own pocket to encourage people buying and playing the games, overhears.

Small game stores are disappearing left and right. There has never been a big profit margin in the gaming industry, the people who start these stores do so out of the love of the wares they peddle. These people are almost always gamers themselves, trying to promote the community. And they do promote it! It's because of these guys that gamers meet other gamers and game! These same gamers are moving their business to the world of the internet, because it's cheaper. I've seen the looks on these same gamers, when their local game store goes out of business.

I'm not asking you to forget about online game stores and book stores. Buy stuff from them, they're good values. But try not to forget your local game store. Buy from your local game store instead of online when you can. Don't discourage others from buying a sourcebook from the store because they can get it cheaper elsewhere. Support your local game store, your gaming hobby may some day depend on it!

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