Congenial Randolph, Vt., venue draws kids inside for everyday fun
By Kim J. Gifford
If “rainy day fun” used to mean time spent indoors playing Monopoly™, Bingo™, or Chutes and Ladders™, then it’s a brand new day. While traditional board games can still be a lot of fun, today’s game has been raised, so to speak, with the growth in popularity of trading card games such as Magic: The Gathering (MTG or Magic) and new multiplayer board games such as The Settlers of Catan. Gaming no longer has to take place around a kitchen table; today’s youth have the option of participating in events at gaming stores such as Randolph, Vt.’s Pixels & Bricks. Such venues give kids and adults alike an opportunity to enjoy friendly competition while socializing and forming new friendships.
Pixels & Bricks launched last year as an offshoot of Vermont Computing Cooperative, which shares the same space at 23 Merchant’s Row. Robert Holman, Ian Stewart and Matt Gustafson purchased Vermont Computing from its original owner in November, 2014, and established a new cooperative.
An Idea that Snowballed
“After a few months, I think we were getting a little stir crazy from the long Vermont winter and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we start a gaming event every other weekend?’ The idea was to keep it pretty casual, but it really blew up,” says Gustafson, who oversees the Pixels & Bricks portion of the business.
The events grew from every other weekend to several nights a week and today it is not unusual to find the business open Wednesday through Saturday until 9 or 10 p.m. or even later. Earlier in the week the store keeps more traditional hours, typically closing at 6 p.m.
Thursday nights are free MTG nights. “We want to reflect a comfortable environment for gaming, rather than closing at 5 or 6 p.m. like most businesses in Randolph. We want to be a place where people can go after school or after work,” says Gustafson.
On Thursdays, the environment is casual with no specific format. Gamers can come in with a Magic deck that is “15 years old or 15 days old and be able to sit down and play for free because that’s exactly what I wanted to do. When I was younger, we had these random terrible decks and we would sit around our kitchen tables until 1 a.m. playing Magic,” says Gustafson.
A Valuable Alternative
Gustafson is happy to create this environment and a new opportunity for Randolph’s rural community. “I think a lot of the drug problems in this area are because there is nothing for kids to do. Having a constructive, affordable alternative is huge in my opinion,” he says.
Gustafson also notes that today’s players are more diversified than the typical “nerdy” image of old. The youngest player at the store is a 7-year-old girl while adults in their 40s come in to play, too. Tovah Donahue, a young local, agrees that the gaming store provides a safe and fun alternative for the community. “I encourage people to come and play because Magic is a fun game and it is a better, healthier way to spend your money than on drugs,” she says.
Thursday evenings draw anywhere from 6 to 30 people. Fifteen-year-old Tristan Brown of Randolph helps out at the store. “I love to watch people come in and duke it out in some awesome MTG games,” he says.
Keagan Jarvis says that Pixels & Bricks is also a great source of gaming supplies. “They have a bunch of cool merchandise to buy for Magic as well as computer stuff. There are also competitions where you can earn in-store credit.”
Although 20-year-old Christian Jarvis doesn’t play at Pixels & Bricks himself, he understands the appeal of such a place to gamers like his brother Keagan. “It is fun, enjoyable, and a way to meet new people and form friendships,” he says. The wide appeal of the game stems, in large part, from the strategy involved. “It requires you to put a lot of time in to it, but it is very rewarding. There is more to it than people think. It involves a lot of strategy, but that makes you feel really good when you win.”
Magic and Beyond
Other nights of the week gaming is structured around specific events. Pixels & Bricks is sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast, the makers of Magic, to hold official tournaments. But the store is not only about Magic. Gustafson encourages people to come in and bring their favorite board games or play a game like Dungeons & Dragons. On occasion they hold specific board game nights but, whenever the store is open, tables and chairs are set up for informal play of any sort. Some kids, such as Sam Hopper of Randolph, also enjoy taking part in creating content for Pixel & Bricks’ YouTube channel and podcasts.
Brown says, “Pixels & Bricks added a much needed element to the local community. It allows gamers, nerds, fanboys and fangirls — and people of all ages and genders — to take a little time out of the busy world to play games and have some fun!”
And, of course, it offers new and veteran gamers alike a friendly gathering place.
Kim J. Gifford is a writer, photographer/artist, avid dog lover and blogger at pugsandpics.com. Her Bethel, Vt., home is always filled with nieces and nephews and her three pugs, Alfie, Waffles and Amore.